Braves take Florida RHP Waldrep with 24th pick

Atlanta selects RHPs Hackenberg, Kuehler in second round

July 10th, 2023

Three years after drafting Spencer Strider, the Braves selected yet another collegiate pitcher capable of compiling impressive strikeout totals.  

The Braves took Hurston Waldrep with the 24th overall pick in the 2023 MLB Draft on Sunday night in Seattle. Waldrep is a 21-year-old right-hander who helped the University of Florida reach the finals of the College World Series last month. MLB Pipeline ranked him as the No. 19 prospect available in this year’s Draft.

“We love the pure stuff he has,” Braves assistant scouting director Ronit Shah said. “He’s athletic. He’s got three plus pitches, maybe four. The splitter might be the best secondary pitch in the whole Draft for us.”

Looking to add more experienced arms to the stable, Atlanta took Virginia Tech right-hander Drue Hackenberg at No. 59 and Campbell right-hander Cade Kuehler at No. 70.

With their Day 1 selections, the Braves have extended a recent trend. They took collegiate pitchers -- Jared Shuster, Bryce Elder and Strider -- with three of their four selections in the five-round 2020 Draft. Shuster’s Wake Forest teammate, Ryan Cusick, was taken by the Braves in the first round of the '21 Draft and later included in the package that brought Matt Olson from Oakland to Atlanta approximately eight months later. 

The Braves' first-round pick was well-received by Waldrep and the many friends and family members who gathered to watch the Draft at his family’s home in Thomasville, Ga., which is located approximately three hours south of Atlanta, near the Florida-Georgia line.

“I could name every Braves player and still can,” Waldrep said. “I’ve been watching since I was 6 years old, ever since I fell in love with baseball. So, this is going to be awesome.” 

Waldrep often left batters flailing at air over the past two seasons, which he split between Southern Miss and Florida. The right-hander piled up 140 strikeouts over 90 innings with the Golden Eagles in 2022 before transferring to the Gators. He then struck out 156 hitters through 101 2/3 frames this year, good for the third-most K’s in Division I. From the beginning of ‘22, Waldrep recorded double-digit strikeouts in 16 starts, including in each of his first three outings in the 2023 NCAA Tournament.

Many of Waldrep’s whiffs come via a splitter with late diving action. He blends that pitch with a power slider as well as a fastball that ranges between 95-99 mph, giving him a legitimate three-pitch mix. 

“That splitter really came on for him this year,” Shah said. “All of our scouts identify that as an out pitch for him now. When you’ve got a guy who is 95-99 with his fastball, it’s hard to lay off a pitch like that.”

Waldrep developed the splitter while at home last summer. 

“I had the grip that I liked, but I wanted to kill the spin to throw a true splitter,” Waldrep said. “I don’t really pronate very well, so a splitter fits me really well.” 

Command has been an issue for Waldrep, who issued 57 walks this season, leading to an unsightly 5.0 BB/9 rate. He walked six batters in three starts, including Game 2 of the College World Series Finals vs. LSU. He gave up three runs in 2 1/3 innings during Florida’s win that day. Waldrep has 45-grade control, according to MLB Pipeline.

However, he raised his stock with superb performances during the earlier rounds in the Gators’ postseason run. The 6-foot-2 hurler gave up only two runs across 21 innings pitched in triumphs over Connecticut, South Carolina and Oral Roberts. Waldrep handed out seven total walks and had at least 12 strikeouts in each outing, proving why he is one of the best pitching prospects in the 2023 class.

Waldrep looks forward to joining the organization he has loved since childhood. As a bonus, he looks forward to becoming part of a franchise that has had no trouble fast-tracking Strider and AJ Smith-Shawver to the Majors over the past couple of years. 

“It’s very nice to know you’re going into an organization that will take care of you,” Waldrep said. “Going to an organization where I can make it up quick and also make a difference, it’s nice to know that’s where I’m heading and that’s going to be my future.”

More on the Braves' second-round selections from Day 1
After posting a 3.30 ERA over 92 2/3 innings for Virginia Tech in 2022, Hackenberg produced a 5.80 ERA over 85 1/3 innings for the Hokies in '23.  His strikeout rate rose from 8.4 strikeouts per nine innings to 10.4, but his walk rate went from 1.8 walks per nine to 2.7. The Braves believe playing home games on artificial turf might have negatively impacted the 21-year-old right-hander, who pitched for Team USA last summer.

Kuehler generates great spin rates and carry with a four-seam fastball that sits between 93-95 and has touched 98 mph. The 6-foot hurler posted a 2.71 ERA and produced 11.2 strikeouts per nine innings this past season for Campbell University.  

“His fastball is definitely electric, and that’s a big reason why he’s had success,” Shah said.