4 Atlanta Braves prospects that look to make their MLB debut this season

It takes a lot to be at the start of your career and try to carve out playing time on one of the best teams in baseball but here are four that have a shot this year.

2023 NCAA Division I Baseball Championship
2023 NCAA Division I Baseball Championship / Jay Biggerstaff/GettyImages
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The Atlanta Braves are one of a very few teams in the league that have the ability to not rush the development of their prospects due to their current roster. With elite, young talent at a majority of the positions finding playing time for prospects just is not necessary. As last year showed us all injuries still occur, and there is playing time to be had over the course of a very long season.

Teams must be able to rely on their depth to make it through a full season - seen by the Braves just last year. The likes of Dylan Dodd, Daysbel Hernández, Braden Shewmake, Jared Shuster, AJ Smith-Shawver, Darius Vines, Forrest Wall, and Allan Winans all make their MLB debut last year showing everyone just how difficult it is to navigate a full 162 game season. Here are four prospects that may make their Major League Baseball debut with strong seasons.

Hurston Waldrep

Lets get the obvious one out the way, that being RHP Hurston Waldrep, out of the University of Florida. Seen as a lottery talent with some command issues - Hurston was selected with the 24th pick of the MLB draft, much to the overwhelming delight of this writer, and a lot of Braves front office brass. Hurston made eight appearances, all starts, after being drafted and showed why he deserved the tag of being a lottery player.

Over those eight starts, across four levels of play, Waldrep accrued a 1.53 ERA, 1.193 WHIP, 12.6 K/9, with a 4.9 BB/9, and measly 5.8 H/9. Hurston looked overpowering, almost hilariously against lower level opponents, which is why the Braves were so aggressive with him last year. To go from the College World Series to Triple-A in the same season is remarkable.

While I am personally hopeful that Hurston remains in the minors for a full season, as discussed above - injuries, especially to pitchers, have a huge role in a full MLB season and Hurston is at the top of the list to make that jump should an injury occur. Hurston gets it done with three plus pitches - his fastball, slider, and a ridiculous splitter to go with a good curveball as well. His fastball sits mid-90s and has hit 99 MPH. His nearly over the top mechanics have created some issues with his command, more specifically his fastball command, but even that has good cutter like action.

Waldrep's slider comes in, in the high 80s and is great against both LHB and RHB with tremendous movement downward movement on it - a little less slider-y and a little more curveball-y with the way the ball drops which makes sense given his nearly over the top arm slot. Should the Braves feel he needs to drop it, we could see even more movement on his slider.

What do you do when you already have two plus pitches? Why not throw in a third - which is what Waldrep has with his great low 80s curveball. If Waldrep can keep the pitch low, especially with his tight spin, the ball simply disappears rendering hitters wondering what the heck just happened.

Last, and certainly not least, is Hurston Waldrep's best pitch with his absolutely fantastic splitter. In college he was registering a nearly 70% whiff rate easily making it one of the best pitches in the country. His splitter is the poster boy for a put away pitch and is easily a double-plus pitch. If Waldrep's command continues to improve, especially with his fastball, we are looking at a long, successful Major League career.

Virginia Tech v Clemson
Virginia Tech v Clemson / Eakin Howard/GettyImages

Drue Hackenberg

Another name to keep an eye on is 2023 second round pick Drue Hackenberg out of Virginia Tech. Many in the industry were surprised by his price point (~$2,000,000) but clearly the Braves saw someone they really liked in Drue. He made 3 appearances last season, including a pretty rough four walk performance in his lone Double-A start, but was overpowering in A-ball.

Drue gets it done with a three pitch mix: a sinking fastball sitting 91-93, a good slider, and a rough but developing changeup. You can expect strikes when he's on the mound highlighted by his 2.74 BB/9 in 2023, and 1.85 BB/9 rate his freshman year of college. While Waldrep could force his way into Atlanta this year, Drue could find his way there with a really strong 2024 season and some injuries. There are a few pitchers ahead of him, and there is reliever risk for Drue, but it is clear the Braves like what they see.

Luke Waddell

Take away those 29 games in Triple-A and Luke Waddell, the pride of Georgia Tech, had a very strong 2023 campaign that saw him hit .290/.395/.403. He is primarily a second baseman so his path to the majors has more to do with potential injuries in the infield, and more specifically the second base position as he does not have a ton of versatility.

Luke's calling card is his great hit tool and knowledge of the zone. Luke's walk rate has increased every year with a peak of 15.3% in Triple-A, while his strikeout rate has continued to stay steady around 12%. While he won't hit for much power, his hit tool is his calling card and could help him see Atlanta in 2024.

Cody Milligan

The 2019, 9th round draft pick out of Cowley Community College, Cody Milligan has put together an extremely solid MiLB career. Cody had to deal with an injury in 2023 which saw him play just 69 games, but in those 69 he his .280/.377/.414 (.803 OPS).

While power isn't his thing, much like Waddell, Milligan gets the bat on the ball and lets probability work its thing as he finds gaps and is able to take a second base with some decent speed. Unlike Waddell, and to his favor, Cody can play multiple positions on the field and has an average arm to keep players honest and makes him a utility player to keep an eye on.

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