I haven’t looked deep into it, but the Braves did something I don’t believe they usually do: they drafted three shortstops in the 2021 MLB Draft (four if you count two-way player Spencer Schwellenbach, although he’ll pitch as a pro).
Each of these field generals above have experienced different results as professional ball players so far. Durbin – who’s currently playing at the rookie level with the FCL Braves – has mostly struggled, sporting a .231 AVG with no XBH in nine games. Conley, though, has been a bit better with Single-A Augusta, currently carrying a .261 AVG with four XBH in 17 games. But then there’s Waddell – a 23-year-old out of Georgia Tech. He’s playing on a totally different level.
After starting his pro debut a bit slow by hitting .167 in his first nine games with Rome, the lefty-hitting Waddell has been on a complete tear over the last week or so. Beginning with a combined 3 for 6 performance during the R-Braves doubleheader on August 20, Waddell has rarely missed, going 13 for 31 (.419 AVG) with five home runs and eight RBI in his last nine games – good for a 248 wRC+ in that span. Even more impressive, all five of those long balls have come in his last five games as the young shortstop already has two multi-homer performances during that stretch.
Now, we knew going into the draft that Waddell could hit. His 55-grade Hit tool was one of his best grades on draft day, which compliments well with his above-average speed. But the power-stroke is admittedly a bit of a surprise, given Waddell received a 30-grade for Power and only tallied 12 homers in 172 career games in college, spanning across four seasons. But blasts like these don’t just come from good luck…
Luke Waddell's second home run of the game gives Rome a 5-4 lead in the ninth inning pic.twitter.com/k7IgJQXkmt
— Atlanta Braves Farm System Updates (@BravesMILB) August 25, 2021
Waddell’s outlook in the system
It’s reasonable to believe, as Braves Journal managing editor Ryan Cothran opined on Sunday, that if Waddell can keep this up he’ll most likely see a Double-A assignment next season. Braden Shewmake has looked much better of late, and with his age, he’ll need to see Triple-A pitching soon, opening a spot for the Braves latest star at shortstop in Waddell. However, we also shouldn’t generate too high of expectations. We’ve seen this before where first-year players go crazy at the plate only to regress drastically in Year 2. If you recall, first baseman Bryce Ball hit the pro ranks by storm when he was drafted in 2019 but struggled mightily with Rome earlier this season (leading to him being traded to the Cubs in exchange for outfielder Joc Pederson).
Either way, though, it’s great to see some middle-infield talent developing in the Braves system. This organization hasn’t had this much depth at the shortstop position in a long time, which leads me to believe that the draft strategy this year was intentional. We’ll see how he develops through the rest of this season, but it appears the Braves have a potential top-tier prospect in Waddell. If nothing else, he sure is putting together an incredible debut as a pro.