One move was three years in the making. The other came like a whirlwind.
Not even a day after Mike Soroka's triumphant return, the Braves announced they were adding another noteworthy pitcher to their roster: 20-year-old A.J. Smith-Shawver, who began the year at High-A Rome only to climb basically the entire organizational ladder in a little more than a month's time.
It probably goes without saying he put up good numbers, even making it seven innings in his final start for Triple-A Gwinnett. Of course, other pitchers, some several years older, have also put up good numbers and not moved nearly as quickly. The Braves clearly saw something in Smith-Shawver that convinced them he was ready -- and saw it pretty early, with each stop merely serving to confirm their suspicions.
He was an unlikely candidate for such treatment coming into the year, not only because of his youth and inexperience but also because he didn't really start pitching until his senior year of high school. His fastball was what caught the Braves' attention when they picked him in Round 7 of the 2021 draft, but Smith-Shawver didn't know where it was going at first, issuing 5.1 BB/9 at Low-A Augusta last year. That rate is down to 3.3 this year, and he's developed a nasty slider to go with the fastball.
The parallels to Spencer Strider's rapid rise two years ago are impossible to ignore. Both he and Smith-Shawver scaled four levels in a single season. Both feature a fastball/slider combo with similar characteristics. It's unlikely Smith-Shawver's career trajectory reaches quite the same heights as Strider's (because how could it?), but it's beginning in a similar spot, with the Braves planning to use him as a multi-inning reliever. Speculating on a move to the rotation in the near future wouldn't be the worst idea.
Of course, most Fantasy Baseballers probably don't have the roster space to do that, particularly in leagues of 12 teams or fewer, but everyone should be monitoring Smith-Shawver's performance out of the bullpen nonetheless. We've already seen he's not one to stay in one place for long.
CLE Cleveland • #41 • Age: 25
Logan Allen's latest start Monday was his best yet and offers the clearest hope that a high-end outcome is on the table. For the first time in five starts, he had more than a strikeout per inning, registering a career-high 10 in a career-high seven. His 19 swinging strikes were also a career high and were well distributed between his three most-used pitches: five on the fastball, five on the changeup, seven on the sweeper. He now has a 13.2 percent swinging-strike rate overall, which puts him in roughly the same range as Kevin Gausman and Cristian Javier even though he's not a particularly hard-thrower. His 11.8 K/9 across three minor-league seasons also speaks to his bat-missing capabilities. Hard contact had been an issue and could be again, but this outing should restore your faith in Allen's upside.
Royce Lewis 3B
MIN Minnesota • #23 • Age: 24
Royce Lewis already looked like a good pickup with his return to the majors Monday, having completed his recovery from a second ACL surgery. He looks like an even better one two days later. His role has been made clear: he's the starting third baseman and has already shown what kind of impact he can have at the plate, hitting a home run in his first game back and a double in the second game back. And of course, we saw him bat .300 (12 for 40) with two homers and four doubles in his 12 games before suffering the injury last year. The former No. 1 overall pick has elite upside, will soon have dual eligibility and has already had a smidgen of success in the majors. What more could you want in a waiver wire pickup?
CIN Cincinnati • #44 • Age: 21
It's not often I recommend adding a yet-to-be-promoted prospect in this space, but Elly De La Cruz is no ordinary prospect, having delivered higher top-end velocities than any major-leaguer this year. And on the subject of his arrival, things are heating up. True, the Reds have yet to tip their hand, but national media has begun to treat it as an inevitability. De La Cruz's progress has been plain to see. His plate discipline has improved in May, giving him nearly as many walks (20) as strikeouts (22) over his last 20 games, and during that same span, he's batting .346 (27 for 78) with 10 homers and nine steals. If the promotion indeed comes for a talent of this caliber, you'll be thankful you stashed him away already.
MIA Miami • #14 • Age: 26
Bryan De La Cruz was a favorite sleeper of mine in the winter, with my favorite stat being that his xBA and xSLG last year (.287 and .498, respectively) compared favorably to those of Rafael Devers (.282 and .497). The Marlins' indecision over his role this spring dampened my enthusiasm, but they've ultimately come around to him as an everyday player, even batting him leadoff Tuesday. And he responded by going 3 for 4 with a home run, a walk, three RBI and two runs. In all, he's batting .393 (24 for 61) with five homers, two steals and a 1.176 OPS in his last 16 games, his strikeout rate dropping to 18.6 percent after being 31.8 percent previously. His xBA is 81st percentile and his xSLG is 53rd percentile -- not as good as last year, but good enough to take him seriously.
ARI Arizona • #31 • Age: 26
It's still not clear that Jake McCarthy is back up to speed as a hitter after a month-long stint in the minor leagues (though him going 5 for 14 in five games is a good sign). What is clear is he's back up to speed in a more direct sense, swiping two bags in back-to-back games and five bags overall. He needed a couple stints in the minors to get right at the plate last year, too, but once he was up for good from July 11 on, he was one of the game's most prolific base-stealers, swiping 22 bags in 68 games. He also batted .302 during that span. Anyone who just lost Cedric Mullins to a groin strain has a ready-made replacement in McCarthy, and at this point, I'd call him a must-add in five-outfielder leagues.
LAA L.A. Angels • #47 • Age: 27
If you're having to go the bargain basement route at starting pitcher, Griffin Canning makes for a more interesting pickup than someone like Ben Lively. You don't have to squint so hard to see the upside here. His overall numbers still leave much to be desired, but he's coming off his best two starts of the season, first two-hitting the Red Sox over seven innings May 23 and then striking out nine White Sox over six innings Monday. Even more impressive than the nine strikeouts were the 20 swinging strikes. In both of these starts, he cut down on his fastball and made better use of what's an impressive secondary arsenal. A former top-100 prospect, Canning made waves as a rookie in 2019 before injuries set him back. He's worth a speculative add in deeper leagues now.