Hayden Deal has been a solid, if unexciting, pitching prospect since being signed as an undrafted free agent following a lackluster career at Presbyterian. Unfortunately it seems his days of starting are over and he will be a full-time relief pitcher going forward.
Midseason report card: Deal came in at 29th on Talking Chop’s midseason list, and his transition to the bullpen will signal the end of his time on that list. We still like Deal, but we rarely rank even elite relievers so he is not going to get a nod in the Top 30.
What we saw in 2021: Deal spent his early career as a relief pitcher and in 2018 had a bit of a breakout with a strong season in Rome’s bullpen. Deal pitched 78 ⅔ innings primarily in relief and had an incredible 2.17 ERA with 82 strikeouts to 17 walks. This put him squarely on the radar and he did not disappoint with a solid 2019 season as a full-time starter. He started 22 games for the Fire Frogs and had a 3.24 ERA in 119 ⅔ innings with 99 strikeouts to 32 walks. This got him into the range of being a real prospect, but he was affected more than most players by the lost 2020 season. This made him a 26 year old pitcher at Double-A and shortened his leash to make a move. Deal was fine as a starter for Mississippi with a 3.58 ERA and 67 strikeouts in 78 innings, but the influx of better and younger starters ultimately pushed him to the bullpen despite his success. In the final two months of the season the transition was officially made and he had a 3.52 ERA that is inflated by one particularly bad performance. He allowed just a .593 OPS and continues to look like a player with middle-relief potential.
2022 Outlook: Deal is 27 now, and the move to the bullpen makes complete sense. He relies on primarily one pitch - his cutter - and now has the ability to use that pitch more often. He just has to come out in 2022 and perform well and there is a shot for him to make it to the major league level if the Braves need another left handed arm. Deal is great at forcing weak contact and throws a lot of strikes, so while the profile doesn’t favor him being an elite reliever there is certainly potential for him to quickly establish himself as a solid middle relief option. Deal is also eligible for the Rule 5 draft this December and given his high floor could be a guy that another team wants to stash in their bullpen.