How two of Braves' Day 1 picks got a head start together

July 11th, 2023

ATLANTA -- If you're wondering whether Braves 2023 first-round Draft selection Hurston Waldrep’s splitter has been overhyped, you may want to know the opinion of one of Atlanta’s other first-day Draft selections, who served as Waldrep’s throwing partner last summer on Team USA’s pitching staff.

“Catching [the splitter] was a nightmare,” Braves second-round compensation pick Cade Kuehler said. “It was really, really good last summer, and it’s only gotten better.”

The Braves were thrilled to get both Waldrep (24th overall) and Kuehler (70th overall) during Day 1 of this year’s MLB Draft. These were two of the top collegiate pitchers available this year. They now have the opportunity to begin their professional careers together and build the friendship they developed last summer.

“We would talk pitch grips, pitch shapes and all that just to kind of see what his thought processes are and how his stuff works,” Kuehler said. “All that just gave me a better feel about my stuff.”

Kuehler should feel good about the strides he has made since he exited high school with offers from just two colleges: East Tennessee State and Campbell University. His decision to go with the latter institution introduced him to head coach Justin Haire and a program that has recently produced MLB players Zach Neto and Cedric Mullins.

“Our pitching coach at the time, Tyler Robinson, loved Cade,” Haire said. “He just kept telling me, ‘This is my favorite guy in the class.’ When he got to camp here, it wasn’t electric stuff. It was a kid with an OK body who threw strikes and had a decent arm stroke. Coach Robinson was just convinced, and I give him all the credit.”

Kuehler took advantage of the opportunity, become just the fourth pitcher in Campbell history to tally more than 200 strikeouts. The 6-foot, 215-pound hurler was named first-team All-Big South after posting a 2.71 ERA and limiting opponents to a .199 batting average this season.

The 21-year-old righty generates great spin rates and carry with a four-seam fastball that sits between 93-95 and has touched 98 mph. While he has produced impressive metrics with the fastball, he also features a splitter and a cutter, which has become his best pitch over the past two years.

“He was just a guy that was good and wanted to work hard,” Haire said. “He wanted to do things right on and off the field.”

Kuehler compiled a decent strikeout rate at the collegiate level, and he isn’t vertically gifted. So it seemed only natural to wonder if it would be fair to use Braves All-Star Spencer Strider as a player comp.

“I wouldn’t quite say that,” Braves assistant director of scouting Ronit Shah said. “I’d say he’s Cade Kuehler, but his fastball is definitely electric and that pitch has been a big reason for his success.”

Kuehler and Waldrep can now look forward to joining an organization that has quickly gained significant value from recent collegiate selections. Strider, Bryce Elder and Jared Shuster are 2020 Draft picks who have been in Atlanta’s rotation this year, and Strider and Elder became first-time All-Stars this year.

“The Braves are one of the best developmental organizations, and I couldn't be more grateful to be a part of that,” Kuehler said. “I can't wait to get going.”