It was…not a banner year for one of the more intriguing prospects in the Braves farm system.
Coming into the 2021 season, the future of Braves prospect Drew Waters was a hot topic. Some thought he would be able to put together a break out season and cement himself as one of the top outfield prospects in the game, while others thought that his approach at the plate was going to hold him back despite his track record of success in the minor leagues. 2021 gave the latter group the edge to be sure and now the Braves have to wonder if Drew is going to be a part of their future or if others will begin to officially surpass him if they haven’t already.
Midseason Report Card: Drew Waters came in as the #2 overall prospect in the Braves’ system on our midseason top 30 prospect rankings. It is probably safe to say that he won’t occupy that high of a spot once we release our preseason rankings early next year.
Drew Waters 2021 MiLB Stats: .240/.329/.381, 11 homers, 37 RBI, 94 wRC+
What we saw in 2021: If we are looking for positives, it is worth starting with his walk rate which was a career high (outside of a 14 game sample in his first level of rookie ball) at 10.2%. One of the biggest knocks on Drew during his career has been his approach at the plate and while there were certainly still some red flags there, it was nice to see his walk rate climb.
However, we also saw his strikeout rate land at 30.9% for the season and saw him put up some concerning hitting and power numbers…especially for a guy that already had experience at Triple-A coming into the season. His groundball rate was way up and his fly ball rate went way down which was partially because it seemed like while he was recognizing pitches reasonably well, he wasn’t putting the right pitches in play. He is going to have to improve on choosing his spots better and understanding what are “his pitches”. It is worth nothing that he was dealing with an injury early in the season which, coming off the year that COVID stole, was less than ideal for a guy trying to find a rhythm at the plate. There is nothing to worry about with him defensively, though, as he can play all three spots very well and has a strong arm.
What the future holds: That is the million dollar question. There is no doubt whatsoever that Drew’s stock is down. For a guy that has all the physical tools to be a great asset as a player, he still hasn’t locked in an approach at the plate from either side that is going to yield consistent production at the plate. He can’t live on hitting groundballs on pitchers’ pitches and using his speed and a dash of luck. He has real power and can impact the game in a bunch of different ways…but he is going to have be smarter with his aggression.
Another problem is that he is far from being alone on the Braves’ outfield prospect depth chart. Michael Harris seems like a more complete hitter and player than Drew right now and Cristian Pache, even with his warts, is a better defender and has similar if not better overall upside. Even Jesse Franklin has opened some eyes and gotten some love. Does that mean that Waters is “more expendable”? Maybe, but selling low on a guy as talented as him may not be the right play, either.
Drew was protected from the Rule 5 draft and added to the 40 man roster, so it does seem reasonable to expect that we will know this next season if Drew can develop into a Braves outfielder of the future…or if the team moves on.