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Braves Minor League Recap: Hurston Waldrep makes Gwinnett debut

The 2023 first round pick has rocketed through the system

image: Mills Fitzner, Rome Braves

There was only one team in action on Saturday night, but Gwinnett made the most of their penultimate game with a busy afternoon. The pitching staff of first round pick Hurston Waldrep, Dylan Dodd, and Charlie Culberson shut down the Durham Bulls offense. Meanwhile the Atlanta Braves third round pick from 2022 Drake Baldwin had himself a night as he was scorching everything thrown his way. Oh, and Vaughn Grissom tied a Gwinnett Stripers record. So yes, a busy day, and a long recap for just a single game.

(69-78) Gwinnett Stripers 2, (88-61) Durham Bulls 0

Box Score

  • Vaughn Grissom, SS: 2-4, 2B, .326/.415/.496
  • Drake Baldwin, C: 3-4, HR, RBI, .429/.429/.857
  • Hurston Waldrep, SP: 4.1 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 5 K, 0.00 ERA
  • Dylan Dodd, RP: 4 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 7 K, 5.91 ERA

Hurston Waldrep will take the headlines from this game, and rightfully so. It’s not often that a first round pick gets pushed all the way to Triple-A in his draft year, especially with a workload as significant as Waldrep’s. However, the player of the game in this one was Drake Baldwin, and his performance this season should be turning your head. Baldwin’s second Triple-A game was a showcase for him as he smoked three of the four hardest hit balls in the game and four of the top six. He started the game off with his hardest hit ball, a 108.7 mph single that moved Braden Shewmake over to third base. Gwinnett would load the bases with one out, but a pop out into foul territory and a ground out ended the early threat.

While the offense couldn’t come through in the early going Waldrep was showing off his stuff, and started off the game by striking out two batters in the first inning. He repeated that achievement in his second inning, working around a bunt hit and a walk to keep the game scoreless. The third inning Waldrep faced the lineup a second time through, and this time they were able to get a better look at him and make more contact. Ruben Cardenas had a single with one out, and then the inning got a bit confusing on the next play. Waldrep fielded a ground ball back to him, which he threw to first bouncing it off of the arm of the runner Francisco Mejia. However Mejia was about a step inside of the first base bag, and was called out for interference, negating an errant throw to third by Shewmake in the subsequent scramble. Cardenas was sent back to first base, meaning Ronny Simon’s base hit just moved him over to third base and Waldrep was able to escape a jam on a fly out.

In the bottom of the third inning the Stripers also had the top of their lineup up, and Andrew Velazquez led off the inning by drawing a walk. Ehire Adrianza couldn’t advance him as he flew out, but Vaughn Grissom lined a single past the shortstop and Gwinnett had runners on the corners with one out. A bounding ball from Braden Shewmake right to first base turned into a double play as the first baseman stepped on the base and threw to second, however Grissom stayed in a rundown just long enough for Velazquez to score and Gwinnett held a 1-0 lead. Waldrep went out to the mound for the fourth inning and got two easy outs, but after issuing a walk and allowing a base hit he had to face leadoff hitter Vidal Brujan with runners on the corners. Waldrep made the pitches he needed, and struck out Brujan swinging to finish off a shutdown inning. Drake Baldwin got his second at bat of the game in the bottom of the fourth, and he quickly doubles Gwinnett’s lead. Baldwin waited on a changeup that drifted over the plate, turning on it down the right field line for a 402-foot home run at 104.4 mph off of the bat.

Waldrep came out to get one out in the fifth inning, and thus ended a quick rise through the system this year (assuming he doesn’t get a look in Atlanta which I won’t count out at this point. Waldrep did well to miss the middle of the zone with all of his pitches, particularly his fastball, and though his command was as expected a bit shaky if he must miss it’s best not to hang them. His slider control really was all over the place, both in and out of the zone, and for those they swung at he generated four whiffs on seven swings. His changeup command was better, though a few certainly got away from him, as he tended to keep those lower and the Bulls did no damage against the pitch. However they also tended to lay off the pitch, and he ended with three whiffs on four swings. Waldrep missed a bit too much out of the zone with the changeup for batters to bite, and will overall just need to clean everything up regarding location. Of course none of this is new information. Most of the action in the game came against Waldrep’s fastball, of which he got four whiffs on 16 swings and allowed all four of his hits. (note here: Savant’s pitch tracking miscategorized a lot of Waldrep’s pitches, so don’t just take the numbers there at face value. I did the bits regarding his whiffs based on the movement/velocity rather than Savant’s categorization.).

Gwinnett finished off their fifth inning by just letting Charlie Culberson go to work, and he got the final two outs to keep the game scoreless. Starting in the sixth inning Dylan Dodd worked the remainder of the game, and after having such a poor season it was nice to see him sent off to Arizona like this. Dodd’s last start he went 4 23 innings and only allowed one runs, and in this one he had an even better performance. Dodd dominated, allowing only two hard hit balls which were both fly outs hit just fractions of a mile per hour above 95. Overall Dodd finished with seven strikeouts and 12 whiffs on 37 swings, but the interesting number is his fastball velocity. He averaged 93.6 mph, up significantly from where he was this year with Atlanta and around where we saw him much of last year. Dodd also did not throw a changeup in this outing, relying on the fastball, slider, and cutter combination. Dodd’s sixth inning was a breeze, as he struck out the first batter he faced swinging and then got two weak ground outs to retire the side. Dodd retired the first seven batters he faced before Ronny Simon bounced a ball through the right side of the infield which Braden Shewmake couldn’t get to as he was shifted up the middle. Dodd made sure there was no need to worry as he struck out the other three batters in that inning. Dodd allowed a two out walk in the ninth inning, but got two more strikeouts including a challenge and overturned ball for a called strike three to close out the game. This was the first time since April 16th that Dodd struck out more than five batters in a game, and is his only scoreless outing at Triple-A since May 20th.

Gwinnett’s offense did no more to finish out the game scoring-wise, but there are still some interesting notes. Back on Baldwin, in the sixth inning he made it a three hit game with another hard hit ball, a 98.3 mph line drive the opposite way on a 1-2 pitch. Finally the Bulls managed to retire him in the eighth inning, but he still got his money’s worth as he hit the grounder a 106.6 mph just right at the second baseman who was well-positioned.. Vaughn Grissom led off in the eight with a 96,3 mph line drive into left field, and he tore out of the box and dove into second beating the throw for another double. That gives him 35 doubles on the season, tying the Gwinnett Stripers franchise record.

For me, this is my final minor league recap of the season, though I will have about a week off before I start doing our weekly Arizona Fall League recaps. I was stressed about this one as it’s my first season as Minor League editor, but I want to thank Matt Powers, Devin Csigi, and Brady Petree for being a fantastic crew this year and making it easy on me. We appreciate the support all of you gave this year, and I’m looking forward to a bit of a break but will certainly miss minor league ball after about three weeks. Hopefully, we are about to witness another World Series run for the Braves.

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