The Braves welcomed three new prospects to the system, and there’s a lot to like about each of these guys. With the 24th pick, the Braves got, in my opinion, a total steal in Florida RHP Hurston Waldrep.
The right-hander has a legitimate three-pitch power mix, with all three offerings having the potential to be at least above-average. He was 95-99 mph in his looks this fall and that’s carried over this spring, though he’s struggled to command the heater at times. His best secondary offering is his split-change, a well-above-average pitch that misses an extraordinary amount of bats. His hard upper-80s slider also flashes plus and can be an out pitch.
While Waldrep is generally around the strike zone, there is a little effort in his up-tempo delivery, causing some inconsistencies with his command and control, which led to an uptick in his walk rate this spring. Those kinds of things can be ironed out, and his pure stuff still has him in early first-round conversations.
His splitter might be the best secondary pitch in the entire draft. He has a ton of upside to be a potential frontline starter, or even a trade chip if the Braves need the prospect capital to pull off a move. This kid has sky-high potential, and the Braves stole him the with the 24th pick.
With their second pick of the night, the Braves selected Virginia Tech RHP Drue Hackenberg.
At his best, Hackenberg is a sinker-slider guy with the chance to be a durable workhorse-type of starting pitcher. His fastball touches 95 mph and usually sits around 93, featuring good sink to get ground-ball outs. His 83-85 mph slider flashes above average and can miss bats, especially getting chases out of the zone, but it isn’t a true out pitch. He doesn’t throw his changeup often, but it does have the chance to be average with some sink to also get contact on the ground.
In his two years with the Hokies, Hackenberg has done a very good job of throwing strikes and limiting walks, and that was especially true after he righted the ship from his early struggles this spring. His strength is control over command, and he did get hit without a true weapon to close out an at-bat. A strong finish to the season will help remind teams he could be a solid back-end starter who eats up a lot of innings.
I’m surprised the Braves went with another college pitcher, but as we’ll see, Hackenberg was an under-slot signing to save some money. Also, yes, he is Christian Hackenberg’s brother. He looks to have a solid mix of pitches, and if he can throw strikes, the Braves will have a chance to develop him in a similar way to Bryce Elder.
With their third and final pick of day one, the Braves got another player I really like. They probably went over-slot to get him, but it was worth it to pick up RHP Cade Kuehler out of Campbell University.
Kuehler has some of the best fastball metrics in the Draft, generating outstanding spin rates and carry on a four-seamer that sits at 93-95 mph and peaks at 98, and he’ll mix in some two-seamers as well. He possesses a second plus pitch in a mid-80s slider with depth that he can turn into a shorter, harder cutter. He also deploys a solid low-80s curveball, a traditional low-80s changeup with fade and a mid-80s splitter/changeup.
Despite his stuff, Kuehler gets hit harder than he should because he doesn’t always locate his pitches effectively. He has a high three-quarters slot and a short arm action that provide deception but his inconsistency repeating them hampers his command. He probably needs to pare down his repertoire, and some evaluators wonder if his mechanics and mature 6-foot frame will make him more of a reliever than a starter.
There’s a ton of potential with this guy, and I’m not surprised to see the Braves dip into a Campbell program that has turned into an MLB talent production factory. The Braves likely see a very raw, but talented, player they can potentially mold into a solid starter.
Photographer: Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire