Atlanta Acquires 35th Overall Draft Pick From Royals for Upper-Level Prospects

© Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Trades for competitive balance round picks happen a couple of times every year. Often, there are a lot of different moving parts involved, which can make it a little harder to nail down what teams think a comp pick is worth — there are so many variables associated with each player that it becomes hard to isolate the weight that the pick is carrying in the trade. Every once in a while, we get trades where one side of the deal is exclusively the comp pick, which makes it a little easier to get a feel for pick’s value. Yesterday, when the Braves acquired the 35th overall pick from the Royals for prospects Drew Waters, Andrew Hoffmann, and CJ Alexander, we had one of those instances.

The pick is the most significant aspect of this trade, but it’s value is more abstract since it not only represents a player, but also the draft flexibility it affords the Braves, as they add the bonus pool space associated with the pick (a shade over $2.2 million) to their pool. While it might seem counterintuitive for the Braves, who have a relatively thin system, to move three pieces for one, this trade feels great for them (not that it’s bad for KC). Atlanta doesn’t need Waters, who is likely carrying the most weight in the deal for the Royals. With everyone now healthy, the team has an everyday right fielder in Ronald Acuña Jr., an everyday center fielder in Michael Harris II, and a left field platoon in Eddie Rosario and Adam Duvall, while Guillermo Heredia, the Platonic ideal of a fifth outfielder, can pinch run, make the occasional start for Harris against a lefty, or serve as a late-game defensive upgrade for Duvall/Rosario/Marcell Ozuna. If injury occurs, Atlanta has other ways of moving pieces around to create a better lineup than one that would otherwise heavily feature Waters. Even if you think he’ll eventually be good (more on that in a minute), he was a superfluous in Atlanta.

If they just draft straight up, the player the Braves pick 35th is likely to be the best prospect of the four who are technically involved in this deal, in part because this draft class is deeper than usual. Picking 20th and 35th overall, the Braves are now the only team in the back third of the first round that also has a comp pick. They may see an opportunity to get creative and mix over- and under-slot players at those picks, and they’re now in position to pick someone’s pocket if a team is trying to float a player to the comp/early second round with an over-slot bonus.

Meanwhile, the Royals add a talented, enigmatic player in Waters, who was once a top 100 prospect. Waters is on the 40-man, and with Andrew Benintendi potentially on his way out the door before the trade deadline, there may suddenly be outfield reps available in Kansas City. While Nick Pratto has played some left and right field this year, he has played exclusively first base since June 22, and Waters is the only other player on the 40-man in the minors with outfield experience. Here’s what I wrote about Waters a few weeks ago. All of it still applies:

Waters was a tooled-up second round pick who signed a slightly below-slot deal and coasted through the low minors, earning a Double-A assignment to start 2019 when he was still only 20. He hit .319/.366/.481 there, was promoted to Triple-A late that year, and was a unanimous top 100 prospect the following offseason. Waters’ plate discipline, and his general baseball acumen, turned out to be in a red flag area, and since that season, upper-level pitching has exploited his free-swinging approach; Waters’ performance has not only plateaued, but taken a dive into the 90 wRC+ range during his multi-year Triple-A tenure.

The age-related adjustment one could have arguably made (certainly, for a time, I made it) during the early part of his stretch in Gwinnett is less applicable now, and the 23-year-old Waters continues to chase pitches that he either misses or that limit the quality of his contact. He still has rare raw power for a switch-hitter who can play a viable center field, and even though he’s likely to end up with a well below-average hit tool such that he’s not an everyday player, up-the-middle defenders who can damage mistakes from both sides of the plate tend to carve out a big league role.

Waters’ long speed, athleticism and arm strength allow him to make the occasional spectacular defensive play, while his hands and balls skills are more of a mixed bag. His toolset is similar to that of a diluted Aaron Hicks (without the plate discipline), and Kevin Pillar’s batting line provides a fair preview of what Waters’ might look like if he played every day, though he does not play defense at Pillar’s level. Most contemporary fourth outfielders are really just part of a platoon somewhere and tend to come from the part of the prospect pool with more stable hit tools. Instead, Waters feels like an abnormally dangerous fifth outfielder.

In short, I think it’s unlikely that Waters becomes an impact big leaguer, but a change of scenery likely gives him his best shot to carve that path. A swing-happy prospect like Waters is exactly the kind of prospect basket in which you don’t want to put all of your trade eggs, so having Hoffman and (to a lesser extent) Alexander helps to ensure that the Royals will get something out of this deal even if Waters goes totally bust. From the Braves list:

Hoffmann had a nomadic amateur career, starting at Oakland University in Michigan before a JUCO stint at John Logan CC (IL) and ultimately a move to the University of Illinois, where he had some dominant starts and some epic clunkers amid the occasional week or two off. Some of his fastballs were dipping down into the mid-80s at Illinois, but Hoffmann showed an ability to miss bats with all three of his pitches and the Braves used a 12th rounder on him.

After he signed, Hoffmann’s velocity stabilized, and he sat 92-93 mph for the rest of 2021, and has been in the 93-95 range this year. For a 6-foot-5 guy, his levers and arm action are actually pretty short, and this, combined with how well he gets down the mound, gives his fastball flat angle that plays at the top of the zone. His slider isn’t all that hard, living in the low-80s, but it has a huge amount of lateral action and projects as a plus pitch, while he occasionally turns over a dandy changeup. Mixing all three offerings pretty evenly and attacking the zone so far in pro ball, Hoffmann already looks like a high-probability back-of-the-rotation starter less than a year after he was a Day Three pick.

Hoffmann becomes another quick-moving pitching prospect in a system that’s already full of notable upper-level arms. He and Waters have been added to the Royals prospect list, which can be found here.

Alexander has been playing his second full season at Double-A (he actually finished the 2019 season there) and has been on the prospect radar for about four years now. As he’s reached the upper levels, a big swing-and-miss hole at the top of the zone has become evident, but he still has huge low-ball power and can play both corner infield spots. Assuming 1B/DH will be occupied by Vinnie Pasquantino and Pratto for the foreseeable future, there are a number of other corner bats ahead of Alexander on the roster at this stage (Hunter Dozier, Ryan O’Hearn, Emmanuel Rivera, and probably Nate Eaton), and while some of that group might fall off the roster, it’s unlikely that enough of it will for playing time to be imminent for Alexander. Instead, he looks like upper-level depth between now and minor league free agency.

From a trade value standpoint, this deal is a wash. My prospect grades are subjective, but Waters’ 40+ FV grade (valued at roughly $4 million) combined with Hoffman’s (a 40 FV pitcher, roughly $1 million) is in line with the value of the 45 FV prospects ($4 million – $6 million, depending on hitter/pitcher) who are in that late first/comp round area. These valuations are less about putting a dollar sign on anyone and more about finding a way to evaluate deals like this where there aren’t just players involved. While I’d rather have Atlanta’s end of this deal because Waters scares me and I am particularly excited about this draft class, the math around this trade is pretty balanced.





Eric Longenhagen is from Catasauqua, PA and currently lives in Tempe, AZ. He spent four years working for the Phillies Triple-A affiliate, two with Baseball Info Solutions and two contributing to prospect coverage at ESPN.com. Previous work can also be found at Sports On Earth, CrashburnAlley and Prospect Insider.

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Peter
2 months ago

Thank you, this was helpful.