Just three years into his professional baseball career, Drew Waters is already making a name for himself with the Class AA Mississippi Braves.
The Etowah product advanced through Rookie Ball to High-A in his first two seasons and shows no signs of slowing down, leading the Southern League with a .334 average through 72 games — .024 points higher than anyone else in the league.
“There were some adjustments I had to make once I got to Mississippi,” Waters said. “The pitchers got a little bit better. They started throwing more offspeed stuff earlier in the count. I’m really not too surprised with the success I’ve been having. The things I needed to work on from last year, I really honed in on it the offseason.”
While Waters’ rise may have come as a surprise to some, he got an early start on his improvements in the spring.
As a non-roster invitee to the Braves’ spring training, the 20-year-old got a look at some Major League-quality pitching, but more importantly, he got one-on-one instruction from a Major League coaching staff and experienced Major League players.
“It was a great experience,” Waters said. “I got the opportunity to see how the big league guys went about their business. I got to talk to Brian McCann. He’s been in the big leagues pretty much my entire life. It was pretty cool. I went into the video room, and he would come in and watch with me. He helped me with hitting and walked me through his process. It’s just good to get inside some of these guys’ minds.”
One of Waters’ biggest goals was to even out his switch hitting.
A natural righty, Waters said he felt his left-handed hitting had become his better side, but his work has paid off as he has hit .303 from the right side and .344 from the left.
“One of my big things this offseason was to work on my right-handed swing,” he said. “I didn’t just want to be serviceable. I wanted to have an impact from both sides. My splits are almost identical this year, so I’ve been happy with them.”
With his success, Waters has picked up plenty of attention this season.
He was named the Southern League’s Player of the Week earlier this month. He was selected as an all-star, and he has risen to the Braves’ No. 4 overall prospect according to MLB.com.
“At the beginning of the season, I set some goals,” he said. “Some of the goals were to be an all-star in this league. I wanted to hit well, but once the season starts, it’s really pitch to pitch. Baseball is hard enough, where, if you start looking at the big picture, your focus won’t be on that one pitch. Before you know it, you can be 0-for-15.”
Waters is not alone in his position, though, as he shares centerfield with the Braves’ top prospect, Cristian Pache.
With Pache in the lineup, Waters has had to play some corner outfield, but he showed with his seventh-inning home run in the all-star game just how valuable having both in the lineup can be.
“The manager from the Biloxi Shuckers, Mike Guererro, looked at me and Pache and said whoever gets the hit first gets to come out of the game in the seventh inning,” Waters said. “The manager tried to take me out. I told him I had one more at-bat, and I homered on the first pitch of the inning, came back and said, ‘OK, now I’m done.’”
Sharing a crowded outfield is something Waters will have to get used to if he breaks through with the Braves anytime soon.
In addition to Pache, Ronald Acuna Jr. just signed an eight-year contract, but Waters said he will play anywhere the team needs him.
“I enjoy playing baseball because I love hitting so much,” he said. “I take the most pride in that. My game is hitting. If they need me in center, I can play there, or I can play left or right. If you can play centerfield and manage the outfield, left or right isn’t that big an adjustment.”
Until then, Waters is intent to show the Braves he can produce at this level throughout a Major League season.
He played just 50 games in his first season and 114 last year, but this season will give him his first chance to show how well he can play throughout a full season.
“I just want to finish strong,” he said. “It’s a long season with 140 games. It’s easier to have a good first half than a good second half. Those are the dog days where you’re tired and beat up a little bit. I want to show the Braves I can last a whole season and still make an impact at game 140.”