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2023 Minor League player review: Drue Hackenberg

Much like Hurston Waldrep, Hackenberg was aggressively pushed through the minors after being taken in the 2023 MLB Draft.

Virginia Tech v Clemson Photo by Eakin Howard/Getty Images

Aside from Hurston Waldrep, Hackenberg was one of the most aggressively-pushed prospects to come out of the Braves’ 2023 draft, making it all the way to Double-A before the end of the season.

How Acquired

The Braves went heavy on right-handed college arms early on in the 2023 MLB Draft, taking three such players in the first three rounds. Atlanta selected Hackenberg out of Virginia Tech with the 59th overall pick and signed him with a bonus just under $2 million.

Preseason report card

The Braves made somewhat of a surprise move by taking Hackenberg as early as they did. That’s not to say the stuff wasn’t there, because it was, but the righty was coming off a rough season in which he made 15 starts, spinning 85 13 innings of 5.80 ERA ball for the Hokies. Coming into the draft, scouts were a bit mixed on where Hackenberg should land. Baseball America had him slotted as their 148th-best prospect, while MLB Pipeline had him at 200. Meanwhile, ESPN was more bullish on Hackenberg, putting the 6’2”, 220-pound righty 86th.

What we saw in 2023

After being drafted, the Braves sent Hackenberg straight to Low-A Augusta to begin his professional career. While he only made two starts, he flashed some potential and some insight into what the Braves saw in him when they picked him with their second selection.

In those two starts, Hackenberg wasn’t charged with an earned run and posted an FIP and xFIP both below 1.00. Impressively, he struck out 12 of 23 batters faced while walking a pair. The guys who didn’t strike out mostly hit it on the ground, given his 77.8 percent ground ball rate.

Hackenburg pitched so well the Braves pushed him past High-A in Rome straight to Double-A Mississippi. There, Hackenberg came back down to Earth. Making just one start, Hackenburg didn’t make it out of the first inning, tossing two-thirds of a frame before being pulled. The righty allowed one earned run while striking out one and walking four in his very brief stint with Mississippi.

2024 outlook

There’s no reason to think that Hackeberg won’t start out 2024 in Mississippi since he finished the 2023 season there. He’ll turn 22 on April 1 and given his age and rapid advancement through the minors, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he may get a shot at the big leagues next year. That’s contingent on a couple of factors like performance, injuries, need, etc. but the potential is at least there, and the Braves haven’t been shy about throwing guys into the fire if they think they’re ready.

As for what his future outlook as a pitcher goes, that seems to be up in the air at the moment. When he was drafted, most baseball pundits had Hackenberg labeled as a reliever. However, since the Braves selected him, they’ve shown that they’re willing to stretch Hackenberg out as a starter until he proves otherwise. Given how little he pitched post-draft, it’s not clear if or when that “prove otherwise” might come.

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