Video Room: Tigers acquire Justyn-Henry Malloy from Atlanta

Bless You Boys

The Detroit Tigers first major transaction of the offseason was trading Joe Jiménez to the Atlanta Braves for Justyn-Henry Malloy and Jake Higginbotham. This adds another couple of prospects as the new front office begins retooling the organization to their philosophies of success.

Jiménez finally put it all together in 2022, grading out as one of the better relievers in the game. With only one year left until free agency, the choices were clear. Harris either had to extend him a multi-year deal, or work out a trade. Teams were hunting for the 27-year-old right-hander at July’s trade deadline, but a satisfactory deal was never reached with the Al Avila front office. Instead, maximizing Jiménez’s value in trade became Harris’ job, and it looks at first blush like he’s done a good job.

Malloy is the big name in the Tigers return for Jiménez. After a strong breakout season, he grades as one of the top hitting prospects in a still strong Braves farm system. It’s the time of year where new prospect lists are being put together and Sam Dykstra from MLB Pipeline shared that Malloy will become the seventh ranked prospect in the Tigers system. Other services may well have him higher than that.

Atlanta took Malloy in the 6th round of the 2021 draft out of Georgia Tech. He’d transferred there after initially starting his college career at Vanderbilt. He’s been a quick riser through the Braves’ system, showing elite plate discipline that helped him ascend all the way to Triple-A by the end of the 2022 season, his first full season as a pro. That rapid development for the 22-year-old sent his stock soaring, and got him a nod for the Arizona Fall League. After making the Fall Stars team, Malloy now finds himself part of a new organization.

While the deal itself seemingly came out of nowhere, the press release was not shy in explaining why the Tigers were excited to acquire Malloy.

All viable reasons for being excited about a prospect. Finding a hitter that can control the strike zone and show plate discipline is a good trait to have, and frankly something that’s been lacking from Tigers lineups over the last few years. Whether this is just an executive saying nice things about his new player or not, Malloy is the first real look we have at what this new front office may covet in prospect hitters.

Strengths

As Scott Harris mentioned in the press release, Malloy has very good plate discipline. He shows ability to work counts. Sometimes to his detriment, which I’ll touch on later, Malloy isn’t afraid to be patient in the box. He works counts as well as anyone, and often finds himself deep in counts.

The key reason is his refusal to chase bad pitches. Malloy can recognize offspeed well and he doesn’t let his hands go on pitches that break out of the zone. Whether it be sliders running away, or changeups breaking in, he has a good feel on what pitches will find the zone, and which ones to lay off of. It’s a very educated approach for a hitter in his first full year of pro ball, in particular.

That can be a two way street, especially with human umpires calling balls and strikes, which is a debate for another time. In this case, it means Malloy can find himself in two strike counts without ever swinging the bat. Just look at his strikeout numbers. But don’t let those strikeouts fool you, he battles at the plate. He doesn’t give in easily and he will foul pitches off. He’s a hard out to get, even when behind in the count. That patience will sometimes mean that he takes strikes too often and is hitting from behnd, but he has a plan and isn’t shy about executing it.

Zone discipline is a great trait to have, but it doesn’t answer the question of if he can hit. And the answer is that he can. He’s a hit over power profile, but there is some pop to his swing. Especially in a park like Comerica, it will likely be predominantly doubles power. However, he can get into pitches and pulls the ball in the air enough to expect 20 home run power, and potentially more if he continues to develop.

Hitting isn’t easy. As simple as this sounds, Malloy is very good at hitting mistakes. He takes advantage of them when he sees them and that’s an important thing to do as a hitter. As the arms get better in the upper minors and then the major leagues, the number of mistake pitches gets smaller. Taking advantage of them becomes that much more important the higher a batter climbs.

The question then becomes about what might happen at the Major League level. Pitchers will catch too much of the zone, but can he hit the ball when pitches are executed well? There are a lot of variables involved, but based on his swing there’s a reasonable assumption that he will be able to find success turning on pitches on the inside half of the plate. Open face video of Malloy’s swing from Josh Norris gives some indication as to why that is.

There is one part of that swing in particular that I’ve honed in on.

The separation Malloy creates in his swing along with quick hands through zone help him to turn on pitches on the inner half. He’s an excellent hitter to his pull side. This means he should be able to get to velocity on the inner half, and wait back on offspeed when he recognizes it out of the hand.

Between his bat to ball skills and plat discipline, Malloy will be a hit over everything type prospect who could wind up with an above average hit tool and roughly average power.

Weaknesses

The biggest hole in Malloy’s offensive game to this point is when pitches are spotted to the outside part of the plate. He’s excellent at pulling the ball, but he tries to do that a lot. So going with pitches on the outer half can prove to be a struggle at times for him. It’s not that he can’t get the bat head to those pitches, but more that he has a tendency to try to hook around them and pull them. That leaves him susceptible if he can’t fight them off in an attempt to get a pitch he can pull. When he does stay on pitches away, he’s very capable of spraying plenty of line drives to all fields. The home run power is decidedly to the pull field at this point, however.

Beyond that there are questions about where he lands defensively. He’s not a fast runner, which will limit him to left field if he remains in the outfield. Some scouts believe he won’t stick there, making his more likely defensive home third base. He has the arm strength to play at a corner.

These are two very important questions that will need addressed by the Tigers.

Projection

When it comes to projection, Malloy has filled out his frame. He added weight after coming out of college, which added some power to his game that was not previously there. After a stint in the AFL, Malloy will start working with the Tigers development team to figure out how to maximize his skillset.

More than likely Malloy will start in Toledo in 2023 after only eight games in Triple-A in 2022. If he performs there, then Detroit will have a decision to make pretty quickly. It’s a long offseason, but right now there’s an opening at third base. Harris and company may well envision Malloy as the player to take it, but it’s highly unlikely that happens until the summer months at the earliest.

Regardless of when we see Malloy, the message is clear. The new front office is looking to change things. Detroit posted the second lowest walk percentage in the majors in 2022, and the worst chase rates. Scott Harris laid out his profile for hitters, and he leaned into it here, as Malloy may even be a little too patient and disciplined at times. Players like this are the first steps in changing the roster and adding more discipline to the Tigers lineup.

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