Detroit Tigers trade reliever Joe Jiménez to Atlanta Braves for two minor leaguers

Detroit Free Press

SAN DIEGO — The Detroit Tigers have joined the winter meetings wheeling and dealing on the final day, sending right-handed reliever Joe Jiménez and cash considerations to the Atlanta Braves for minor league reliever Jake Higginbotham and outfielder/third baseman Justyn-Henry Malloy.

Malloy, 22, is the premium prospect in return for Jiménez.

“(He) is the type of hitter that can help us reshape our offensive identity,” Scott Harris, Tigers president of baseball operations, said Wednesday night from his suite at the Manchester Grand Hyatt. “He embodies a lot of the things that we really value in hitters. He controls the strike zone. He has plus bat-to-ball skills. He does damage to all fields, and he raked at three different levels, plus the Arizona Fall League.”

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Jimenez, 27, was once considered the crown jewel of the Tigers’ minor league system, at least out of the bullpen. He was tabbed as the closer of the future and made his MLB debut in 2017. After an All-Star Game selection in 2018, Jiménez experienced some ups and downs and seemed to be on the fringes of the roster.

But last season was his best in the big leagues, posting a 3.49 ERA with 13 walks and 77 strikeouts over 56⅔ innings in 62 games. He recorded a career-best 1.094 WHIP and registered 12.2 strikeouts and 2.1 walks per nine innings.

Jimenez is a free agent after the 2023 season. Braves president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos told reporters Wednesday his organization pursued Jiménez at last season’s trade deadline, when former general manager Al Avila was in charge of the Tigers and held onto several relievers.

“Anytime a reliever puts up a really good year he’s going to generate a lot of interest,” said Harris, who added the acquisition of non-40-man roster players helped seal the deal. “We got a lot of inbound calls on Joe, and I think that’s one of the reasons why Atlanta was willing to offer us one of their top position playing prospects.”

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Malloy, a sixth-round pick in 2021, started his college career at powerhouse Vanderbilt and finished at Georgia Tech. Last season, the right-handed-hitter played at High-A Rome (71 games), Double-A Mississippi (54 games) and Triple-A Gwinnett (eight games), batting .289 with an .862 on-base-plus-slugging percentage.

He added 17 home runs, 81 RBIs, 97 walks and 138 strikeouts in 133 games. Most importantly, he showed polish at the plate by controlling the strike zone. He combined for a 16.4% walk rate and 23.4% strikeout rate at all three levels.

Malloy has played left field and third base as a professional, and the Tigers will employ him at both positions into the future.

“We’ve talked a lot about versatility and how much we value it,” Harris said. “A guy who can play both on the dirt and in the grass is really valuable for us. And then the opportunity to have that bat was pretty exciting.”

The Tigers haven’t formally decided where Malloy will start the 2023 season, but Harris expects him to begin in Triple-A Toledo. With Triple-A Gwinnett last season, he hit .280 in just eight games.

Malloy appears on track for his MLB debut in 2023.

“He’s been dictating his own development in his career,” Harris said. “He hasn’t been a professional baseball player that long, and he’s already in Triple-A, and he’s already performing int he Arizona Fall League, so I certainly wouldn’t rule it out.”

Malloy was the No. 11 prospect in the Braves’ farm system, according to MLB Pipeline, and the second-best hitting prospect behind shortstop Braden Shewmake. He became the Tigers’ No. 7 prospect.

Higginbotham, 26, was an 11th-round pick in 2018 after his college career at Clemson. The left-hander spent all of last season in Double-A Mississippi, registering a 4.73 ERA with 18 walks and 48 strikeouts across 51⅓ innings in 48 appearances out of the bullpen.

His arsenal is highlighted by a mid-90s fastball and a slider.

“He has a slider that is very effective at limiting damage,” Harris said, “and he’s been really tough on left-handed hitters throughout his career. You can never have too much pitching, and he’s a guy that I think can help us in the bullpen, especially against left-handed hitters.”

Contact Evan Petzold at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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