The Diamondbacks will make not one, but two selections in the compensation round. The first pick in that round. The first one will be prep righty Brennan Malone. Malone has ideal size at 6’4” 210 and an aggressive fastball that sits upper 90s with an underdeveloped secondary mix of a curveball, slider, and change-up. Malone was a name that popped up as well at 26. Malone is also not the first IMG Academy pick, as the Dbacks took Blaze Alexander and Levi Kelly in last year’s draft.
Malone initially blew up on scouts’ radars as an underclassman and has long been thought of as one of the most talented pitchers in the 2019 draft class. He has an uber-projetable, 6-foot-4, 210-pound frame, a picturesque arm action and delivery, as well as well above-average pure stuff. His fastball trails only Georgia righthander Daniel Espino’s as the best fastball in the prep class, and Malone’s heater sits in the low to mid-90s, touching as high as 97 mph. The righthander also throws a curveball, slider and changeup. Throughout the summer, Malone displayed flashes of a plus breaking ball—at times with his slider and at other times with his curveball—but scouts lamented that fact that neither of his breaking balls show above-average or plus potential consistently. He would either struggle to get on top of his curveball regularly, or his slider would lack sharp biting action. This spring, Malone seems to have addressed those critiques, as he put on one of the best amatuer outings of the season at USA Baseball’s National High School Invitational. Pitching for IMG Academy (where he transferred to for his senior season after playing in North Carolina previously), Malone threw a seven-inning shutout and showcased an 80-83 mph slider that had late biting action and two-plane break. He used the pitch effectively against both righthanders and lefthanders, landing it in the zone for strikes and also using it as a chase pitch. Malone’s mid-70s curveball has 11-to-5 shape and could be an average or better offering in the future, depending on how he continues to improve his release point. His low-80s changeup has solid velocity separation from his fastball, and he throws the pitch with solid arm speed as well. Overall, Malone might have the best combination of current stuff and future projection of any prep pitcher in the 2019 draft class.
Malone has been a physical athlete with arm speed for years, like most of the top prep pitchers in this class. He really took a step forward this spring after transferring to IMG Academy in Bradenton, FL from his home in North Carolina. Similar to how Touki Toussaint has evolved, Malone switched to a more controllable version of his breaker, a 55-grade slider that he can dot anywhere. Malone still works 93-96 and hit 99 mph in his last outing of the spring in front of a lot of heat. His curveball and changeup are both about average and his performance against strong competition this spring helps him with progressive clubs that aggressively chart prep outings.
James’ Takeaway: The ceiling for this young man is something to get excited about. Much like Walston, Malone will take some significant time to develop. His raw stuff is electric, but he is going to need to work on getting a bit longer and also bulking up just a bit. He’s a hard-thrower with secondary pitches that have good separation.
Malone has the classic power righty build and a fastball that matches the size profile. It sits 93-96 and tops out at 98. The slider is his most refined secondary pitch while he hasn’t shown much of a feel for a curveball and a change-up. There is a bit of projectability in his frame, as he could easily grow into 230+ pounds and add even more velo. If the curveball and change-up don’t develop, he has a closer profile. If those two secondaries develop into above average, we’re talking about a potential ace.
His upside will be determined by how well he can develop his offspeed offerings. Malone is a classic boom/bust pick with the minimum of two pitches that project to be plus offerings. The Dbacks will have to go well over the slot of the 33rd pick to sign him, but they took a relatively low ceiling college hurler at 34 and it appears that fellow first rounder Blake Walston will not break the bank either.
Malone has solid size with room to grow into his 6’4” frame, so he may spend a his first full year in extended spring training before getting full season looks late in the 2020 season. His fastball/slider combo is good enough to make a high leverage reliever profile, but they’re not drafting him for that. I expect his development to be mostly slow and steady as he’ll hit the majors at some point in late 2023/early 2024.