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Talking Chop 2021 Midseason Top 30 Braves Prospects List: Honorable Mentions

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We kick off our midseason prospect list update with a few names that just missed the cut.

Indigo Diaz, right handed pitcher, delivers a pitch in a night game for the Rome Braves. The image is taken from the third base side, his landing is complete and he has begun bringing his hand forward. The ball is behind his head and is in a slider grip.
Atlanta Braves relief pitching prospect Indigo Diaz delivers a pitch for the Rome Braves
Image Credit: Mills Fitzner

It’s time. After a year of no minor league baseball, we finally have an updated Atlanta Braves Top 30 prospects list, with actual new information to go on. It is a very exciting time in the system, and a bit of a departure from past years. Typically we post around the all star break, but with the draft being moved back to the same time we delayed a little bit and are bringing it to you now.

With the trade deadline passed the system took a couple of dings, but it’s still going strong up top and we’ve got some new names and risers to talk about. We will lead you off, as always, with a handful of honorable mentions. Funnily enough, of the three eligible prospects traded this week, two came directly off of this honorable mentions list...so we had to go back and add some more names. Anyways, here are five honorable mentions, in no particular order.

Stephen Paolini

Paolini is one of two bats we are going to feature today, and both fill similar athletic profiles. Paolini excited all of us prior to the season and seemed like a great find for the Braves area scouts, but unfortunately he has not been able to translate to the professional level just yet. He is just 20-years old, so it’s too early to make any sweeping statements, but a player hitting .153/.250/.251 at a hideously bad Low-A level isn’t going to turn heads. Paolini has never hit in his career, which is not entirely surprising for a player who did not face high level competition in the Connecticut prep circuit, but it’s still a bit disappointing. That all said, there is plenty in the profile to be excited about although the red flags are significant enough to cause major concern and keep him off of the back end of our Top 30 lists.

Athletically, Paolini has the tools to succeed at the professional level. He’s the best defensive prospect in the lower minor leagues at the moment, with the speed and instincts to play center field at a high level. That athleticism hasn’t served him too well on the basepaths as he’s only 10/14 on stolen base attempts, but he is still raw and learning in that regard. He’s shown some level of discipline at the plate with a walk rate over 10%, though I would again emphasize he is raw and will have to continue to work if he wants to keep that as he progresses through the system.

There is projection in his 6’2 frame and could hit for average power, but needs to add some strength and make high level contact more consistently if he wishes to tap into that power. All of these things are positives, but unfortunately like with many players, the hit tool just isn’t there yet. His bat is slow and he struggles to handle even mediocre Low-A pitching and he has a long way to go if he wants to reach the major leagues. Adding strength could help in that regard, but there are a lot of strikeouts in his current profile and when he does make contact it’s often not quality contact. The athleticism is there for an MLB center fielder, but until he shows some flashes of a hit tool, it is likely this is about as high as he will climb for us.

William Woods

William Woods is a very interesting player in the system, and not one that we talk about much. The reason for this is that an injury has kept him out of action all season so we haven’t seen anything since 2019. Woods was a 23rd round pick out of Dyersburg State Community College in 2018 and came in with little information or hype. He had a lackluster professional debut with a 6.10 ERA in the Gulf Coast League and went into the 2018/19 offseason as just a player whose name we knew. He had a solid season with Rome in 2019, striking out 58 players in 51 innings but with a whole host of command issues.

It might surprise you then to hear that this guy was one of the quickest risers in the system and was given a spot at the Braves alternate site for 2020. Well, Woods went to work in the 2019 offseason and was able to add a ton of velocity and arm strength to raise his stock. Had we actually seen him play in 2020 or had he not been hurt to open this season, there is a very real possibility he would in the back end of our Top 30 already. There is also now a chance they are going to move him into a starter’s role which would present a whole different scenario to evaluate.

Any pitcher adding a few miles per hour to his fastball is going to significantly increase his stock, and Woods did just that. He is now consistently throwing in the upper 90s and tops out at 99, a trait the current development staff covets in its starters. Command is going to be a real issue for him and he will have to refine it in order to stick as a starter assuming they take that path with him. His slider is quickly improving as he’s adjusted to his knew stuff, and ticked up into the upper 80’s with hard bite. The changeup is questionable as its a bit too firm and doesn’t play well off of the plane of his fastball, so development there will also be key to his ability to stick as a starter. Woods has the stuff to be an impact reliever in the late innings of game, and if the changeup ticks up the Braves may be able to find a diamond in the rough.

