No. 2 prospect Waldrep already looking ahead after MLB debut

June 9th, 2024

WASHINGTON -- showed both his tremendous potential and lack of experience. In the process, he provided a glimpse of why the Braves are looking forward to his bright future.

Waldrep created excitement as he faced the minimum through the first three innings of an 8-5 loss to the Nationals on Sunday afternoon. But reality hit when the Braves’ No. 2 prospect retired just two of the nine batters he faced in Washington’s seven-run fourth.

“I thought he handled himself really well for the limited experience he has,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “His composure and all of that stuff was really good. He’s another young guy with a lot of upside.”

"Potential" and "upside" are words some Braves fans might not really care about right now. The team has lost 21 of its past 37 games and 15 of its past 24. But there could be some long-term benefits to rushing Waldrep (MLB Pipeline’s No. 72 overall prospect) and Spencer Schwellenbach (the Braves' No. 3 prospect) to the Majors over the past couple of weeks.

The Braves have created extra days of rest for Chris Sale and Reynaldo López, who are both attempting to complete a full season as a starter for the first time since 2019. There could be both immediate and distant payoffs for that.

At the same time, the Braves are getting a better sense of what they have, as they attempt to navigate the rest of this season without Spencer Strider. Their top prospect, AJ Smith-Shawver, will be out until late July with an oblique strain.

So less than a year after being taken by the Braves with the 24th overall pick in the 2023 MLB Draft, Waldrep found himself pitching in front of his parents, friends and other family members who traveled from Thomasville, Ga., to Washington, D.C., to be present for his debut.

Waldrep issued four walks, surrendered four hits and allowed seven runs over 3 2/3 innings. He registered just one strikeout, setting Eddie Rosario down with a splitter to begin the bottom of the second.

“It was pretty cool, even with the outcome, to get this one out of the way,” Waldrep said. “The atmosphere was great. It is what it is. It’s in the past now.”

Waldrep entered this much-hyped debut having totaled just 84 2/3 innings at the professional level. The 22-year-old hurler made just 10 starts and totaled 55 1/3 innings this year before the Braves brought him to The Show.

So even with his splitter looking like a bona fide weapon, maybe it shouldn’t have been surprising to see Waldrep struggle to get through a big league lineup a second time.

“That [splitter] is real,” Braves catcher Travis d’Arnaud said. “The slider is good. He’s able to get strikes with it. The heater plays, too. … I think he’s got enough to get through [a lineup] two, three and maybe even four [times] with that split. That thing is gross.”

Getting an early call to the Majors was fitting for Waldrep, who has seen everything happen fast over the past few years. When the baseball world was shut down by COVID in 2020, he built a mound at his house. This is where he spent the summer of '22 developing his nasty splitter. He just needed a pitch to get lefties out; as a bonus, he developed a pitch that got him to the Majors two years later.

The Nationals whiffed on four of their first six swings against the splitter. But after needing just 28 pitches to complete the first three innings, Waldrep was unable to create as much chase with this top pitch. He fell behind a few hitters, including Luis García Jr., who laced a 2-0 slider down in the zone for a RBI single in the fourth. Keibert Ruiz followed by belting a three-run homer against a first-pitch fastball that found the catcher’s danger zone.

“My job was to stay out of the zone and create soft contact,” Waldrep said. “I did that at times, and sometimes left it too much down the middle.”

Waldrep has the potential to benefit Atlanta as either a starter or reliever at some point this year. Regardless of where his next assignment is, he’ll be able to build off a debut that reminded him of how far he has come. A year ago, he was prepping for the College World Series, and two years ago, becoming a Major Leaguer may have only felt like a dream.

“It’s always cool to set goals and as time goes on, work towards those goals,” Waldrep said. “After today, it’s pretty cool to know where I am and to know where I’ve come -- [not to] get caught up in the past, but to acknowledge what I’ve learned, acknowledge where I’ve gone and keep going.”