Braves: Cristian Pache and Drew Waters serve as a cautionary tale about top prospects

Braves Pache

Following the 2019 season, Cristian Pache and Drew Waters were the Braves’ top prospects in the organization, and both were viewed as top 100 prospects in all of baseball. The thought of an outfield headlined by Acuña, Pache, and Waters had fans foaming at the mouth. Everyone believed it was just a matter of time before the three were roaming the green grass at Truist Park together, sparking roars with long home runs and spectacular web gems. Pache and Waters were can’t miss prospects, much like Acuña, who quickly vaulted himself into MVP conversations after reaching the majors. But fast forward three years later, and both Pache and Waters are out of the organization, totaling just 24 combined games with the big-league club.

First, it was Pache that was sent packing. He was included in the deal that landed Matt Olson this past offseason, along with Shea Langeliers, Ryan Cusick, and Joey Estes. Pache’s defense came as advertised; he was immediately one of the best defensive outfielders in the majors, but his offensive woes that were apparent at the minor-league levels stuck out like a sore thumb once he reached Atlanta.

Pache began the 2021 season as the Braves starting centerfielder, which the team quickly realized was a mistake. He hung around for 22 games and hit a measly .111 before they sent him back to AAA. Little did we know, that would be the last time we ever saw Pache wear a Braves uniform again in a regular season game.

Unfortunately, the same issues have plagued Pache since joining the Athletics. Defensively, he’s a wizard, but no amount of defense can make up for a player hitting well below the Mendoza Line with little power. In 2022, Pache is batting .159 with two homers over 68 games, which eventually led to his demotion back to AAA. He’s still only 23-years-old, so it’s far too early for him to be written off, but it’s also now fair to wonder if he’ll ever be able to produce enough offensively to make it as an everyday starter at the major-league level.

Waters’ path has been slightly different, but the lesson is the same. Prospects are never sure things; in fact, they are generally far from it. For every top prospect that turns into an All-Star, there are five to ten that fizzle out and barely have any impact at the majors.

Waters excelled in AA Mississippi during the 2019 season, even winning the Southern League MVP award at just 20-years-old. However, like most minor leaguers, 2020 was a lost year for him because of COVID, and he never seemed to rebound. He only recorded a .710 OPS with 11 homers over 103 games last season for the Stripers, and he’s been even worse this season, boasting a .698 OPS in 49 games. But what’s even more telling is his strikeout rate, which has consistently been a red flag for scouts at every level. Waters is striking out in 27.1% of his at-bats this season after striking out in 30.9% last year. That’s not going to cut it, and it’s a primary reason why the Braves felt alright moving on from him for the 35th overall pick in Sunday’s draft.

When it comes to prospects, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Anytime you have the opportunity to acquire a proven All-Star player, like Matt Olson, for example, in exchange for some high-quality prospects, you should probably pull the trigger. A couple of years ago, the Braves could have received a king’s ransom for Pache and Waters. Instead, they hung onto them and were forced to sell when their value was much lower.

I don’t expect the Braves to be considerable buyers at this year’s trade deadline because they don’t have many significant holes to patch up like last season. However, the Pache and Waters’ experience serves as a cautionary tale about overvaluing prospects. A lot of these guys will have very little impact at the major-league level. The Braves have just been fortunate that most of their prospects have ended up panning out in recent years.

Photo: David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire

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