KC Royals: Why Drew Waters needs to wait until 2023

(Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
(Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images) /

The KC Royals, who optioned Max Castillo back to Omaha and recalled Collin Snider Saturday, and will probably add another starting pitcher before Monday’s make-up game with the White Sox or Tuesday’s contest with Arizona, are just 12 days away from having to make more personnel moves.

Not big ones, mind you, but moves nonetheless.

Like all other big league teams, the Royals will expand their active roster from 26 to 28 players Sept. 1. Who they’ll add remains to be seen, but count on Kansas City fans hoping to get their first look at Omaha outfielder Drew Waters.

And with good reason.

Drew Waters is making a KC Royals trade look good at Triple-A Omaha.

Waters was probably unknown to most Royals followers before the club sacrificed its Competitive Balance pick in last month’s amateur draft (the 35th overall selection) to get him in a July 11 trade with Atlanta. Kansas City picked up two more prospects in the deal, but Waters was the primary target.

Five years removed from the Braves’ taking him in the second round of the 2017 draft, Waters was MLB Pipeline’s No. 1-ranked Atlanta prospect when Kansas City traded for him. The Royals were, as they continually seem to be, searching for outfield help, and dealing for such a highly touted prospect made sense.

Why, though, was the defending World Series Champion’s top prospect available for just a draft pick? Probably because Waters wasn’t playing like such a prospect. His .246/.305/.393 slash line at Triple-A Gwinnett was too much like the .240/.329/.381 he had there in 2021, and both were strikingly worse than the .278/.362/.429 he put up in Rookie ball after signing in 2017, the .294/.343/.476 he had across A and High-A the flowing season, and the combined .309/.360/.459 he posted in Double-A and Triple-A in 2019.

Those numbers and his potential surely drove the Braves’ decision to include him in their 60-man Player Pool and Alternate Training Site work during the 2020 season, but Waters’ 2021 downturn couldn’t have helped his future with Atlanta.

After the KC Royals traded for him in July, Drew Waters is hitting again.

Whether it’s attributable to change of organization, change of scenery, or something else, Waters has rediscovered his good hit tool at Omaha. After going 2-for-3, walking twice and driving in two runs in Omaha’s 10-6 victory over Louisville Saturday night, he’s slashing.295/.399/.541 since joining the Storm Chasers and, combined with the five pre-trade home runs he hit at Gwinnett, his seven Omaha homers give him a career high 12. And through Friday, he was walking over 13% of the time for the Chasers.

Should the KC Royals make Drew Waters one of their two September callups?

Although Waters’ resurgence makes him a candidate to play in Kansas City for this season’s final few weeks, and MLB Pipeline ranks him as the organization’s ninth best prospect, he’s probably better off playing out the campaign with Omaha, whose season ends about a week before the Royals’.

Finishing at Triple-A gives Waters another month-and-a-half to dial his bat completely back in … or to prove he can. He and the Royals have little to gain from a one-month callup, especially because he might sit more than play. The club already has its hands full trying to provide Kyle Isbel and Nate Eaton enough playing time to sufficiently gauge their big league suitability for next season, a process that might end with one or both landing on the trade block this winter. (As he is now, MJ Melendez will see time in the outfield in 2023 when he isn’t catching or DH-ing).

Waters can also use several more weeks at Omaha to work on his plate discipline—he’s definitely walking at a good clip, but his season and career strikeout rates were 29.71% and 27.53% entering Saturday’s play.

So, perhaps it’s best that Waters wait until 2023 to make his major league debut.

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Kansas City fans may not like it, but Drew Waters should keep refining his skills in the minors for the rest of the season.