Tigers add 2 prospects in 'very difficult' trade

Detroit parts with RHP Jiménez, acquires hitting prospect and LHP from Braves

December 8th, 2022

SAN DIEGO -- The first trade of Scott Harris’ tenure as Tigers president of baseball operations is a significant one tapping into one of the team’s valuable commodities. Detroit traded reliever Joe Jiménez to the Braves on Wednesday for hitting prospect Justyn-Henry Malloy and lefty prospect Jake Higginbotham.

“Joe is a very difficult person to trade,” Harris told reporters at baseball’s Winter Meetings. “He's very popular in our clubhouse. He had an exceptional year for us. I think Atlanta's getting a great person. In the end, it was an opportunity to add a young hitter that we're really excited about and a left-handed reliever that we think can really help us.”

Tigers get: OF/3B Justyn-Henry Malloy (Atlanta’s No. 11 prospect), LHP Jake Higginbotham
Braves get: RHP

Jiménez, a former All-Star closer who turns 28 next month, re-established his career as a versatile, nasty bullpen piece over the last season and a half after spending part of 2021 at Triple-A Toledo. The big right-hander struck out 77 batters over 56 2/3 innings to go with a 3-2 record, 3.49 ERA and two saves in 2022.

The pitch quality backed up the numbers. Jiménez boasted a fastball spin rate in the top 6 percent of Major Leaguers in each of the past two seasons and bumped his fastball velocity from an average of 94.7 mph in 2021 to 95.7 mph last season. With an arm extension in the top 14 percent of big league hurlers, his fastball looked even harder.

Jiménez also ranked among the top 20 percent of big leaguers in whiff and strikeout rates, chase rate and low walk rate.

The Tigers listened to trade interest on Jiménez at last summer’s Trade Deadline, but then-general manager Al Avila opted to hold on to him in hopes of a better return. Though Jiménez essentially amounts to a one-year rental in his final season before free agency, Harris picked up the situation, leveraged a Hot Stove market that has seen lucrative deals for non-closing free-agent relievers and found an appealing package of prospects.

“We got a lot of calls on Joe,” Harris said. “I think that’s one of the reasons why Atlanta was willing to offer us one of their top position prospects.”

The Tigers had scouted the Braves’ farm system last offseason ahead of the Robbie Grossman trade. The 22-year-old Malloy rates as Detroit’s No. 7 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, and he was the second-ranked hitting prospect in Atlanta’s system. The 6-foot-3 outfielder/third baseman hit .289 with 28 doubles, 17 homers, 81 RBIs and an .862 OPS across three Minor League levels before hitting .306 in the Arizona Fall League, all in his first professional season.

Malloy’s plate discipline fit Harris’ search for hitters who control the strike zone. Malloy drew 97 walks over 591 plate appearances in the Braves system, then drew nearly as many walks (16) and strikeouts (20) over 89 plate appearances in the AFL.

“Malloy is the type of hitter that can help us reshape our offensive identity,” Harris said. “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 this year plus the Arizona Fall League. Adding him to our collection of position players at the upper levels makes me really excited about our future.”

Malloy ended the season at Triple-A and appears ticketed to open next season at Toledo, likely playing corner outfield and third base. As a sixth-round pick from the 2021 Draft out of Georgia Tech, he doesn’t have to be added to the 40-man roster.  

Could Malloy get the call to Detroit at some point next season? 

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

Higginbotham, who turns 27 next month, spent the 2022 season as a reliever at Double-A Mississippi, posting a 2-5 record, three saves and a 4.73 ERA. He allowed 59 hits over 51 1/3 innings with 18 walks and 48 strikeouts. He has a mid-90s fastball and a slider.

“He’s been really tough on left-handed hitters throughout his career,” Harris said. “He’s a guy that I think can help us in the bullpen.”