Top prospect Hurston Waldrep to make major league debut with Braves on Sunday

Braves 2023 first-round pick Hurston Waldrep pitches for the Double-A Mississippi Braves May 21, 2024 against the Chattanooga Lookouts at AT&T Field in Chattanooga, Tennessee. (Photo by John Bradford/Chattanooga Lookouts)

Credit: John Bradford

Credit: John Bradford

Braves 2023 first-round pick Hurston Waldrep pitches for the Double-A Mississippi Braves May 21, 2024 against the Chattanooga Lookouts at AT&T Field in Chattanooga, Tennessee. (Photo by John Bradford/Chattanooga Lookouts)

WASHINGTON — A couple of minutes after Triple-A Gwinnett’s victory at Durham on Thursday, Hurston Waldrep had sat down to eat dinner when manager Kanekoa Texeira called him into his office to deliver the news: Waldrep would be joining the big-league team to make his major-league debut. After hearing this, Waldrep immediately threw away his plate of food and ran outside to call his parents.

Cliff and Debbie Waldrep cried when their son told them that he would be achieving a lifelong dream.

But then …

“My mom’s instincts kicked in,” Hurston said in the visiting clubhouse at Nationals Park on Saturday. “She was like, ‘Oh my gosh, we gotta get flights, we gotta get hotels. How are we gonna get up there? When are we gonna get up there? When are you throwing? What time’s the game?’ It was like, ‘Mom, just give it a rest.’ It was late, it was after the game, it was like 11 o’clock, it was like, ‘We’ll worry about this in the morning.’ She was like, ‘No, no, no.’ I couldn’t even get back to my hotel room, and she’d already sent me a list of who all is coming, who all is gonna be there.

“It was awesome. It was the best thing ever. I loved it.”

Waldrep, the Braves’ first-round pick last year, will start for the Braves in Sunday’s series finale against the Nationals. A Thomasville native, Waldrep grew up a Braves fan. “Just being able to put this uniform on, it’ll mean a lot,” the right-hander said. He began playing baseball at age 6, and since then, he’s thought about the moment he’s about to experience.

On MLB Pipeline, Waldrep is listed as the Braves’ No. 2 prospect and the No. 72 prospect in all of baseball. In July, the Braves selected him with the No. 24 overall pick out of the University of Florida. Eleven months ago, Waldrep sat on a Zoom call with media and answered questions about reaching that point.

Could Waldrep have expected to make his debut this quickly?

“I mean, no, with the way baseball works,” he said. “But I think you also can’t really let that affect how you play. Me personally, I set really high goals, and I’m a really high achiever, and everything that I do on a daily basis, I’ve put forth to achieve these goals. Can’t say that I had that in mind, but I also can’t say that it was out of the picture.”

Waldrep, who turned 22 years old in March, is a college product, which means his path to the big leagues almost certainly would’ve been quicker than if the Braves had taken a high school pitcher with that pick. But calling him up is a testament to their faith in him.

“His stuff plays up here,” manager Brian Snitker said. “Skills play. Stuff plays.”

Max Fried, originally scheduled to pitch Sunday, will start Tuesday’s series opener in Baltimore. This will allow the Braves to give extra rest to Fried and the rest of their starters, which is important considering that Reynaldo López and Chris Sale are on pace to pitch a ton more innings than they have in recent seasons.

On Saturday, Waldrep was on the taxi squad as the Braves hadn’t yet officially made a move to put him on the 26-man roster. Spencer Schwellenbach was still on the active roster.

In the minors this season, Waldrep has pitched to a 3.09 ERA over 55-1/3 innings, with 59 strikeouts. He started in Double-A and made one start in Triple-A before the Braves promoted him. And in that one outing for Gwinnett, he allowed three runs over six innings and struck out 11 batters for the Stripers.

In Waldrep’s first start of the season, he surrendered seven earned runs over 2-1/3 innings. Since then? A 2.05 ERA over 52-2/3 innings.

“Just getting in my groove, getting comfortable,” Waldrep said. “Obviously, my first year in pro ball, being able to learn the ins and outs. There was a lot of stuff that went on prior to that to get there. Not getting over-anxious and pretty much just settling in and enjoying baseball and playing baseball, doing what I know how to do.”

Waldrep’s splitter is the pitch that got him drafted high and the one that carved his path to the majors. It was one of the best pitches in college baseball last year. In the summer of 2022, Waldrep developed the splitter he uses now.

“I couldn’t get a left-handed hitter out with anything that I had, and it was pretty aggravating to face eight or nine lefties in a lineup in a day,” Waldrep said. “And so, I was like, ‘Well, I gotta have something,’ so I came up with the splitter, and it’s all been good news from there.”

His motto for the pitch is the same one he’s always used in pitching:

“Throw it as hard as you can and see what happens.”

When Waldrep arrived in Washington to join the Braves, he already knew almost everyone. He spent time in big-league camp this spring. He already had met Snitker and coaches. He was familiar with the faces in the clubhouse.

So when he got to Nationals Park on Saturday, he went into Snitker’s office and said hello to the manager and his coaching staff. Then he went to the clubhouse to become acquainted with his new surroundings.

“I enjoyed being around him (in spring training),” Snitker said. “He’s kind of like Spencer (Schwellenbach). He seems to be a mature kid. He pitched in high-level baseball in college. They’re beginning to get here sooner. But they’re mature kids, and young men. He definitely has stuff, that’s for sure. It’s just the experience thing, and they’re getting some really good on-the-job training here.”

As for that list of people attending his MLB debut?

It includes his mother and father, his siblings, his aunt and uncle, high school coaches, travel-ball coaches and friends.

Waldrep is excited to pitch in front of them and represent Thomasville.

“It means a lot,” he said of being proud to represent his hometown. “There’s not many people that know a whole lot about Thomasville, Georgia, so it was pretty cool to be able to say that’s where I’m from. Mostly, just to have the support that I have, it means a lot. It’s very, very helpful in the stressfulness of this game to have somebody to go back to, family to go back to, support to go back to.”

Braves recall Daysbel Hernández

The Braves on Saturday recalled right-hander Daysbel Hernández to replace right-hander Jimmy Herget, whom they placed on the 15-day injured list, retroactive to June 6, with right shoulder inflammation.

Hernández pitched a scoreless inning in Saturday’s loss to the Nationals.

Herget has allowed three earned runs over 7-1/3 innings with the big club this year.