MLB rumors: Braves' Hurston Waldrep, Drue Hackenberg earn preseason hype
The Atlanta Braves addressed starting pitching concerns with their trade for Boston Red Sox ace Chris Sale. Still, despite a rotation that ranks as the best in the National League on paper, there is lingering concern about the sustainability of Atlanta's current group. Charlie Morton is 40 years old. Sale is 34 with a ton of injuries on his ledger. Bryce Elder made the All-Star team as a rookie, but he fell apart down the stretch and was embarrassed in the playoffs.
So, there's a chance the Braves rely on their farm system to yield another bankable arm or two as the season progresses. In addition to the upstart A.J. Smith-Shawver, Atlanta's current youth pool includes several high-upside pitchers. The folks over at Baseball America named "prospects to watch" from every MLB team, and highlighted two aces in the making from Atlanta — Hurston Waldrep and Drue Hackenberg.
Waldrep spent time with all four of the Braves minor league affiliates last season, posting a 1.53 ERA and 1.193 WHIP in 29.1 combined innings. Hackenberg spent time with Single-A Augusta and Double-A Mississippi, posting a combined 1.42 ERA and 1.421 WHIP in 6.1 innings (three starts). Before that, the second-round pick starred for the Virginia Tech Hokies.
There's a legitimate chance for Waldrep to crack the MLB rotation next season. He has proven his mettle against the highest level of minor league competition, but the 21-year-old is expected to begin the campaign with Triple-A Gwinnett. Hackenberg is far less established, but the promise of his sinker and slider provides the foundation for a swift rise up the totem pole. From Lindsay Crosby of Braves Today:
"He's a sinker/slider guy, but potentially the best version of a sinker/slider guy, with our scouting report for the org's #12 prospect discussing his well above-average armside run on the sinker combined with the versatility of the slider, depending on what shape he chooses to utilize for it going forward."
The Braves need help — or at least security blankets — in the starting rotation, so keep a close eye on Waldrep and Hackenberg once injuries inevitably enter the fold.