A closer look at the Drew Waters trade and the Royals’ new draft strategy

I didn’t really make any secret about how damn excited I was to hear the news that the Kansas City Royals traded for former Braves top prospect Drew Waters today:

I was a huge Drew Waters fan just a year and a half ago. He’s a tooled up, true center field prospect with what I think may actually be a serviceable hit tool despite the strikeout rates. In 2021, Michael A. Taylor was a pretty bad offensive player and was still worth two wins or so because his defense in center field was so good. I’m not saying Drew Waters is going to be a Gold Glove winning center fielder, but he’s a good defender in the outfield and as long as he’s that, he won’t have to be a Silver Slugger candidate to have value on a big league team.

I also tweeted today that this kind of reminds me of the Royals acquiring Brett Phillips for Mike Moustakas a few years ago. While it’s not a perfect comparison, there are quire a few similarities between Phillips and Waters and I think buying low on post-hype prospects has value as long as the infrastructure is in place to help them grow. Phillips didn’t get the opportunity to work with Drew Saylor and the new Royals PD team. Waters will, and there aren’t really any expectations that should be placed on him now that he’s in a new organization that is 20 games below .500. I don’t mean to scare you away from being excited with the Phillips comparison, because I’m not directly comparing the players, just their situations and the Royals attempt to revive their careers in Kansas City.

When Waters is right, he’s got easy juice to all fields. It’s legitimately impressive how easily he’s able to put balls in the gap. My biggest issues with Waters at the moment are, in order:
1. His GB%
2. His IFFB%
3. His approach at the plate

In case any of this sounds familiar, I wrote about it in depth this morning in regards to how well the entire farm system is hitting right now. If there’s anything Drew Saylor and company have been able to help hitters with, it’s their attack/launch angle and their approach. Even if Waters keeps striking out 25% of the time, he’ll be okay if he can hit the ball in the air, at an optimized launch angle, more frequently.

Analyzing the strikeouts, I really don’t perceive this to be a hit tool issue. Whiffs, in regard to hitters, can be so misunderstood. There is a huge difference between a player who is having trouble making contact with pitches in the zone (Seuly Matias) and a hitter who is swinging at all the wrong pitches (2019 Nick Pratto and MJ Melendez). If you’ll recall, both Pratto and Melendez were striking out nearly 40% of the time at High-A back in 2019, and it took quite a bit of saving to revive their careers.

Here’s a good example of a ball that ought to be pounded into the gap, and instead is rolled over on. Waters appears to be a bit late which…on a 3-2 count you probably shouldn’t be late on 93. This, to me, describes a lack of an approach. I would almost rather see Waters come out of his shoes on the fastball and try to foul off a potential offspeed pitch than just try to react to whatever is thrown. It’s physically impossible for human beings to see, react to, and hit anything over 94 mph. The brain just doesn’t work fast enough. You literally have to cheat to *something.* A fastball down and in on a 3-2 count feels like exactly the kind of pitch you’d want to cheat to. The Braves are generally very good at developing hitters…so it’s hard to put your finger on exactly what may be the issue here, but the Royals are clearly banking on their development team’s ability to find something in Waters’ swing and/or approach to help him get to pitches like that earlier.

I will pause momentarily for a word of caution: I did not necessarily mean to come off like I think Drew Waters is going to be the next Lorenzo Cain. I was also pretty excited about the Brett Phillips acquisition and…well…anyway. I like the player. I think Waters is talented enough to be a plus-defender in CF and a serviceable eight or nine-hole hitter on a playoff team. I am pumped for the Royals to have a legitimate center field prospect at AAA. I LOVE the process. This is exactly the type of move I’ve been asking the Royals to make for years and, with the right player development infrastructure in place, this is how you get Lorenzo Cain on the cheap. The Royals don’t have a Zack Greinke to deal. They need their next “guy” and they needed one that was going to be affordable for them. Drew Waters is that. Nobody trades the Michael Harris’ of the world. What you can do, though, is trade for the Drew Waters’ of the world and try to resurrect them back into that top-100 prospect they once were. Even if this doesn’t work, this is great process by the Kansas City Royals and I am all the way here for it.

I haven’t watched an entire start from Andrew Hoffman just yet, but based on the film I have seen, I’m a fan. This is a legitimate big league pitching prospect. He’s 6′ 5″ and has some weird levers for a guy his size. He remains very compact through his delivery which has made it easy for him to throw strikes and thus limit the free bases. His slider is more slurvy than a hard, wipe-out offering, but he can throw it to both RHH and LHH and have it be effective. He’s just 22 years old and the Royals have immediately assigned him to AA Northwest Arkansas, so there’s a lot to like both in terms of the pitcher himself and what the organization is telling us that they think about him. I’ve seen some argue that he’s actually the better prospect in this deal, and while I disagree, the fact that you could even make the case is a sign that Hoffmann wasn’t just some throw in. He was an integral part of making this trade work.

How does this affect their draft strategy?

When you have three picks in the top-50 overall selections, you can get real creative with your bonus pool. Now that it’s effectively defunct, I will tell you that in our mock draft in the RFR Draft Guide, we had the Royals taking a college bat at #9, over slotting a prep outfielder at #35, and then taking a rehabbing college arm at #49. I think this strategy is now totally kaput. The Royals third pick now won’t be until the 80’s, meaning I think they HAVE to go best player available with both their picks at #9 and #49. Unless there’s a prep kid that has told everyone else no, and the Royals are willing to wait until day two to meet the asking price…I just don’t see it. You can’t afford to miss on these picks now and I think the Royals plan will be to just take the top player on their board when their turn rolls around. Not that I anticipated any shenanigans in the first place, but I think you can rest easy knowing it’ll be a blue chip at #9 now. Who do we think it will be? Check out the RFR Draft Guide, please. It’s just $3.99 and has everything you could ever need to know about everyone in play for the Royals 9th overall pick on Sunday.

One thought on “A closer look at the Drew Waters trade and the Royals’ new draft strategy

  1. Hi Alex, agreed with your assessment on Waters. He could get tuned up by Saylor and Co and KC needs their next CF. At 22, Hoffman is a prospect in AA – they’ll be drafting 22 year old next week that just finished college. I don’t know what to make of Alexander but power at 3B is something KC is lacking. He adds to a good lineup at NWA.

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