Excited Hurston Waldrep looking to make impact with Braves this year

COLLEGE BASEBALL: MAY 24 SEC Baseball Tournament Florida vs Alabama

The Braves landed one of the best pitchers in the first round of the draft last year, selecting the highly touted Hurston Waldrep out of Florida, and it didn’t take long for him to leave a lasting impression on the entire organization.

In his first taste of professional ball, Waldrep turned heads every time he toed the rubber, recording a 1.53 ERA with a silly 12.6 K/9. He began the year with the Low-A Augusta Green Jackets, and by the end of the season, he tossed four shutout innings for the AAA Gwinnett Stripers in his final start of 2023. Now, at 22-years-old, Waldrep is thrilled about his first opportunity to be a part of major-league Spring Training and compete for the final spot in the rotation.

“It’s baseball,” Hurston Waldrep said when asked about the Braves competition for the fifth spot in the rotation. “You can’t ever guarantee anything. You can’t ever say anything is out of reach, so it’s just doing what you gotta do.”

Typically, even the top draft picks can expect to spend at least a few years in the minors, but Hurston Waldrep is a unique talent, featuring a high-90s fastball and a filthy splitter that was arguably the nastiest pitch in all of college baseball last season. The Braves also don’t operate like most organizations when it comes to their young talent, eagerly pushing there young stars through the ranks if they deem them ready, as they did with Spencer Strider, Michael Harris II, AJ Smith-Shawver, and plenty of others.

“Yeah, absolutely, you see this organization, they like moving guys fast, and obviously last year everything moved really fast, and so seeing what they’ve done in the past and realizing there is always the chance for any spot,” Waldrep said.

The final spot in the rotation will be a highly competitive battle. Bryce Elder was a National League All-Star in 2023, and he could find himself on the outside looking in for the second year in a row after a poor second half. I still view Elder as the favorite, but nothing is going to be handed to him if he doesn’t perform well in Spring Training, because the guys competing with him bring a ton to the table in terms of upside.

The dark horse in the race is Reynaldo Lopez. The Braves said they were going to stretch him out for the start of the season. when they signed him, and they are sticking to their word, even after the acquisition of Chris Sale. It may turn out that Lopez is best suited for a relief role, where he’s thrived the last several years, but one can’t fault the Braves for trying to squeeze a little more out of one of the most talented arms in baseball.

Huascar Ynoa shouldn’t be counted out either as he returns from Tommy John surgery. Like Lopez, the life on his fastball, capable of hitting triple digits, is what makes him so attractive. Just a couple of years ago, it looked like Ynoa was going to be a staple in the Braves rotation for years to come.

Then there are the young guns in AJ Smith-Shawver and Hurston Waldrep. Braves fans got their first taste of Smith-Shawver a year ago, who was only 20-years-old at the time, so anybody thinking they won’t give Waldrep a similar opportunity if he performs well hasn’t been paying attention.

The 22-year-old right hander out of Florida has one of the most talented arms in the organization, and sometimes with guys like that, the best thing to do is let them loose.

Photographer: Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire

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