Waldrep tabbed to make MLB debut for Braves -- his lifelong team

June 8th, 2024

WASHINGTON -- The Braves knew they had something special after they selected with the 24th overall selection in last summer’s MLB Draft. Less than a year later, they are ready to introduce him to the Major League level.

Waldrep will make his MLB debut when he starts against the Nationals on Sunday afternoon at Nationals Park. This is a dream come true for the Thomasville, Ga., native who grew up idolizing Craig Kimbrel and relishing stories about Chipper Jones, John Smoltz, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and other Braves legends.

“It was obviously a big surprise,” Waldrep said. “It’s pretty cool to just be here, take all of this in, enjoy all of the firsts and just play some baseball.”

There’s certainly a chance Waldrep could stick around for an extended period. But one of the primary reasons he is being called to the Majors with just 84 2/3 professional innings under his belt is the fact the Braves want to continue to create extra days of rest for each of their starters, especially Chris Sale and Reynaldo López, who haven’t worked a full season as a starter since 2019.

With Spencer Strider out for the season and AJ Smith-Shawver sidelined until at least late July, the Braves have had to dig a little deeper into their prospect pool. Spencer Schwellenbach (the Braves' No. 3 prospect) debuted last week having only made two starts above the High-A level.

Now, Waldrep gets the call more than 11 months after the Braves drafted him.

“I set really high goals, and I’m a really high achiever,” Waldrep said. “Everything I do on a daily basis, I put forth to achieve those goals. I can’t say I had [getting to the Majors this soon] in mind, but I also can’t say it was out of the picture.”

Waldrep ranks as the Braves’ No. 2 prospect and baseball’s No. 72 overall prospect via MLB Pipeline. The 22-year-old right-hander began drawing attention around this time last year, when he and his much-hyped sinker were helping the University of Florida reach the finals of the College World Series.

Though Waldrep logged just 29 1/3 innings over eight starts last year, the Braves entered the offseason expecting him to reach the Majors this season. The pitcher then enhanced his stock while producing a 3.09 ERA over the 10 starts he combined to make for Double-A Mississippi and Triple-A Gwinnett this year.

“He’s a big, physical, strong kid with a really good arm and good stuff,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “His stuff plays up here.”

Waldrep’s rise to the Majors actually began two years ago, when he entered the summer looking to end his struggles against left-handed hitters. This led him to the splitter, a pitch he developed while throwing off the mound he built outside his rural Georgia home in 2020.

Watching old Smoltz videos on YouTube also helped Waldrep quickly make this pitch his top weapon.

“I’ve always been a guy who throws the ball as hard as I can,” Waldrep said. “Throw hard and leave everything on the field. That’s always been my motto. So when I came up with the splitter, I was like, ‘Throw it hard and see what happens.’ And then so, here we are.”

Waldrep put extra pressure on himself when he allowed seven earned runs over 2 2/3 innings during his season debut for Mississippi. By the time his second start was complete, he had allowed two homers and issued five walks over seven innings.

But the heralded prospect has produced a 1.68 ERA over the eight starts that followed. He recorded 11 strikeouts over six innings during his Triple-A debut last week.

“Being able to put this uniform on will mean a lot,” Waldrep said.