AUGUSTA, Ga. – The Augusta GreenJackets announced their 2021 Opening Day roster on Monday.
While much of the Atlanta Braves organization’s top talent will reside across the state in Rome there will be intriguing prospects calling SRP Park home this week. Many of these players haven’t played in a competitive environment since 2019, so the early part of the season will be all about learning this new crop of talent.
Here are a few players to keep an eye on as the season begins:
SS Vaughn Grissom
The Braves selected Grissom in the 11th round of the 2019 MLB Draft out of Hagerty High School in Oviedo, Fla. He hit .288/.361/.761 over 160 at-bats with the Gulf Coast League Braves in 2019. MLB.com has Grissom ranked as the No. 18 prospect in the Braves’ organization.
At 180 pounds, the 20-year-old infielder has room to grow into his 6-foot-3 frame. At his size, Grissom could be a prime candidate for a move to third base down the road. There are always exceptions, with bigger shortstops becoming a trend the past three decades (Cal Ripken, Alex Rodriguez, Troy Tulowitzki, etc.). He showed well at the Alternate Site in 2020 and spent time playing winter ball with Atenienses de Manati in Puerto Rico. Don’t be surprised if he makes the jump to Rome rather quickly.
The Braves selected Owens in the 13th round in 2019 out of Trinity Catholic in Ocala, Fla. Prior to signing with Atlanta, he was a Florida State commit. He started nine games between the GCL and Danville Braves in 2019, striking out 32 batters in 27.1 innings with a 1.10 WHIP. MLB.com has Owens ranked as the No. 24 prospect in the Braves organization.
Owens is on the smaller side, listed at 5-foot-10, 185 pounds. While that isn’t normally conducive to maintaining a career as a starter, he has a big fastball. According to his Perfect Game profile, it topped out at 98 mph (99.97 percentile for his class) before the draft. He also sports a curveball and change in his repertoire, which the 20-year-old will continue to develop in 2021.
RHP Joey Estes
The Braves selected Estes in the 16th round of the ’19 draft. The right-hander from Paraclete High School in Lancaster, Calif. was rated the No. 15 right-handed arm in California’s 2019 class. Like Owens, he signed for above-slot value.
What’s particularly intriguing about Estes is his age. He won’t turn 20 for another five months and he sports a mid-90s fastball, a slider and a curveball. As far as pitchers on this roster go, he may have the second-highest ceiling behind Owens. Both prospects have considerable room to grow during their first full season of professional baseball.
SS Cam Shepherd
The Braves signed Shepherd as an undrafted free agent in the abbreviated 2020 Draft. The 23-year-old Duluth, Ga. native hit .268 in 18 games as a senior at the University of Georgia.
Shepherd touts an advanced glove, but the bat is where he still needs to develop. He made just 24 errors in 188 games as a Bulldog. Unless the Braves already have plans on moving Grissom to the hot corner, he’ll likely be the Opening Day shortstop. Shepherd will have a chance early on to show his versatility. GreenJackets Manager Michael Saunders has built-in flexibility with the two, with the likely event one gets called up midseason.
OF Stephen Paolini
Paolini represents the highest draft pick in Augusta this year, as the Braves took the 20-year-old in the fifth round in 2019 out of St. Joseph’s High School in Turnbull, Conn. The No.2-ranked outfielder in Connecticut turned down a commitment to Elon University to sign with Atlanta.
In 35 games with the GCL Braves in ’19, he hit just .192. At 6-foot-2, 195 pounds, Paolini has the chance to develop some power in his first full season.