Justyn-Henry Malloy

If there’s one player that is getting love among the Talking Chop crew above what you’ve seen around other places it’s Justyn-Henry Malloy. The group as a whole loves the talent that Malloy brings to the table; and he just missed out on the back end of the Top 30. Malloy was a solid college performer in Division I, starting out with Vanderbilt and then transferring to Georgia Tech. Malloy received just sporadic playing time at Vanderbilt and struggled, though with a big season in the New England Collegiate Baseball League in between. Malloy finished that summer leading the second place Newport Gulls with a 1.075 OPS that ranked sixth in the league. Malloy was a major contributor for Georgia Tech in 2021 with more walks than strikeouts, 11 home runs, and a .994 OPS. He then was selected by the Braves in the sixth round of the 2021 MLB Draft, and was signed for a bit over slot $300,000 bonus.

Malloy brings athletic talent to the plate, although with some serious caveats. He is not mobile enough to play an up-the-middle defensive position, but he has the quickness and arm to play a solid average to above average defensive third baseman. He has a lot of work to do defensively, but the talent is there. Malloy produced power in college and there could be above average production in the tank, though he is not likely to be an elite power hitter at the next level. The biggest flaw for Malloy is the questionable hit tool that may not allow him to tap into that power at the professional level. While his success as a college player indicates he should have no problem at the lower levels of the minor leagues, his ability to handle good breaking pitches and location will be seriously tested once he gets to the High-A and Double-A levels. He has a great eye for the zone and can somewhat mitigate his lack of a hit tool by drawing walks at a high rate, but his ultimate role will be dependent on whether he can develop that hit tool. There is a reason he did not go in the top three rounds of the draft and it will be a little bit before we truly can know the answer to this question mark in his profile.

Indigo Diaz

Outside of the two players at the tip top of the Top 30 list, Indigo Diaz is the most likely of current Braves prospects to get to the Major Leagues by next season. A quick scan of his baseball-reference page will tell you why that is so. Diaz has advanced to Double-A (a little later than he should have) and has dominated at every level. Diaz looked solid in his professional debut with 15 strikeouts to 2 walks in 10 13 innings, but he took his game to another level this season. At High-A Rome he struck out 52.9% of the batters he faced, had a 1.00 ERA, and ran a 0.60 FIP. He has carried that play to a strong start at Mississippi, with a jump in walks but a strikeout rate of 44% and a FIP of 1.96.

He has the potential to get to Atlanta as soon as next season, and there’s reason to believe he can stick there for a long time. Diaz will likely feature on many other Top 30 lists this season, but you are unlikely to see any full time relievers make the list at Talking Chop because we find them too volatile with too low of a ceiling to consider over legitimate starting prospects. Even sure things like AJ Minter fail as often than they succeed, and while we all see Diaz as a major league contributor the lack of long term value in relief pitchers is going to keep him off of our Top 30 list.

Diaz has every bit of the talent needed to be a late inning reliever at the major league level. He was a steal in the 27th round. His fastball can run up to 98 mph and he has extremely high spin rates that allow him to succeed even when he leaves the pitch over the plate. His command leaves something to be desired, but he’s making some strides in that department and is generally around the plate. He rarely allows solid contact and his fastball misses so many bats he made a mockery of A ball. He has flashed an improved curveball, but it’s inconsistent and can get a bit loopy. He has a real shot to be a late inning reliever if he can improve the consistency of the pitch as the shape of it pairs well with the action on his fastball. When he tightens the spin and throws it harder it really jumps on guys.

Roddery Munoz

Roddery Munoz had put himself in position to get safely in our Top 30, but inconsistency and more importantly, injury troubles have made it hard for him to get consistent footing. Munoz exploded on the scene with seven strikeouts in four scoreless innings in his 2021 debut, and he flashed a tremendous fastball. That was the high point for Munoz, as he has since had a 7.71 ERA and only pitched seven games. He has had flashes of that potential, including a six strikeout performance in four innings in late May, but he has not been able to stay on the field enough to get any sort of consistency.

Munoz consistently runs his fastball 97-99 miles per hour from an easy delivery, and he is able to spin the pitch up in the zone effectively. The problem is that the pitch just does not work low in the zone and he has been trying to pitch there with his fastball. As he has pulled off of his fastball a bit for command and tried to use it lower in the zone it has flattened out and become hittable. His slider has shown flashes of promise, but is too inconsistent with location and shape for there to be any confidence in the pitch. The changeup is firm and not particularly good, though it does work at the lower levels because of how good his fastball is when located. If Munoz can gain consistency with his slider and work his fastball up more he has some of the best stuff in the system. That consistency has just been a major problem and it doesn’t seem like he is using his pitches to their best ability when he tries to throw them in locations that counteract the movement on them.