Malloy's new aggressive approach pays off with oppo taco

February 25th, 2024

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- led the Minor Leagues last season with 110 walks. The Tigers’ No. 9 prospect showed such a keen eye for the strike zone that some teammates in Toledo nicknamed him ABS after the automated ball-strike system used at Triple-A last year. Nobody in the system better fit president of baseball operations Scott Harris’ mantra of dominating the strike zone.

“He is the ABS,” manager A.J. Hinch joked Sunday morning.

Yet even Malloy felt he might have been a bit too picky.

“I think there can be periods of time where I get passive and I’m kind of looking for that perfect pitch, which then puts me in non-leverage counts,” Malloy said at the start of Spring Training. “But one of the things that I wanted to hone in on was being a hair more aggressive. But if that isn’t me, I don’t want to force it.”

“I just kind of want to let it flow, but if I’m in a two-strike count, I’m in a two-strike count. If I didn’t think I could do damage with the pitch and I didn’t swing, then I didn’t swing. But I did want this offseason to be able to kind of not expand the zone, but let’s get our A swing off a little bit more just so we can do a tick more damage.”

There’s a strategy into that mindset.

“The steal-a-strike approach is going to be something that teams are going to challenge him with,” Hinch said, “because he does like to have long at-bats. There’s some low-hanging fruit on the vine on getting to some damage earlier in counts.”

On Sunday, Malloy was was aggressive in doing damage. His swing at a 3-0 fastball from former Tiger Erasmo Ramirez looked out of character -- he put just four 3-0 pitches in play all last year at Toledo -- but produced a hard-hit line-drive single to left, setting up Zach McKinstry’s RBI ground-rule double to open the scoring in the Tigers’ 9-9 tie with the Rays at Charlotte Sports Park.

“It might have been a cutter, a little natural cut,” Malloy critiqued. “But I couldn’t really tell you. I was more like, ‘3-0, get a good swing off.’”

Two innings later, Malloy jumped a first-pitch fastball from Rays reliever Logan Workman and sent it deep to right-center for a solo homer. Malloy was clearly pumped, slapping hands hard as he returned to the dugout.

“Sometimes you just want to play the game a little bit,” Malloy said after the game. “I just wanted to take my shot and fortunately enough I was able to do some damage with it. I’m happy with that.”

This is the balance between patience and power that Malloy wants to strike. He’s a strong hitter capable of high exit velocities when he gets off his best swing. But the more pitches he swings at, the greater chance of watering that down with either less quality contact or no contact at all.

“To be able to balance it obviously is not easy, but baseball’s not easy,” Malloy said. “You just have to be smart about it and know when to do it and when not to do it.”

He did not do so in his third and final at-bat, taking some close pitches to work the count against Rays reliever Manuel Rodriguez before hitting a dribbler in front of home plate. Catcher Alex Jackson mishandled it for an error.

“He can do a ton of damage when he brings it in the strike zone,” Hinch said, “and he brings it in the strike zone a lot. It is nice to see him get aggressive. He won’t become a free swinger; it’s just not in his DNA. But I like to see him get something to work on and have him go apply it in the game.”

It might not help him break into the Majors right away. Malloy already entered camp having to prove something to make the team as a non-roster invite. The Tigers tend to be judicious with their 40-man roster spots, and adding Malloy to the roster to serve in a role with limited at-bats in Detroit is a difficult sell. Gio Urshela’s arrival further hurts Malloy’s chances, because it potentially makes Matt Vierling a right-handed hitting outfield option alongside Mark Canha.

Still, like Parker Meadows last spring, what Malloy shows now makes an impression for later in the season.