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Malloy, Shuster make strides toward Atlanta

Braves tap into local talent as dynasty builds through system
Jared Shuster made 13 appearances this season in which he surrendered fewer than two runs. (Mike Krebs/
October 14, 2022

Each offseason, goes position by position across each organization and honors the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in each farm system. Next up in our 2022 Organization All-Stars series are the Atlanta Braves.

Each offseason, goes position by position across each organization and honors the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in each farm system. Next up in our 2022 Organization All-Stars series are the Atlanta Braves.

2022 Organization Summary

Triple-A Gwinnett: 69-79
Double-A Mississippi: 62-74
High-A Rome: 74-54 (second place, South Division)
Single-A Augusta: 69-62
DSL Braves: 36-24 (second place, Northwest Division)
FCL Braves: 20-35
Overall record: 330-328 (.502 winning percentage, 15th among MLB organizations)

Braves Organization All-Stars

Catcher: Tyler Tolve

The Braves have historically taken advantage of the wealth of local talent. And Tolve, the Atlanta-born, Kennesaw State product, could be the latest to make a charge toward the hometown club. Tolve led all Braves catchers with a .261 average and eight stolen bases. He was one of six backstops in the system with at least 10 homers (12), and he ranked second among that group in slugging (.470) and OPS (.809).

“Tyler is a really good athlete. I think that's probably the thing that jumped out most,” said Braves director of player development Ben Sestanovich. “Really on both sides of the ball. But behind the plate and at the plate, he showed some pretty big power.”

The 17th-rounder was challenged at High-A in his first full year, and some struggles appeared. Tolve struck out in 32 percent of his plate appearances and allowed 111 stolen bases while throwing out 25 runners.

First base: Drew Lugbauer

It’s rare for a hitter to have more extra-base hits than singles. But the 26-year-old hit for extra bases for 53 of his 101 total hits for Mississippi -- none of which was a triple. Lugbauer led the organization with 28 homers and 82 RBIs while batting .213/.328/.443. He also ranked among the top of the organizational charts with 75 walks, 71 runs and 25 doubles.

The 2017 11th-rounder also lived up to the billing as a “three true outcomes” hitter, finishing second in the Minors to White Sox prospect Craig Dedelow with 212 strikeouts. Although Lugbauer has settled into the mold of a modern, power-hitting first baseman, he proved to be quite spry for his 6-foot-3, 220-pound frame, frequently making difficult plays at first base.

Second base: Cody Milligan

The 23-year-old Milligan has been a fascinating prospect for Atlanta. Born in Denver and drafted in the ninth round of 2019 out of Cowley Community College in Kansas, Milligan has begun a transformation from natural second baseman to center fielder. He may be in a different position if he makes this list next year, but he’ll need another offensive season like the one he compiled across two levels in 2022.

“Real on-base skills, which obviously we love to see,” Sestanovich said. “I think we'll just continue to look for him to grind out at-bats. And play solid defense.”

Milligan batted .329 with a .910 OPS in Rome before being promoted to Mississippi in June. He finished the year batting .271 with a .345 on-base percentage in the Southern League. Across both levels, the 5-foot-10, 170-pounder collected 27 doubles, four triples, a pair of homers and 21 stolen bases. His 143 total hits and 110 singles were the most in the organization while his .397 total OBP ranked third.

Third base: Justyn-Henry Malloy

The Braves once again went local when they selected Malloy out of Georgia Tech in the sixth round last year. And the 22-year-old led the organization with a .408 on-base percentage, 97 walks and 28 doubles. He finished near the top of the organizational ranks with a .289 average, .862 OPS, 17 homers, 138 total hits, 91 runs and 81 RBIs.

“J-Hen's combination of discipline and power is impressive,” Sestanovich said. “Seeing him really control the strike zone and do some damage was really exciting to see.”

He also had the fifth-most whiffs in the organization (138) while striking out in 23.4 percent of his plate appearances.

“I think every hitter is going to get to being a good offensive player a little differently,” Sestanovich said. “Given his on-base skills and his ability to slug -- obviously every guy would like to strike out less. But we feel he's got contact skills in there.”

Sestanovich noted that Malloy’s strikeout rate, high though it may be, didn’t increase much as he faced more advanced pitching on his climb from Rome to Mississippi to Gwinnett. Malloy had 11 hits in his first 25 at-bats at Triple-A, and he’s kept that late-season success going with a strong start for Scottsdale in the Arizona Fall League.

Defensively, the club’s No. 11 prospect could also be in a different spot, should he reappear on this list next year. He made some highlight-reel plays at the hot corner but was also tested in left field, where Sestanovich suggests he might have a more permanent future.

Shortstop: Cal Conley

There are two noticeable omissions from the Braves’ Organization All-Stars list: Vaughn Grissom and Michael Harris II. Both had excellent seasons in the Minors and Majors, but it’s because of their MLB success that they’ve been left off this list.

Grissom’s promotion to Double-A created an opening for Conley to go to an environment where he really came into his own.

“He was a big part of that playoff team in Rome -- kind of captain of the infield,” Sestanovich said. “Anytime you have a guy who can play up the middle and switch-hit and has the ability to run a little bit, he can do a lot of different things. I think it's really exciting.”

The 23-year-old led the system with 36 stolen bases and 94 runs while batting .251 with a .738 OPS across both levels. The 2021 fourth-rounder finished with 16 homers, 20 doubles, seven triples and 65 RBIs. He batted .260 with a .766 OPS after the promotion and was successful in all but one of his 14 stolen base attempts in Rome.

