Home News AJ Smith-Shawver likely set to make first MLB start

AJ Smith-Shawver likely set to make first MLB start

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ATLANTA — Now that Michael Soroka has shown he needs a little more time in the Minors, it looks like heralded prospect AJ Smith-Shawver might be just a few days away from his first career start.

Smith-Shawver, who ranks as the Braves’ No. 4 prospect per MLB Pipeline, impressed as he worked 2 1/3 scoreless relief innings in Sunday’s 8-5 comeback win over the D-backs. The effort may have earned him a chance to start against the Nationals on Friday or Saturday.

Anticipation of his potential first start grew when the Braves announced these moves on Monday afternoon.

When Fried was placed on the injured list with a left forearm strain, it was known that he was going to miss two months. His move to the 60-day injured list was simply a procedural move to create a 40-man spot. He will be eligible to be activated on July 5. Given he still hasn’t started throwing off the mound, this doesn’t change his timetable. He’ll likely need a month to progress from bullpen sessions to live batting practice to probably at least four Minor League rehab starts.

With Fried and Kyle Wright both on the injured list, the Braves took a chance on bringing Soroka up earlier than planned. The right-hander allowed four runs and five hits, including a home run, in six innings against the A’s on Monday. He then issued four walks, allowed five runs and surrendered seven hits, including two homers, against the D-backs Sunday.

Soroka beat the odds just by getting back to the Majors after tearing his right Achilles tendon on Aug. 3, 2020, and again 11 months later. The 25-year-old Canadian created a feel-good story when he returned to the Majors after dealing with nearly three years of physical and mental challenges.

But when asked Sunday if he has to remember it might take time to get back to where he was when he posted a 2.68 ERA during his 2019 rookie season, even Soroka acknowledged you can’t make preparations at the big league level.

“Maybe it’s a process, but we’re back in the big leagues now, it’s time to get outs,” Soroka said. “If it were still time to work on things, I wouldn’t be here yet.”

Few could have anticipated Smith-Shawver already being here. The 20-year-old hurler didn’t begin pitching until a travel ball coach suggested he give it a try during the summer of 2020, around the same time Soroka first tore his right Achilles.

Smith-Shawver made fewer than 10 starts during his senior year of high school, but impressed enough for the Braves to give him an over-slot $997,500 signing bonus after taking him in the seventh round of the 2021 MLB Draft. The talented hurler began this year with High-A Rome and then just continued his meteoric rise before being called up to the Majors last week.

Though Smith-Shawver completed just 110 innings in the Minors, the Braves were willing to take a chance on his powerful arm, much like they did with Spencer Strider last year. Both hurlers feature an aggressive fastball-slider mix. 

Smith-Shawver’s fastball touched 97.1 mph and averaged 94.7 mph as he recorded three strikeouts during a three-inning effort blemished only by an eighth-inning walk. He produced a 35.1 percent strikeout rate while completing 33 innings at the Minor League levels this year.

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