San Diego – Turns out, Scott Harris didn’t leave the Winter Meetings without a deal after all.
At about 6:45 PT Wednesday night, the Tigers announced they’d sent veteran right-handed reliever Joe Jimenez to the Atlanta Braves for two upper-level prospects – third baseman and corner outfielder Justyn-Henry Malloy and lefty reliever Jake Higginbotham.
“In the end, it was an opportunity to add a young hitter that we’re really excited about and left-handed reliever we think can help us,” said Harris, the Tigers’ first-year president of baseball operations.
Make no mistake, Malloy is the prize here. He’s 22 and was ranked by Baseball America as the top position prospect in the Braves’ system. He was ranked No. 6 on the Braves’ prospect list and cited by Baseball America for having the best strike zone discipline in their organization.
“He is the type of hitter who can help us reshape our offensive identity,” Harris said. “We talked about that a lot. He embodies a lot of the things we really value in hitters. He controls the strike zone. He has plus bat-to-ball skills and he does damage to all fields.
“He raked at three different levels last year and at the Arizona Fall League. Adding him to our collection of position players at the upper level makes me really excited about our future.”
In just his second season of professional baseball, Malloy, a right-handed hitter, ascended three levels last season – Single-A, Double-A and Triple-A – and slashed .289/.408/.454 with 17 home runs and 81 RBIs. He led the Braves minor-league system in doubles (28), on-base percentage (.408), total bases (217) and walks (97), while ranking second in hits (138), extra-base hits (45), slugging percentage and OPS (.862).
“There’s been no formal decision on where he will start next season, but (Triple-A Toledo) is a safe assumption,” Harris said. “But the way he raked against some of the best talent in the game at the Arizona Fall League, that was a separator for us.”
Malloy, a New Jersey native who played collegiately in the SEC at Vanderbilt and Georgia Tech, hit .306 with a .438 on-base percentage, .444 slugging with an .883 OPS in Arizona.
“We got a lot of in-bound calls on Joe,” Harris said. “I think that’s one of the reasons Atlanta was willing to offer us one of their top position players.”
Jimenez, who will be a free agent at the end of next season, had been in the Tigers’ organization since 2013 and was an All-Star in 2018. After struggling mightily for three seasons, he had a renaissance last year, posting a 33% strikeout rate and a 5.6% walk rate in 62 games.
“He could have helped us this year at the big-league level,” Harris said. “But ultimately, the ability to add a young player who is not on our 40-man roster right now but has been climbing toward the big leagues very quickly and putting up the type of performance we really value, plus adding Jake – it became too much to pass up.”
Higginbotham is 26 and spent 2022 in Double-A (4.73 ERA, 48 strikeouts in 51.1 innings).
“Jake is a left-handed reliever whose fastball touches the mid-90s and he has a slider that is very effective at limiting damage,” Harris said. “He’s been real tough of left-handed hitters.”
Both players are expected to be invited to big-league camp in February.
“Our main priority this offseason is to reshape our offensive identity and this is a step in that direction,” Harris said.
The Tigers included an undisclosed amount of cash in the deal, as well.