What a season it was for the Atlanta Braves’ right-handed pitching prospect, Darius Vines. Vines — a 2019 seventh rounder in the MLB draft who played his college baseball at Cal State Bakersfield — began the season touching the radar but is now a full-fledged prospect to watch for the 2022 season.
Let’s look back at the year that was.
Midseason report card: Vines began the season at Low-A Augusta but by the halfway point, he was in High-A Rome. He also started the season off the Talking Chop Top 30, but found himself at No. 24 on the midseason list.
2021 stats (across both levels): 6-9, 3.77 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, .226 BAA, 164 strikeouts, 39 walks in 143.1 innings
What we saw in 2021: Simply put, we saw a lot. Vines, who played the entire 2021 season at the age of 23, was overpowering for the young hitters of Low-A. He dominated for the GreenJackets, going 2-0 with a 12.0 strikeout-per-nine rate in eight starts. He had a 2.25 ERA with a 3.23 FIP as a primarily ground ball pitcher (50.6% ground-ball rate). He was promoted to Rome at the end of June and had relatively solid results, finishing the season strong and allowing just three earned runs and striking out 17 over 15 September innings.
Perhaps the most impressive observation about Vines is that nothing is overly impressive. He is an extremely gifted athlete with the pitchability to make everything work. He doesn’t have the ideal frame most drool over for starting pitchers — listed at 6’1 and 190 — but his athleticism enables him to have a smooth delivery with little kinks. You don’t see much effort, which allows him to repeat his delivery deeper into ball games and since he tops out at 92-93 mph, he’s able to hold the velocity as well. Again, his three secondary options are all serviceable, but his ability to take so much off his curve and slider helps in their deception.
What the future holds: Vines is set up to be one of the big risers for 2022. He did fade a bit when he jumped levels, but you had to be impressed with how he finished. That said, the Braves were very aggressive with their arms this past season, so there should be holes for Vines to fill in Mississippi. If Dan Meyer is still there — which he should be — you can expect even more improvement at the next level.
The main things to watch are how his command and fastball develop. His command in 2021 certainly worked as the numbers speak for themselves, but he has to maintain that with the lack of overpowering stuff. The Braves are loaded with high-velocity fireballers and Vines’ low-90s fastball is quite opposite that. It has nice movement, but it is also very hittable as home runs were one of the few issues he struggled with last season. If he can make his four-pitch mix his bread and butter and continue to improve the fastball, we are looking at a pitcher who has the potential to be a starter at the next level.