Justyn-Henry Malloy was at home last Wednesday with his father, Henry Malloy, when his phone rang. He didn’t recognize the number at first, so he didn’t make much of it. In the process, he briefly missed the first trade of his brief pro career.
“It was from a random number,” Detroit’s newest prospect said Monday on a Zoom call with reporters, “but it shouldn’t have been so random; [it] should have been in my phone. But it was from Ben [Sestanovich, Atlanta’s assistant GM in charge of player development]. It just came up as a random number, so I just declined it. And then I got the text message saying, ‘Hey, it’s Ben. Please give me a call.’
“I was with my dad, and I was like, ‘Yeah, I think I just got traded.’”
Malloy was right. After climbing three levels of the Braves’ farm system in his first full season of pro ball, the third baseman/left fielder was headed to the Tigers in the Joe Jiménez trade. He was also becoming the first example of the offensive makeover that Detroit’s president of baseball operations, Scott Harris, is undertaking.
“Malloy is the type of hitter that can help us reshape our offensive identity,” Harris told reporters last week. “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.”
Said Malloy: “Those are some strong words. I look at that, and it brings a smile to my face because there was a lot of hard work that was put into molding the player that I am. That’s such a big compliment that it’s very hard to put into words. But at the end of the day, I just want to try and be me.”
While Malloy’s power has progressed as he has matured, patience has been a consistent part of his game. He drew more walks (63) than strikeouts (52) over three collegiate seasons between Vanderbilt and Georgia Tech, then continued to draw walks at a double-digit rate after turning pro. While his strikeout rate rose, his walks allowed him to maintain an OBP over .400 at every stop this past season, including seven walks over eight games as a 22-year-old with Triple-A Gwinnett, then 16 walks over 89 plate appearances against top prospects in the AFL.
“I’ve always felt that I’ve controlled the zone fairly well, ever since I was a little kid,” Malloy said. “I didn’t really have any recognition of thinking that it was a good thing or a bad thing. All I really did was swing at balls that I think I can hit and not swing at balls that I think I can’t hit. But then, obviously, as I got older, it started becoming a thing. …
“It’s a small part of the game that I think is now getting some recognition with how nasty pitchers are and them wanting you to chase, just being able to control the strike zone. So I take a lot of pride in that.”
He believes it plays a part in his emerging power. His batting practices aren’t sexy, as he put it, with tape-measure home runs. But by working himself into leverage counts, he puts himself in position to do damage.
“With me knowing that I can control the zone as well as I do, I’m able to kind of not be a one-dimensional guy. Most hitters are like, ‘I’m going to be on a fastball, and then I’m going to adjust to the offspeed.’ But when I say play the game inside the game, it’s like I can trust myself in knowing that in this 2-1 count, I want to sit on a slider, I can trust myself because I feel like I do have good eyes. I wouldn’t consider myself a guess hitter, but if I do guess right, I’m able to do damage on a 2-1 slider where most guys are probably looking for that 2-1 heater because they’re in a plus count.”
He’s looking forward to putting that approach up against elevated competition. And for the start of next season, the young man known as “J-Hen” is looking forward to becoming a Mud Hen at Triple-A Toledo.
“That would be kind of sick, wouldn’t it,” Malloy laughed.