The Braves’ No. 12 prospect has gotten off to a strong start in the AFL, as four of his first six hits for Scottsdale have been doubles and he’s 3-for-3 on steals.

Outfield: Drew Campbell

The 24-year-old was a mainstay in the Rome lineup until an injury ended his season in early September. Coming into the year, the 2019 23rd-rounder had played in just 55 professional games. But in nearly a full season in High-A, Campbell put together a .271/.340/.377 slash line with 21 extra-base hits, including seven homers, 50 RBIs and 51 runs scored.

He was one of only 10 players in the system with at least 100 hits this season. Campbell had a very strong month of July, where he bated .329 and drove in 16 runs in 76 at-bats.

Defensively, Campbell saw time at all three outfield spots but mostly stayed in center, where he made, perhaps, the catch of the year in the system:

Brandol Mezquita

The 21-year-old’s lasting memory of the 2022 season was the solo shot he clubbed in Game 3 of Rome’s playoff series against Bowling Green. Unfortunately, it was his only hit in 10 at-bats against the Hot Rods. Mezquita struggled to catch on in the South Atlantic League but had a strong season with the GreenJackets before being promoted in August.

He batted .268 with a .710 OPS across both levels and collected 104 hits, 22 of which went for extra bases, with 47 walks and 14 stolen bases. His .357 on-base percentage ranked ninth among all players in the system with at least 300 plate appearances this season.

Following the promotion, Mezquita batted .193 with just one extra-base hit in 17 games. His 27.3 percent strikeout rate was a bit high, but, at .375, he also had the highest BABIP among all qualified hitters in the system.

Andrew Moritz

The 25-year-old had a strong season in Rome last year, then lasted just eight games before being bumped up to Mississippi in April. Moritz had five hits and nine walks over 27 plate appearances with Rome (.510 OBP) and continued to find success with that profile after the promotion.

Over the course of the season, the 2018 sixth-rounder batted .283/.371/.362 with 17 doubles and 44 walks. He ranked fourth among qualified hitters in the system in average and seventh in on-base percentage. The 5-foot-11, 180-pound corner outfielder managed a .285 batting average and .360 OBP in his first Double-A action.

Right-handed starter: Royber Salinas

The 21-year-old Salinas was the only pitcher in the Minors with at least 170 strikeouts in fewer than 110 innings. In fact, his 175 total punchouts were fourth-most among all Minor Leaguers, and his 14.45 K/9 were fourth-most among all MiLB pitchers to complete at least 80 innings this season.

“It was really good to just see him make progress over the course of the year,” Sestanovich said. “It was impressive to see some growth for him. … The ability to improve the secondary stuff, the ability to refine his delivery a little bit and, really, for a 21-year-old, to see a guy go wire to wire in the Minor League season and take the ball every fifth or sixth day is a huge part of development.”

Salinas made 25 total starts, the first five of which came with Augusta. The club’s No. 19 prospect simply overpowered hitters in the Carolina League, pitching to a 1.52 ERA with a .127 opponents' batting average while recording 52 of 71 total outs (73.2 percent) via the strikeout. In Rome, Salinas had some control issues, issuing 51 free passes in 85 ⅓ innings. But his strikeout prowess remained, as he maintained a 12.97 K/9 throughout the rest of the season.

The Guarenas, Venezuela, native got the start in Rome’s only playoff victory, and made eight starts in which he struck out at least 10 batters, twice reaching his season high of 13 punchouts.

Left-handed starter: Jared Shuster

This is probably the most talented group in a Braves system that has been drastically thinned out by trades. Kyle Muller and Shuster are the two highest-ranking prospects in Atlanta’s system, and 16th-ranked Dylan Dodd also had quite the year pitching at three different levels. But Shuster positioned himself to compete for a spot in the big league rotation as soon as next year.

“Obviously the strike-throwing is well above average, which we love to see from all our guys,” Sestanovich said. “Just seeing him perform at two levels and take the ball for five months and continue his development as a starting pitcher was terrific to see.”

Sestanovich noted that Shuster developed a harder slider to complement his fastball and changeup. The changeup remains the highest-rated pitch for Shuster, who compiled a 3.29 ERA with 145 strikeouts in 139 ⅓ innings for Mississippi and Gwinnett.

In each of his first two seasons in the Minors, the 2020 first-rounder out of Wake Forest received a midseason promotion. His first 17 appearances came in the Southern League, which he reached last season. Thankfully, the 24-year-old’s second tour of Double-A went much better as he compiled a 2.78 ERA with a .198 opponents' batting average over 90 ⅔ innings.

Shuster had a difficult time in the International League but pitched better than his surface stats might suggest. Throughout the season, the 6-foot-3, 210-pounder made 13 appearances in which he surrendered fewer than two runs and struck out at least eight batters six times.

Reliever: Justin Yeager

The only pitcher in the Braves’ system with a better K/9 than Yeager’s 13.9 was Salinas. Yeager made 49 appearances with Rome and Mississippi this season, completing 52 ⅓ innings while striking out 81 batters.

The 6-foot-4, 215-pound righty did most of his work in the Southern League (38 appearances) after allowing just one run through his first 12 innings in Rome to open the season. Following the promotion, Yeager pitched to a 3.79 ERA in Double-A but held opposing batters to a .158 average across both levels. The 24-year-old has been a full-time reliever since being drafted by the Braves in the 33rd round in 2019. In 94 career appearances, the Southern Illinois product has a 3.21 ERA with 178 strikeouts in 117 ⅔ innings.

Gerard Gilberto is a reporter for