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The Courage to Develop Hurston Waldrep

The Braves are calling up top talent Hurston Waldrep, according to multiple reporters (including Mark Bowman of Waldrep will make his major league debut Sunday against the Nationals, as Atlanta offered Fried Max more rest by pushing his next outing until Tuesday. A 40-man roster spot would then be open to accommodate Waldrep, though that could easily be accomplished with a move. Ronald Acuna Jr. or Spencer Strider in IL for 60 days.

The move represents another aggressive promotion from the Braves, as it was less than a year ago when Waldrep was selected with the 24th overall pick in the 2023 draft. There was speculation that Waldrep was being considered as his MLB starter late last season to give the Braves a more powerful arm in the playoffs, although the club chose not to move too quickly with the right-hander's development. . Still, Waldrep only has 84 2/3 innings under his belt, and just two of those starts at the Triple-A level. Waldrep recorded 11 strikeouts in six innings against Triple-A Gwinnett last Sunday, allowing three earned runs on five hits and a walk in his first Triple-A outing in 2024.

This was enough to convince the Braves that Waldrep was ready for the Expos, and the now 22-year-old will get a chance at what has become a revolving door for the fifth-starter position. Atlanta's top fried, Reynaldo Lopez, Charlie Mortonagain Chris Sale it was pretty solid, but since Strider had elbow surgery at the end of the season, six other pitchers have started in Strider's place. Neither has had much success, so Waldrep may get more looks if he shows he can hold his own against big league hitters.

Waldrep was a consensus top-100 prospect in preseason polls, with Baseball Prospectus (30th) and Baseball America (49th) the most bullish on his potential. (He was ranked 77th by ESPN's Kiley McDaniel, 80th by The Athletic's Keith Law, and 90th by MLB Pipeline, though Waldrep is now 72nd on Pipeline's updated list (of the season.) There's universal praise for Waldrep's splitter, high-80s speed and “absolutely falling off the table,” in the words of BA's scouting report, which leads to “a bad changeup against hitters who can't keep up.” Beyond that signature strike is a fastball that stays in the mid-90s and can hit up to 99mph, and he has a slider to match.

Controlling this arsenal has always been an interesting thing for Waldrep, so perhaps the most interesting number in his 2024 stat line is his 7.56% walk rate over 55 1/3 complete innings at the Double-A level and Triple-A. That's already a big improvement from the 13% walk rate he posted in his first 29 1/3 innings in 2023, and if this improved command can continue in the majors, Waldrep has early rotation potential. At the very least, Waldrep could be elite down the road if he can't stick as a starter, but Atlanta will naturally give him plenty of looks in the rotation before making a decision on this move.

The obvious comparison here is the hard-throwing Strider, and Strider might have matched Waldrep's first-round pedigree had he not had Tommy John surgery in college. Of course, it would be asking an awful lot for Waldrep to match Strider's meteoric rise to the top of the big leagues, and if Waldrep is “only” a right-handed rotation arm in his first taste of the majors, that's still a huge accomplishment for a ballplayer. just a year removed from the University of Florida.

If Waldrep can stay on the Major League roster this season and beyond, he'll be in good shape to earn another year of arbitration eligibility as a Super Two player. According to the Prospect Promotion Incentive eligibility program, Waldrep could earn a full year of MLB service time if he finishes first or second in the NL Rookie of the Year voting, though Waldrep would have to be truly exceptional to surpass the favorites. Shota Imanaga, Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Jared Jonesor other top performers throughout the 2024 campaign.

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