CUMBERLAND — Drew Waters is confident.
The 21-year-old outfielder was the Atlanta Braves’ second-round draft pick in 2017 and has since shot up through the minor league system. Now, he is threatening to enter into the discussion for one of the major league team’s outfield spots sometime during the 2020 season.
The former Etowah High School standout will make his second trip to spring major league training as a non-roster invitee in a few weeks, and he expects this spring to be slightly different than last.
“Last year’s spring training, I was there, I was present and I did everything, but it was almost like I was asleep,” Waters said Saturday during Chop Fest at Truist Park. “I was so caught up with the fact I was there playing along side guys like Freddie Freeman and Brian McCann. I really look back and it happened so fast, but this year is a little bit different. I feel like I should have the opportunity to come up to Atlanta and help the Atlanta Braves out sometime this year, so knowing that going into spring training, I’ll be a little bit more comfortable with what to expect and I’ll be a lot more prepared.”
Waters is coming off a season in which he split time between Double-A Mississippi and Triple-A Gwinnett. After hitting .319 with five homers with 41 RBIs at Mississippi — highlighted by a 15-game hitting streak — He played the final 26 games of the season for Gwinnett and was humbled by his standards. Waters hit .271 with two homers and 11 RBIs for the Stripers.
Waters said facing failure for Gwinnett motivated him to work harder this offseason.
“That one month in Triple-A, me failing a little bit, not doing quite what I expected myself to do, really put me in the mindset of, ‘OK, this is what I have to work on, this is what I have to accomplish this season to be ready to go next year,’” Waters said.
What Waters said needed to accomplish was getting his swing better from the right side of the plate.
He said he has always been able to hit from the left side, and the numbers prove him right. In 2019, he hit .325 with six homers and 42 RBIs from the left side, while only .258 with one homer and 10 RBIs from the right.
Waters has also been working with the Braves’ nutritionists. After playing at 180 pounds his first season in the minors, he came to spring training last year at 195 pounds. While the extra strength and weight helped, all of the weight was not exactly the best kind.
That has changed over the last few months.
“It’s a different type of 195,” the 6-foot-2 Waters said. “Last year, there was a lot of good weight, but a lot of bad weight that came with it. This year, I feel like it’s all good weight, and I feel the strongest I’ve ever been, but also the quickest and most explosive I’ve been.”
One of the ways Waters has gotten to that point is he had to give up one of his guilty pleasures — or, as he put it, guilty obsessions.
“It’s ‘don’t go to Chick-fil-A and eat Chick-fil-A three times a day.’ I had a bad habit of that,” Waters said. “There’s different supplements they’ll have us on and, for the most part, I try to eat grilled chicken, rice, things with a lot of calories and protein. I can definitely tell it’s helping me with strength, and I’m seeing my body transform a little bit, and now I’m starting to get a little bit of the man strength everybody is talking about.”
Heading into spring training, there is a logjam of players in the Braves’ outfield.
Ronald Acuña Jr. is coming off an MVP-caliber season, and the team just signed St. Louis Cardinals slugger Marcell Ozuna to a one-year deal. Those two will be every-day starters, with Ender Inciarte likely to get the lion’s share of starts in center field. Adam Duvall, Austin Riley and fellow Woodstock native Nick Markakis are also on the roster, with 21-year-old Cristian Pache added on the 40-man roster during the offseason.
Pache has been a teammate of Waters the last couple of years, and the young duo will likely open the season at Gwinnett.
Waters has already gotten a little bit of a taste of big crowds already. As a member of Team USA in qualifying tournament for the 2020 Olympics, he spent a month of the offeason playing in front of 40,000 fans in Mexico and Japan. The first pitch he saw for Team USA this fall, he hit a home run.
“I feel like I’m one of those guys that, when put in that kind of environment, I’ll be successful,” Waters said. “I feel like I feed off a big crowd.”
Waters said he is ready to find out what that big crowd is like in Atlanta, and he is confident he will be ready when he gets the chance.
“I think confidence and swagger, I’m all for it,” Waters said. “We play one of the hardest games in the world. We have guys throwing 100 mph at us. We have guys like Ronald Acuña, Cody Bellinger and Christian Yelich. If you think I’m going to be able to go out and complete with those guys and not be confident in my ability, you’re crazy.
“When you take that cocky-swagger out there on the field with you, it almost makes you feel as if you are in control. And when you are in control, you’re the one driving the car.”