Entering spring training, the Braves have exactly one position that wasn’t filled by an incumbent player… shortstop.
After seven seasons in Atlanta, shortstop Dansby Swanson signed with the Chicago Cubs this offseason for a whopping seven years and $177 million. Although the Braves would have loved to keep Swanson, Swanson was never going to accept a team-friendly extension like most other Braves stars have. And, for their part, the Braves were never going to pay top dollar for the former first-round pick, as they already have an entire lineup locked up for the next several years.
Last season, in the absence of Ozzie Albies, Vaughn Grissom filled in at second base admirably. The 21-year-old, in his first taste of the major leagues, hit .291/.353/.440 with 5 home runs and 5 stolen bases in only 41 games, despite never playing above AA. Grissom, who started 2022 at High-A playing shortstop, also handled second bases duties very well, as he has more range and a stronger arm than Albies.
Although the young shortstop was projected to play third base as he developed, it made sense that with the vacancy, Grissom would, at the very least, hold down the position until Braves’ number six prospect, Braden Shewmake, was ready.
Shewmake, who was drafted in the first round (number 21 overall) of the 2019 draft, has had ups and downs as a prospect. He is a slick-fielding, lefthanded-hitting stud drafted out of Texas A&M after a monstrous Junior year. In his first season as a pro, Shewmake hit well enough to earn a quick promotion to AA. His bat hasn’t fared as well in the last two seasons, but he has made consistent contact and maintains a very low strikeout rate. Considering Shewmake has been playing above his level and that his hands, arm, and bat all grade out very highly, he is considered to be the heir apparent to Swanson.
This spring, both Grissom and Shewmake performed admirably. The former shows that his bat is major-league-ready and that 2022 was not a fluke. Shewmake, the highly touted first-rounder, also handled pitching well and showed the defensive prowess that made him the favorite to eventually be the guy to replace Dansby Swanson.
The competition between the two youngsters was one of the better position battles in all of MLB spring training. So, it makes perfect sense that both players were optioned to AAA Gwinnett this week.
Seemingly out of nowhere, Orlando Arcia was tapped as the opening-day shortstop. The very light-hitting veteran is a familiar face in Atlanta, where he has spent the last two seasons as a utility player. The move is definitely a head-scratcher considering that for seven years, Arcia has bounced back and forth from AAA to the Bigs while hitting only .243 with little power as a fill-in guy over parts of 7 MLB seasons in Milwaukee and Atlanta.
My guess is that this move comes from manager Brian Snitker and his comfort with the veteran in the lineup. After all, Grissom is still a pup and has never played AAA, and Shewmake hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire in the minors. Perhaps Snit thinks that Grissom and Shewmake would be better served battling each other for shortstop supremacy in Gwinnett, with the victor getting a call-up in a couple of months.
In the meantime, the Braves lineup has enough pop in the other eight spots that Arcia certainly won’t bring them down.
Backing up Arcia will be Ehire Adrianza, who, like Arcia, has spent the last two seasons as a utility guy in Atlanta. The ten-year veteran has played pretty much everywhere but catcher and offers Snitker a switch-hitting option in the lineup.
Of course, fans were excited to see one of the kids get the nod this season. Getting a look at the future always excites fans, and this spring, both Grissom and Shewmake offered an encouraging glimpse.
My guess is that one of the two will be called up shortly, with Shewmake, the better defender and the higher ceiling of the two, eventually rising to the top before the end of the season.