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The path to the majors has become much clearer for Drew Waters

The path to the majors has become much clearer for Drew Waters

Monday, March 21, 2022

-Clint Manry

Leading up to the 2020 season, the Braves farm system was no doubt headlined by a pair of ultra-talented outfielders – Cristian Pache and Drew Waters. In late January of that offseason, FanGraphs had each prospect ranked nos. 1 and 2, respectively, as both were coming off huge performances at the Double and Triple-A levels. Just consider Pache and Waters overall stats during that 2019 season – they were nearly identical…

2019 season

Cristian Pache (AA/AAA): 130 G, .277 AVG, 12 HR, 61 RBI, 8 SB, 36 2B, 113 wRC+

Drew Waters (AA/AAA): 134 G, .309 AVG, 7 HR, 52 RBI, 16 SB, 40 2B, 114 wRC+

You could make the case that Waters had a better season. Although, following the canceled minor league campaign in 2020, all the excitement was still aimed at Pache. And considering the latter’s already Gold Glove-like defense, rightfully so.

However, as we know, Pache struggled at the major league level in 2021, and after suffering a minor injury, his first big league opportunity lasted just 22 games last year, thanks to a .111 AVG and a 36.8% K rate. Who knows if Waters could’ve performed better for the Braves if given the same chance, but it’s not like he did much to separate himself either, as he too struck out more than 30% of the time on his way to a roughly-average 94 wRC+ in 103 games with Triple-A Gwinnett.

But all of that it pretty much moot now. With Pache one of the headliners in the Matt Olson trade with the A’s last week, by default, Waters will now become the Braves’ next position-player closest to the majors. And with the universal-DH now a real thing, and the fact that Ronald Acuna Jr. is out until at least May, the 23-year-old switch-hitter is now looking at a potential debut in Atlanta this season, which just a few weeks ago, didn’t seem very likely.

And even better for Waters, the kid has performed well in his small sample of games so far in Spring Training, homering in the spring opener on his way to a combined 2 for 4 (.500 AVG) start thus far. Although this isn’t the first time Waters has hit well in spring camp. Now going on his fourth Spring Training with the big league team, the outfielder has a history of posting strong numbers during exhibition matchups, hitting .400 in seven games in 2019, .182 in 15 games in 2020 and .667 in four games last year. If that three-year sample is any indication, it’s very possible that Waters’ numbers will even out as Spring Training progresses.

But regardless of where his numbers end up by the end of this month, Waters’ stock has no doubt improved. The absence of Pache is an obvious plus, but so too are the improvements Waters appeared to have made in 2021, especially regarding his plate discipline. I know I mentioned his strikeout-rate above, but Waters’ 30.9% K rate with the Stripers in 2021 was a roughly 6% improvement compared to his short stint there two seasons prior. Plus, Waters raised his walk-rate to a solid 10.2% — his highest mark since his pro debut in rookie ball in 2017. And perhaps the most exciting improvement of Waters’ game last year was his power. After failing to reach double-digits in homers during his three previous pro seasons, Waters tallied 11 long balls in 2021, to go with 22 doubles and a triple. Ironically enough, that career-high in dingers came with nearly a career-low in fly ball rate (19.6%) last season, suggesting that if he could simply adjust his launch angle a bit, Waters could unlock even more homers in 2022.

We’ll see where Waters ends up this coming season. It’s very likely he begins 2022 with the Stripers again, though depending on the Braves outfield situation over the course of the regular season, an injury or two could present Waters with an opportunity. Right now it looks like Marcell Ozuna, Adam Duvall and Eddie Rosario will be the regulars in Atlanta, with a combination of Guillermo Heredia, Travis Demeritte, Alex Dickerson and Waters as possible depth options. The Braves also have to send a DH out there everyday now, so that should minimize that list even more, pushing Waters even higher on the outfield depth chart. One thing’s for sure, though: the Braves and A’s are both winners from that monster trade last week. But I’m afraid the biggest winner could perhaps be Drew Waters.

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