Drew Waters was watching the MLB Draft with hopes of being selected in the latter stages of the first round to the point where panic began to spread throughout the watch party as television coverage ended and the highly touted prospect hadn’t heard his name.
But Waters knew where he was headed around the 35th pick as his agent had received a call from Braves’ general manager John Coppolella with interest in drafting the Woodstock product.
The lifelong Braves fan had no problem agreeing to being selected with the 41st-overall pick by Atlanta. A special clause in his contract made it even easier as the chance to spend time with a Hall of Famer was tough to pass up.
“It was good for me, and I was looking forward to agreeing to what they had to offer. He did say that I was going hunting for a weekend with (former Braves third baseman) Chipper Jones,” Waters said. “It was just a dream come true. When I had the opportunity to sign and play professional baseball for them, it was a no-doubter. I’m a huge fan, and now my dreams came true and I’m actually playing for them.”
Waters will sign his contract – currently at an undetermined amount – and be recognized Saturday at SunTrust Park during the Braves’ series against the Miami Marlins. Then, Waters will report to Orlando, Florida to play in the Gulf Coast League.
Meanwhile, those intentions result in Waters backing off of his national letter-of-intent to play baseball at Georgia. Waters gave his commitment to the Bulldogs on June 17, 2016, in which he would follow his brother Zach and continue the newly-created family tradition of playing baseball in Athens.
The elder Waters played for Georgia in 2015 as a transfer from East Tennessee State. In 16 relief appearances, the former Bulldogs’ hurler posted a 5.85 ERA in 20 innings.
“University of Georgia was a great spot and I’m still grateful that they gave me the opportunity to eventually play there,” Waters said. “You know, it’s hard to turn down the hometown team, especially in the second round. At this time, I feel like it’s right for me to be an Atlanta Brave.”
Georgia signed nine prospects for its 2018 baseball recruiting class. All nine of the Bulldogs signees originated from in-state and Waters was one of the most highly regarded recruits of that class. Georgia fourth-year head coach Scott Stricklin signed the fourth-best class nationally for 2017, according to Perfect Game’s team recruiting rankings.
He looks to follow it up with his 2018 group, but one of the Bulldogs’ top signees has been snatched away by a lucrative signing bonus. According to MLB.com, the Braves’ 41st-overall pick has an approximate value of $1.7 million, but an over-slot deal is possible as a result of multiple under-slot selections a year ago.
Stricklin and Waters have exchanged a few text messages since the draft selection was made, and the Georgia skipper has voiced his congratulations and support, despite the change in plans.
“Drew worked extremely hard to put himself in this position,” Stricklin said in a statement sent to The Telegraph. “I’m happy for him and his family that his hometown team selected him.”
Etowah claimed a GHSA Class 7A championship in May with a doubleheader sweep of cross-town rival Woodstock, and Waters’ efforts were integral in the team’s playoff run.
The center fielder hit .510 during his senior campaign, with 15 home runs and 49 RBI. But the jump from the prep level to professional level is a drastic one, and Waters will have to compete with a number of top-tier outfield prospects – such as Ronald Acuña and Christian Pache – for a future role in the major leagues.
“I think the whole reason why people play sports is to compete, so it doesn’t bother me,” Waters said. “I’m looking forward to going up against other really good players. It’s professional baseball, and nothing is handed to you. I think with my work ethic, athletic ability and tools that are present, I don’t think I should have a problem moving through the system.”
Atlanta’s front-office staff places a focus on adding players from the Southeast, which is represented by choosing a player from Georgia or its bordering states in eight of the draft’s first 10 rounds. The Braves’ selection of Waters followed the first-round choice of Vanderbilt right-handed pitcher Kyle Wright, who originates out of Huntsville, Alabama.
Waters will now have the opportunity to work toward playing 23 miles from his hometown.
“Drew's a 5-tool player that is passionate about the game,” Etowah head coach Greg Robinson said. “He's a tireless worker on and off of the field. We are excited to see him sign with the Braves and look forward to watching him at SunTrust Park in the future.”
Atlanta has been honed in on Waters’ progress as a baseball prospect since his freshman year of high school with Etowah and his travel club, the 6-4-3 DP Cougars.
The Braves hosted Waters for two pre-draft workouts at SunTrust Park, and the support of the in-state product was unanimous amongst the decision-makers. Waters was a member of the Braves’ scout-ball team in Jupiter, Florida and was managed under former star outfielder Fred McGriff, who had some high praise.
Consequently, the Braves had once considered taking Waters with the fifth-overall selection.
“(McGriff) said that this kid has a lot of intangibles that other kids don’t,” said Brian Bridges, the Braves’ scouting director, in a news conference. “He really believes in his ability and who he is. (Drew) wants to be at the plate in big situations and has a lot of confidence in himself and his ability.
“Just hearing the room when we were discussing the player in January, everybody liked him. Everybody was like ‘We’d love to have this kid.’ As it played out, we get this guy at 41. We know this kid inside-and-out and what he brings to the table. We’re pleased as an organization and a scouting department.”