The Atlanta Braves have called up right-handed pitching prospect AJ Smith-Shawver to help their decimated pitching staff, the team announced Tuesday afternoon. At 20 years and 191 days old, Smith-Shawver would be the youngest pitcher to appear in a game for the Braves since Julio Teheran in 2011, assuming he appears in Tuesday's game against the Oakland Athletics.
A seventh-round draft pick in 2021, Smith-Shawver pitched to an unsightly 5.11 ERA in 68 2/3 Low Class-A innings last season, though he impressed with his stuff. This season he's posted a 1.09 ERA with 45 strikeouts in 33 innings while rocketing from High Class-A to Triple-A.. Here's the write-up:
The Braves have made a habit out of finding contributors outside of the first round. They picked Michael Harris in the third; Spencer Strider in the fourth; and Vaughn Grissom in the 11th. Smith-Shawver, a seventh rounder in 2021, could someday add his name to the list. He's a physical right-hander with a loud fastball-breaking ball combination who has made some mechanical refinements since draft day. He still walked more than five batters per nine innings last season in A-ball, but his upside is worth waiting on.
The Braves are not willing to wait on Smith-Shawver's upside. They want him in the big leagues now. Miami Marlins right-hander Eury Pérez is the only pitcher younger than Smith-Shawver to appear in a big league game this season.
This month alone, the Braves have lost two starters (Max Fried and Kyle Wright) and two relievers (Dylan Lee and Michael Tonkin) to injury, and they've had a bit of a revolving door at the back of the bullpen. It's unclear how the Braves plan to use Smith-Shawver, and this may be a short-term call-up to give the team a fresh long reliever.
Righty Bryce Elder has been a rotation savior for the Braves this season, pitching to a National League-best 2.01 ERA in 10 starts as the club navigates their pitching injuries. Atlanta has used 11 different starting pitchers this season, the third most in baseball, and 20 different pitchers overall. Smith-Shawver will be No. 21 whenever he gets into a game.
Despite the injuries, the Braves enter play Tuesday in first place in the NL East with a 32-22 record and a plus-57 run differential, the best in the National League. Atlanta has made a pitching transaction in three of the last four days.