A product of Etowah High School in Woodstock, Georgia, Drew Waters was taken by his hometown team in the second round of the 2017 MLB draft. In less than two full seasons of professional baseball, he’s already made quite a name for himself, booming up both the Braves and league-wide prospect charts. According to MLB.com, Waters is the fourth-rated prospect in Atlanta’s talented farm system – a number that should continue to rise as he puts together an MVP-caliber season for AA Mississippi.
The switch-hitting 20-year-old is hitting a gaudy .334 with an OPS of .901 in 72 games for the Braves. He’s already smoked 25 doubles, and his power will only grow as he fills out his frame. Waters allowed me to speak with him yesterday about several different topics from his growth as a player in his second full season to an under the radar teammate he believes could have an impact on the major league roster down the road.
Being Drafted By Your Hometown Team
Chase Irle: Take me back to that moment: It’s the second round of the 2017 draft, and you are selected by your hometown team. Did you grow up a Braves fan and what was that moment like for you?
Drew Waters: I did grow up a Braves fan. I remember going to Turner Field quite often. The night of the draft, I actually wasn’t expected to be drafted by the Atlanta Braves. But when it came down to it, the Braves called me and asked if I wanted to be their second-round pick. It was hard to turn down the hometown team, so I said I’d love to. Next thing you know, I was sitting there with my family; I hear my name get announced by Jeff Francoeur. That was pretty cool because, at the time, my current agent also represented Francoeur, and being the Braves legend that he was – it was a pretty cool moment.
The Hit Tool
Chase Irle: You hear a lot of people talk about five-tool players, and they talk about you in that regard, but what do you think is the one tool that separates you from your peers?
Drew Waters: Probably my hit tool. I’ve always taken a lot of pride in my hitting. Growing up, I was learning how to switch hit, so I was always hitting more than anyone else. I look at why I play the game – to hit – because I love it. Now, I’m not saying I don’t like playing defense. Obviously, the team needs me on defense just as much as they do at the plate.
Chase Irle: You mentioned you’re a switch hitter. When did you start doing that and do you kind of favor one side more than the other at this point in the process?
Drew Waters: I started switch-hitting before kid-pitch, so it had to be around five or six years old. I’m actually a natural right-handed hitter, but I probably favor my left side more only because I get more at-bats. But when we face a couple of lefties back-to-back and I start getting into a groove right-handed again, I’ll get more comfortable from the right side of the plate than I will from the left side.
The hard part is when you don’t hit right-handed, for what sometimes could be a month. You just happened to dodge the lefty every time they come out of the bullpen, or the teams don’t have a left-handed starter. Next thing you know – you haven’t hit right-handed in a month, and there’s a left-handed starter on the mound. That’s probably the hardest part for me, just going out there and being comfortable, trusting my swing, but I would say there’s not too much of a difference between my left-handed and right-handed swing.
A Breakout Campaign
Chase Irle: Currently, you’re on a 28-game on-base streak, and the numbers you’re putting up this year – at the highest level you’ve been at – are insane. From a comfortability standpoint, what’s the difference between this year and last year?
Drew Waters: I started talking to our hitting coordinator, and he said in order for you to succeed as you continue to go up the minor leagues, and even in the big leagues, you need to get a stronger lower half.
It was hard for me to understand that. At the time, I was putting up great numbers in Low-A, and I had a good season, so I didn’t want to change then. I scuffled in High-A towards the end of the season, and I went out to Texas to hit with our hitting coordinator this offseason. He showed me some things, really opened my eyes to the hitter I could become if I developed a stronger lower half.
That was my big focus this offseason – having a stronger lower half and being able to repeat that same lower half every at-bat. For me, I look at my swing like a house. If you build a house, you build it from the ground up. If the bottom of the house is strong, then the top part is going to be strong.
Developing Minor League Talent
Chase Irle: Drafting is one thing; developing talent is something different. What is it about the Braves minor league system that gets you so prepared to go up from level to level?
Drew Waters: I feel like in a lot of organizations, you are expected to learn things on your own. I feel like the (Braves) coaches and the coordinators – whether its the outfield coordinator, the infield coordinator, the hitting coordinator – they’re not trying to get you prepared for Low-A, or High-A; they’re trying to get you prepared for the big leagues.
Some people are able to take the advice they give you and translate it into their game. Those are the guys that have success. I just think overall the Atlanta Braves are a first-class organization. I think they do a really good job of preparing their players, and I think they care a lot about their players as well.
Minor League Relationships
Chase Irle: One of the things that always intrigued me about baseball is the clubhouses, especially in the minor leagues. You come out of Etowah High School where everyone is American then go to a minor league locker room where people are speaking all different languages. What’s that transition like?
Drew Waters: There’s a lot of – I call it – “Spanglish” going on. In an American high school, you’re required to take some sort of language class, so I knew the very basics of Spanish. Then, our Latin Players are actually required to go to English class every week, so they know a little bit of English. There’s not a huge language barrier, and if there’s ever anything that I need to tell a Latin player, most of the coaches speak both languages, so the whole language thing isn’t a huge barrier. I will say though when I really started to get to know some of the Latin players we have – if you have a problem with anything – those are the first guys to come and help you. I’m friends with most of them, and I’ve really enjoyed becoming friends with them.
Chase Irle: One in particular – you and Cristian Pache have both been substantial risers in the organization over the last year or so. What’s the relationship like between you guys, as you both look to be on the same track towards the majors?
Drew Waters: We’re honestly like best friends. We live together; we go to every meal together. I know everything about him; he knows everything about me. If we go eat, and the waitress can’t understand his order, I know what he wants to order before we even sit down. I would say this year in particular – being on the same team – our relationship has really grown.
Even on the field, it’s like we almost feed off of each other. He goes up there and smokes a double; now I’m like I got to get him in somehow. Next thing you know: I smoke a double. I feel like he really pushes me on the field to be the best player I can, and I feel like I push him to be the best player he is as well.
Tell me that doesn’t sound familiar:
Shoutout to Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuña Jr. for expressing tenderness pic.twitter.com/JLLtTY6YkV
— Pedro Moura (@pedromoura) July 29, 2018
An Under the Radar Prospect to Watch
Chase Irle: Outside of the top prospects, like Ian Anderson, Cristian Pache, yourself, which teammate have you spent some time with that might not have the name recognition right now, but you think they will be a good major leaguer down the road?
Drew Waters: Going into the season, I hadn’t played with too many of these guys just because I was younger and at the lower levels. But one guy I’ve watched over the course of the season that has been eye-opening to me is a right-handed pitcher – who was a starter last year but is now coming out of the bullpen – his name is Jeremy Walker. I think he’s lost four guys all season (walks) and strikes out a ridiculous amount.
He’s a heavy two-seam, sinker guy that throws like 93/94 with a wipeout slider. I don’t know what it is, but guys cannot hit him. He was an All-Star in the Southern League, and nothing has stopped him so far. I don’t even think I’ve seen him have a bad outing.
Waters isn’t exaggerating. Walker has struck out 53 batters this season in 19 appearances (55.2 innings) and only walked four. His ERA sits at 2.43 and WHIP is a hair above one. Here is him catching a body, courtesy of Kyle Muller.