The MLB Draft is a crapshoot. It’s hard enough to judge which prospects will end up flaming out, and it’s even more difficult before they’ve even played a game professionally. Thankfully, the Braves have proven to be one of the best at finding high-quality players in the draft as well as evaluating their internal talent, and on the surface, it looks like they’ve done it again with their first round selection of Hurston Waldrep.
The ace of the Florida Gators staff came into the season as one of the most highly touted college arms, but some control issues prevented him from having the type of year many expected. That’s something to monitor early on in his professional career. The Braves believe they can harness his control and make the most of his upside, which is what makes this selection so tantalizing.
24. Atlanta: Hurston Waldrep, RHP, Florida
Waldrep has one of the best pitches in the entire draft in his splitter, which has enormous tumble to it and looks enough like the fastball out of his hand that it can continue to be an out pitch as he moves up the ladder. He’s got plus velocity, although the fastball doesn’t have a ton of movement to it, and he needs to work on his command and control to allow him to get to the splitter more as it’s often out of the zone and not useful to him early in counts. He’s got enough breaking ball to project as a starter if the command and control get there, with a high floor as a two-pitch reliever.
Waldrep instantly becomes one of the top prospects in the Braves farm system. I currently have him at #2, behind only AJ Smith-Shawver, who might not be a prospect for much longer.
Waldrep’s splitter might be the most devastating pitch in the entire draft. He forced whiffs with the offering over 65% of the time, and he rarely has to throw it for strikes to be effective. However, as Law notes, harnessing the control of his fastball will be critical to him developing into a starting pitcher. If he can establish the zone with the heater, which can reach the high-90s, and work his splitter and slider off of that, he has the potential to be a frontline starter.
I rarely get excited for draft picks, because the road to the majors is long and brutal. There are a number of factors that will decide whether Waldrep reaches his full potential. But the upside is there, and the Braves have had a lot of recent success in their development of college arms, particularly ones that have the kind of stuff that Waldrep features. This was an exciting selection, and I can’t wait to see him in action on the farm.
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