A lot of eyes have understandably been on Atlanta Braves outfield prospect Drew Waters throughout the 2019 baseball season.
After being drafted in the second round of the 2017 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, the 20-year-old has rapidly made his way through the Braves’ minor league system, culminating with him being ranked as the No. 2 prospect in the entire organization and his promotion to the Triple-A Gwinnett Stripers earlier this month.
The fact he grew up in nearby Woodstock and played his high school ball at Etowah High School only expands his profile. Waters, who is hitting .305 with a home run and eight RBIs in 14 games since being promoted to the Stripers earlier this month, recently spoke with Gwinnett Daily Post staff writer David Friedlander about subjects ranging from his fast track through the Braves system to coming back to metro Atlanta to play Triple-A ball to having played in Gwinnett County before to his working relationship with fellow outfield prospect Cristian Pache.
DF: Being promoted one step away from the majors is a thrill for any young minor-league player. But for you, having grown up in the area and being drafted by your hometown team, and then coming back home to play Triple-A ball, I’d imagine it’s an even bigger thrill, no?
DW: Yeah, it’s been an awesome experience. A lot of the guys (now) with the Gwinnett Stripers I got drafted with or became good friends with playing together in the minor leagues. So I was excited to join them. The the first home game we had here (at Coolray Field last Tuesday), I think I had, like, 50 people here. So being here this close (to home), it’s only going to help me be more successful. It’s been awesome.
DF: You mentioned a lot of guys you were either drafted with or came up through the Braves’ system with. Perhaps the one you’re most linked at the hip with in the eyes of the public, and could be for years to come, is Cristian Pache. Is your relationship and chemistry on the field as close as it would seem?
DW: Yeah, we actually lived together in Double-A (ball in Mississippi). That was when we first became really good friends. There obviously is a language barrier, … but when we go to eat, I know what he likes to eat and he knows what I like to eat. I know everything about Cristian and he knows everything about me. So being able to share the outfield with him, I feel like we really feed off each other. When you look back at Mississippi (earlier this year), I’d hit leadoff, he’d hit second, and it was, like, within the first two (hitters) of the game, we were (often) already up. I feel like me and him playing together, we have that chemistry and play really well with each other.
DF: Since you mentioned the language barrier, how exactly did that work being roommates? Was there a third roommate there to act like a translator? How did you communicate?
DW: I picked up a little bit of Spanish. He picked up a little bit of English. He is going to English class, and he’ll tell you that his English is a lot better (now) than it was when the season first started. I think a lot of it has to do with living with me, and with us to be able to communicate, he had to speak English. His English is definitely a lot better than it was, and it’s something he’s still working on.
DF: Still, those first couple of weeks were rough, weren’t they?
DW: (Laughs) Yeah, a lot of hand signals. And obviously, we had coaches there who spoke both Spanish and English and they would translate what I needed to know and what I wanted to tell him and we’d be on the same page. But his English got better and we were able to communicate. Living with him was great and I think it really helped even off the field and building that chemistry on the field.
DF: And like I said, since you guys progressed pretty quickly through the system together, you may be linked together for a long time.
DW: That’s the plan. I’ve really enjoyed playing with him. I think he’s a spectacular player. He’s fun to watch. He’s fun to play next to. So getting the opportunity to play next to Pache for years to come definitely excites me.
DF: Moving on, and getting back to playing at home in the metro Atlanta area, I know you’ve played over here in Gwinnett County before during a couple of state playoff series while playing high school ball at Etowah. Did you ever play at Coolray Field before? Maybe in a regular season game?
DW: Yeah, I actually played one showcase game at this stadium. So I kind of got a feel for it, but things have changed a little bit around here. But being back here in the stadium is awesome and playing here every day is awesome.
DF: I imagine when you played here before you probably didn’t get much of detailed look at the clubhouse. And even when you first joined the team, it was during a road trip. So what’s your reaction been now that you’ve been here for about a week?
DW: Yeah, I came in for the first time and the clubhouse has everything you could possibly want or need. There’s things to entertain you. There’s a massage chair. I mean, there’s everything. So between the clubhouse, the field, where the field’s located being this close to home and being close to Atlanta, it’s awesome.
DF: I guess you can only imagine what it’s going to be like if and when you finally make it to the majors, right?
DW: Yeah, it’s definitely exciting. I asked some of the guys that are down here in Triple-A right now, but have been up and down in the big leagues, ‘What are the big leagues like?’ And they say, ‘It’s amazing.’ It’s hard to imagine what it’s like, but I’m definitely excited to hopefully one day get that experience.
DF: Now that you’re up in Triple-A about a week, do you think you’ve had a chance to really settle in yet?
DW: Competition-wise, I think the competition is pretty similar to Double-A. The biggest difference is that pitchers have a little bit better of an idea due to experience. You’re facing some older pitchers (some of whom have) pitched in the big leagues or Triple-A for a number of years. So they know how to pitch. Stuff-wise, I feel like the stuff is pretty similar. A curveball’s a curveball, a slider’s a slider. But the way they pitch you is a little bit different. Just the biggest difference that I really had to adjust to was the baseball. Triple-A is playing with the big league baseball this year and yes, the baseball does go farther (off the bat). I don’t know what it is, whether it’s the seams or it’s harder. But for me, I had to make an adjustment defensively. Balls that you would usually come in on, now you’re having to go back on. So I’ve had to really take pride on my shagging (fly balls) during (batting practice) to get a feel for it.
DF: Can you compare it, albeit in reverse, to the adjustment you made both offensively and defensively when you began playing pro ball and went from the metal bat to the wood bat?
DW: Those two (comparisons) are kind of hard to relate from a standpoint of with the type of wood bats professionals use, if you hit the ball on the barrel, it’s going to go just as far as it would if you hit it on the barrel with an aluminum bat. The one thing with the metal bat is you can hit it off the end or towards the handle and still be able to sneak something out of it, rather than snapping your bat in half. But I believe the way the baseballs are here (in Triple-A and the majors), they go farther than a regular baseball with a metal bat.
DF: It’s easy to forget sometimes that just a little over two years ago, you were still playing high school ball. Is the fact you’ve progresses so quickly through the Braves’ organization at such a young age been overwhelming to you? Or has it happened so quickly that you really haven’t had much of a chance to think about it?
DW: I really haven’t gotten time to really sit down and think about how quick I have been moving (through the system). Between the combination of my ability and the coaching that the Atlanta Braves have throughout the minor leagues, when I really bought into what they’re trying to teach me and what they’re trying to get me to accomplish, … things really started to take off. They do a really good job of not just preparing you for the next level (of minor league ball), but their main focus is preparing you for the big leagues. At the end of the day, if you’re prepared for the big leagues, you’re going to be prepared for High A, Double-A, Triple-A. So I just think with how the coaching is in the Atlanta Braves’ minor league organization, they do a really good job of getting you ready.