The Royals have recalled outfield prospect Drew Waters from Triple-A Omaha and optioned outfielder Nate Eaton to Triple-A in his place, per a team announcement. It’ll be the Major League debut for Waters, whom Kansas City acquired from Atlanta last month (alongside two other minor leaguers) in a trade that sent a Competitive Balance draft selection back to the Braves.
Waters, 23, was a second-round pick back in 2017 and long rated as one of the more promising all-around prospects in the game. The switch-hitter was a consensus top-100 prospect each year from 2019-21, but at the time of the trade sending him to Kansas City, his stock was down a fair bit. Waters had mashed his way through the Double-A level but seen his bat stall out in Triple-A, where he’d slashed .246/.324/.383 in just shy of 800 total plate appearances across parts of three seasons. Of even greater concern was the 30.7% strikeout rate he’d posted in those three Triple-A stints.
The Royals, however, remained enamored of Waters’ skill set and clearly held him in high regard. The day after the trade, Kansas City general manager J.J. Picollo touted Waters as a “true center fielder” and “plus defender” with still-developing skills at the plate. All indications based both on Picollo’s comments and on the mere fact that the Royals targeted Waters in that trade was that the club still viewed him as an intriguing prospect and a potential everyday option in center field.
To this point, the Royals have to be thrilled with how Waters has responded to the move. Since joining his new organization, Waters has been on absolute fire in Omaha, raking at a .295/.399/.541 pace with seven home runs, five doubles, a pair of triples and a perfect 13-for-13 showing in stolen bases. It’s just a 31-game, 143-plate appearance sample, but the results are quite encouraging. Waters has also walked at a 14% clip that would be the highest single-season mark of his entire career by a fairly wide margin. Strikeouts are still an issues, as he’s punched out at a bloated 28.7% clip since the trade — actually a slight increase from this year’s 27.1% rate in the Braves organization.
Still, the recent production from Waters has surely restored some of the shine on his name, and he ought to be in line for regular work with the Royals as the season draws to a close. At 25 games under .500 and 16.5 games out of the AL Central lead with the third-worst run differential in MLB (-149), the focus in Kansas City is now on the future rather than on the 2022 season. It’s in the Royals’ interest to get Waters some work at the big league level to evaluate whether he’s ready for a prime role in next season’s outfield or whether he might need further time in the minors (perhaps prompting a short-term outfield addition this winter).
There’s no way for Waters to reach a full year of service time in 2022, so even if he’s in the big leagues for good, the Royals will control him all the way through the 2028 season. He’s also being called up for his debut well past the point at which Super Two status could be achievable, so he won’t reach arbitration until the 2025-26 offseason at the earliest. Future optional assignments could delay both that arbitration timeline and Waters’ free-agent timeline, of course. Waters only had his contract selected for the first time this past November, meaning he’s in his first minor league option year and will have a pair of minor league options remaining beyond the current season.