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2023 Minor League player review: Luke Waddell

One of the better pure hitters in the Braves system, Waddell could find himself on the brink of the majors sometime this year.

Photo Credit: Mills Fitzner

Waddell was the second position player taken by the Braves in the 2021 MLB Draft, behind Cal Conley. Since being selected, the middle infielder has put up solid numbers and could be a viable bench piece for the major league squad as early as this year.

How Acquired

The Braves took Waddell out of Georgia Tech with their fifth-round pick in the 2021 MLB Draft. In his final season with the Yellow Jackets, Waddell slashed .309/.402/.474 while swatting eight homers. He agreed to a $333,300 bonus to join the Braves.

Preseason report card

Since being selected in 2021, Waddell has consistently put up solid numbers across each minor league level. Waddell went straight to Rome to begin his professional career and later got the bump to Double-A Mississippi before taking part in the Arizona Fall League, where he posted a .788 OPS. The 25-year-old spent all of 2022 in Mississippi as he battled multiple injuries and put up a 99 wRC+ in the process.

Coming into 2023, Waddell was destined to repeat Double-A given the fact he only played in 41 games there due to injuries, with a distant chance of making the major leagues if the stars aligned.

In terms of our top prospects list prior to the season, Waddell barely made the list, checking in at number 25. Waddell originally got kicked out of our top-25 midseason rankings thanks to recent draftees and international guys pushing others down. However, following the Victor Vodnik trade to Colorado, Waddell made the list, coming in again at number 25.

What we saw in 2023

As mentioned, Waddell started out his 2023 season in Mississippi, where he posted perhaps his best — and first full professional season — yet. In 101 games for the M-Braves, Waddell posted a 120 wRC+ while hitting eight home runs and driving in 64. A deeper dive in Waddell’s numbers also shows that while his strikeout rate increased by a full percentage point, his walk rate increased to just under 15 percent while at Double-A.

But after getting promoted to Triple-A, Waddell’s numbers tailed off by more than just a bit. In just 29 games, Waddell posted a 68 wRC+. Surprisingly enough, however, Waddell’s strikeout percentage decreased while his walk rate increased during his short stint at Gwinnett. The reason for the offensive decline, then, was a complete power outage (.058 ISO) and a low BABIP despite a line drive rate approaching 30 percent.

2024 outlook

Waddell will be knocking on Atlanta’s doorstep to kick off the 2024 campaign, almost certainly getting assigned to Gwinnett to start. As a whole, Waddell will never be the power bat that most teams look for. However, he possesses an above-average hit tool, decent running ability, a good glove, and the ability to play multiple positions, making him a prime candidate to serve as a super-utility kind of player.

The Braves’ bench, as currently constructed, figures to feature a few guys that probably get the first look at bench spots out of the gate. However, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that with a good Spring Training and depending on what other moves Atlanta makes between now and then, Waddell could break camp as a bench piece. Probably his biggest competition right now is David Fletcher, who seems like a fine enough backup infielder with better offensive projections than Waddell, and the added benefit of having a known aptitude for shortstop at the major league level. But if Fletcher goes down, the Braves probably don’t have much to lose by giving Waddell the honor of sitting on the bench and barely playing... unless they prefer that he get more development in Gwinnett instead of doing so.

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