Waters nearly misses MLB debut, then brings in winning run

August 23rd, 2022

KANSAS CITY -- On Monday morning, Drew Waters was sitting in his hotel bed in downtown Kansas City, scrolling through Instagram. He had just ordered Chick-fil-A through DoorDash and was waiting for it to show up when he got a text from Jeff Davenport, the Royals’ vice president of Major League operations.

“Where are you?” the text read.

Waters was confused; he thought he was supposed to be at Kauffman Stadium around 2 p.m. CT on Monday, not in the morning. That’s when he realized the Royals were playing a day game -- the one-game series against the White Sox rescheduled from the beginning of the season due to the MLB lockout.

And Waters was going to be in the lineup, making his Major League debut.

“I hopped in an Uber,” Waters said after the Royals’ 6-4 win. “The Uber ride was a little interesting. The guy was like, ‘I don’t know if we can turn in here, they have it blocked.’ I’m like, ‘I think we can get in.'

“Once I got out of the Uber and got to the clubhouse, it really set in that I was getting ready to make my Major League debut.”

Waters walked into the clubhouse around 10:20 a.m., and several rookies like Bobby Witt Jr., MJ Melendez and Vinnie Pasquantino introduced themselves.

The next few hours were a whirlwind. Waters didn’t get to eat his Chick-fil-A, but that was OK.

“I told them I have Chick-fil-A, and I thought, 'It’s been an hour and a half since I got it. It’s probably cold,'” Waters said. “And they’re like, 'You’re in the big leagues. The spread’s pretty good.'

“To say the least, it was pretty good.”

And then Waters made his baseball dream a reality when he played right field and hit ninth for the Royals, drawing the go-ahead bases-loaded walk in the eighth inning against Chicago reliever Joe Kelly. Melendez added a sacrifice fly to make it a two-run lead, then Scott Barlow notched the save.

“He did, that last inning, show a lot of poise,” manager Mike Matheny said. “Some pretty close pitches, and he took them really well. I’m really excited just to watch him a little bit more, just to see what we [have].”

Waters, the Royals’ No. 9 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, joined the organization on July 11 when it acquired him and two other Minor Leaguers from Atlanta for the No. 35 overall pick in the 2022 MLB Draft. A second-round Draft pick out of high school in the Atlanta area, Waters has always flashed tools, but he had a hard time seeing those translate to production in the Braves’ system.

A plus runner and defender, Waters had the Royals believing they could help unlock some of his potential if they got him into their hitting development system. The mid-July trade accomplished that, and Waters got to work with hitting coordinator Drew Saylor and the coaches with Triple-A Omaha.

In 31 games for Omaha, Waters hit .295 with a .940 OPS, seven homers and 13 stolen bases. In the 49 games before that with Atlanta’s Triple-A affiliate in Gwinnett, Waters had hit .246 with a .698 OPS, five home runs and five stolen bases.

The biggest difference, he said, has been pitch selection. Waters credited the Royals for helping him work out some mechanics in his swing and then focusing on what pitches he should be hunting to do damage on and controlling the strike zone.

“That’s one thing I’ve really noticed with the Royals,” Waters said. “They do a really good job of preparing their hitters for each at-bat.”

When those damage pitches didn’t come in the eighth inning Monday, Waters simply took his base. He took a 3-1 curve from Kelly just below the zone, bringing home Michael A. Taylor.

“Kind of the same mentality, looking for a pitch to drive,” said Waters, who grounded into a double play with the bases loaded in his first at-bat Monday, ending the Royals’ four-run first inning. “I was just looking for a pitch that I could at least get out to the outfield for that run to come in. I got ahead of the count, knew that he had to come at me.”

To cap a whirlwind day for their new teammate, the Royals’ clubhouse awarded Waters the player of the game and made him say a few words to the group as part of the presentation.

“Just how grateful I was for them to be a part of this special day for me,” Waters said of his clubhouse comments. “How excited I was to be here. Every journey is a little different. There’s definitely been peaks and valleys in my journey. But I would say this tops it all, being here with the guys who are now my teammates and being able to put on a Royals uniform.”

Waters’ second day in the big leagues comes on Tuesday. It’s a night game against the D-backs. He already knows what time to show up.

“I will be early for that one,” Waters said.