Former Etowah High School star Drew Waters will get the chance to test himself against big league talent next month after receiving an invite to the Atlanta Braves’ major league camp earlier this week.
Waters is one of 20 non-roster invitees set to join the rest of the team as position players report Feb. 20 to the Braves’ complex in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.
The 20-year-old outfielder was one of four invited prospects ranked in MLB.com’s top 100, along with pitcher Ian Anderson, outfielder Christian Pache and infielder Austin Riley. Still, Waters said he was still surprised when he heard the news.
“I was talking to my agent about it earlier, and he didn’t see it as being realistic for me to be in big league spring training this year,” said Waters, a second-round selection in 2017, about a month after leading Etowah to the Class AAAAAAA state championship. “Everyone else was getting their emails about when to report, so, when I saw where they wanted me to come, I was pumped.”
The invite will allow Waters to play against established major leaguers and top prospects, while he also expects to gain just as much from those on his team. He plans on absorbing as much as he can.
“At this level, they’re obviously all very skilled players, but the guys like Nick Markakis, Brian McCann or Josh Donaldson have obviously figured out what works,” Waters said. “They have a mature approach about going about their business. I’m interested in seeing it first-hand and asking some questions.”
Waters did well at the plate through his first two seasons as a pro.
At four levels of the Braves’ organization, Waters has combined to hit .289 with 13 home runs and 63 RBIs. Last year, he hit a combined .293 with nine homers, 39 RBIs and 23 stolen bases for Class A Rome and advanced Class A Florida, while also being named to the South Atlantic League All-Star team.
His best chance to improve at camp could be on defense, where he will share an outfield with Gold Glove winners Markakis and Ender Inciarte, and 2018 National League Rookie of the Year Ronald Acuna Jr.
“You always need to work on defense,” Waters said. “You need to work on your angles and getting the ball out quick. I don’t think there could be a better group of guys to learn from. You look at all their awards and how they play defense, and you can see how much work they put in it.”
Learning from Markakis, a product of Towne Lake archrival Woodstock, could put Waters in an interesting position. Waters was a key cog on the Etowah team that beat the Wolverines for a state title two seasons ago, and while he said he will keep it to himself initially, the topic could come up.
“I don’t think there will be anything too big going on there,” Waters said. “I might joke around there about beating them for the championship once I get to know him a little bit, but my main goal from the start is to learn as much as I can.”
Besides the seasoned veterans, the Braves also have a core of young players Waters can pick up tips from.
At 20 years old, Waters is just two years younger than All-Star second baseman Ozzie Albies and a year younger than Acuna, whose paths are ones that Waters is eager to follow.
“I want to pick their minds a little bit,” Waters said. “They’re where I would like to be as quick as possible. I want to know how they did it. They’ve been successful at the big league level, so I’m interested to know what they did.”