Braves select right-hander with first-round pick in MLB Draft

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – When he was nine or 10 years old, Hurston Waldrep, a Thomasville native, went to Atlanta for a travel baseball tournament. At one point, Waldrep and his teammates got to walk on the field at Turner Field. They strolled around the warning track, the eventually watched that day’s game from the top of the stadium.

“That was the coolest Braves experience of my life,” Waldrep said.

This one had to rival it: On Sunday, the Braves selected Waldrep – a lifelong Braves fan – in the first round, at No. 24 overall, of the Major League Baseball Draft. Whereas he once touched the grass at Turner Field, the right-handed pitcher might one day toe the rubber at Truist Park.

The 21-year-old Waldrep pitched for the University of Florida, which made this year’s College World Series. His most attractive pitch is his splitter, which was one of the top pitches in college baseball this year. The slot value for the No. 24 pick is $3.27 million.

At Florida this year, Waldrep posted a 4.16 ERA. He struck out 156 batters in 101-2/3 innings which ranked third in the NCAA. He made two starts in the College World Series. He throws a fastball, splitter, slider and curveball.

Waldrep began watching the Braves when he was 6 years old. “Could’ve named every Braves player and still can,” he said. He spent Sunday night at home in Thomasville, surrounded by family and friends – basically everyone who supported him to this point.

You can imagine their reaction when the Braves drafted him.

“My family was ecstatic,” Waldrep said. “I think everyone in the room here is a Braves fan at heart, so we all went pretty crazy once we found out.”

Now, he’ll become more familiar with the Braves than ever. In recent years, they have excelled at identifying top pitching talent in the draft, and then blending that with their robust player development process to maximize potential. It sounds simple, but is far from it.

“I’m very excited,” Waldrep said. “Especially over the last couple of years, seeing the way they’ve handled their players, and just overall, the level of talent they’ve brought through the system and continue to bring through the system, it’s really unmatched in the league and it’s awesome to be a part of.”

The Braves selected Waldrep out of college, which means that, if all goes well, he could be in the majors within the next couple years. The Braves believe Waldrep’s splitter is good enough to get outs at the major-league level right now, let alone with more development.

“I think looking at where we picked, we got a really athletic college starter with power stuff,” said Ronit Shah, Atlanta’s assistant director of amateur scouting. “He’s been 95 to 99 (mph) with two plus breaking balls, and one of the best secondary pitches in the draft, perhaps, with (his) splitter.”

Waldrep pitched at Southern Mississippi for two seasons. Then he transferred to Florida. Last summer, he decided to reinvent his splitter. He liked the grip, but wanted to kill the spin. In other words, he wanted to make it look and play like a true splitter because he felt that would complement his other pitches. If he sits from 95-99 mph with his fastball, then it will be difficult for hitters to lay off his splitter if he’s throwing good ones.

The Braves had scouted him since he starred at Thomasville High, where he won three region 1-AA titles from 2017-19. They watched him in college. They monitored him when he pitched for Team USA’s Collegiate National Team. Shah estimated that the Braves might’ve been at every single one of Waldrep’s starts this spring.

“At the end of the day, there’s a lot of players on the board, and Waldrep was the best guy on the board when our pick came up,” Shah said. “At the end of the day, trusting our process that we’ve had here for a couple years now – going back years and years with the Braves always targeting pitching. The process is the same.”

The Braves have had great success with drafting pitchers in recent seasons. Spencer Strider and Bryce Elder. AJ Smith-Shawver. Jared Shuster. Atlanta has selected pitchers in the first round in each of the last four drafts.

Over three college seasons, Waldrep pitched to a 3.68 ERA over 208 innings. He struck out 312 batters and walked 98 over that span. He finished with a 1.28 WHIP. Waldrep said he’d like to be more consistent with fastball command.

The Braves are excited to add Waldrep to their system.

On Sunday night, he experienced a moment he’ll never forget.

“Once I figured (out they were drafting me) and realized that it was gonna happen, it was gonna line up, it was all pretty surreal,” he said.

Braves take Virginia Tech righty in second round

In the second round, the Braves selected right-hander Drue Hackenberg with the No. 59 overall pick. It made you wonder what they might have up their sleeve.

Baseball America ranked Hackenberg as the No. 150 draft prospect. had him at No. 200.

Hackenberg, a four-year sophomore from Virginia Tech, had a 5.70 ERA over 85-1/3 innings. He struck out 99 batters and walked 26. He had a 1.63 WHIP as a sophomore.

Opponents hit .315 off of him.

“I think looking at Hackenberg, you got a sinkerballer that plays on turf in a smaller ballpark, perhaps,” Shah said. “Being a sinkerballer, you’re gonna give up a little bit more contact perhaps, but I think with our defense that we have in the minors, in the major-league level, it’s going to come back to normal for us.”

The Braves like how Hackenberg is a strike-thrower. They saw him as a proven starter for two years in college. This spring, he sat 93-96 mph, an uptick from last year. He also has a plus curveball.

“We think he’s gonna be another athletic, strike-throwing starter for us, with an out-pitch breaking ball,” Shah said.

The Braves select Campbell University righty with No. 70 overall pick

The Braves drafted righty Cade Kuehler with the No. 70 pick, which they received because they lost Dansby Swanson after extending him a qualifying offer. Kuehler, who went to Campbell University, posted a 2.71 ERA over 73 innings in 2023. He struck out 91 batters.

This is from’s scouting report: “Kuehler has some of the best fastball metrics in the draft, generating outstanding spin rates and carry on a four-seamer that sits at 93-95 mph and peaks at 98, and he’ll mix in some two-seamers as well.”

It’s easy to see why the Braves wanted him.

“It’s definitely an out-pitch, it’s his primary pitch and he can pitch off the fastball,” Shah said.

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