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The Early Returns on the Drew Waters Experiment Are Amazing

It's too soon to declare Waters this good, but he's been phenomenal since the trade.

When the Kansas City Royals traded pick No. 35 in the 2022 MLB Draft to the Atlanta Braves in exchange for a prospect package, it became clear that Kansas City was taking a gamble on its prospect development.

The centerpiece of that deal, outfielder Drew Waters, had just about every tool under the sun but had yet to put everything together at the plate. At the time of the deal, Waters was slashing .246/.305/.393 with an 84 wRC+ in Triple-A. He was also walking just 7.6% of the time and his raw power wasn't exactly shining through to make up for his shortcomings elsewhere (.147 ISO). The 23-year-old didn't perform at a bad level in his 49 games played, rather it was just another example of him not rising to the occasion of being Atlanta's top prospect.

Since the trade to the Royals, however, Waters has been nothing short of brilliant. 

Starting with what Waters has always consistently done well, he's shown off his speed and defense in major ways thus far. In just 15 games, Kansas City's No. 8-ranked prospect is putting his 60-grade speed to good use on the basepaths. He has nine stolen bases already, which is hard to comprehend considering he had five in that aforementioned 49-game sample size. His ability to patrol center field, where MLB.com gives him another 60 grade, has also been business as usual. Waters didn't lose any of the advantages that come with his game upon arriving in Triple-A Omaha — he doubled down on them. But his improvement at the plate has been far and away the biggest storyline stemming from that trade.

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In Omaha, Waters is slashing .322/.420/.610 (1.030 OPS) with a staggering 172 wRC+. He's also posting a minor league career-best 14.5% walk rate and has already clobbered four home runs. Additionally, Waters' .288 ISO is a testament to his power showing up in a major way. He's still striking out quite a bit (29% of the time) but when a prospect is producing at such an elite level at the plate otherwise, it's hard to nitpick at something that has always been a major element of his game.

Of course, Waters is likely due to regress to the mean at some point. His .429 BABIP seems unsustainable, although he's posted similar figures in stints during the 2017 and 2019 seasons during stops at Rookie ball and Triple-A. With that said, it is entirely possible that the Royals' hitting development — led by Drew Saylor and company — is making a positive impact on him. An increase in walks and power will lead to greater overall success at the plate, and Waters has been nothing short of extraordinary since coming over in the trade.

It remains to be seen whether Waters can keep this (or anything resembling this) up. His history as a prospect suggests that his newfound power and patience may not be here to stay for long, but this was always a possible outcome when the Royals pulled the trigger on that trade. Waters is a former top 100 prospect for a reason; his potential is legitimate. If the Royals truly do unlock that upside, they could have their center fielder of the future on their hands. It's far too early to declare that a fact, but Waters is getting off to about as good of a start as possible nonetheless.