Cody Milligan got off to a scorching start this season, but an early injury cost him substantial playing time in Mississippi.
The Braves drafted Milligan with their ninth-round pick, 277th overall, in the 2019 MLB Draft.
Preseason Report Card
Milligan started off his college career getting limited time off of the bench at Oklahoma State. After a solid summer, he ended up transferring to Cowley Community College for his 2019 season. Milligan was primarily a catcher for the Tigers, and his .453/.571/.692 slash line helped convince Atlanta to draft him in the ninth round in 2019. They went overslot to sign him away from a commitment to Southern Mississippi, and Milligan has since become well-liked in the system. His first full season following the pandemic was a bit of a struggle as he saw a drop in contact at High-A Rome, but he rebounded in 2022, putting up a .458 OBP before spending the latter half of the season in Double-A. Milligan’s numbers, and particularly his power production, dropped off of a cliff at the Double-A level, but he continued to put up solid contact and on-base performance while making the transition from second base to the outfield. Milligan was seen more as a piece with a backup utility sort of future, with his limitation being his lack of power potential out of his 5’9” frame.
What we saw in 2023
Milligan received a major league Spring Training invitation to kick off 2023, then headed back to Double-A, where he was Mississippi’s primary leadoff hitter. Through 13 games he posted a .988 OPS and was hitting the ball harder than in previous seasons, until an injury on April 22nd sidelined him until early July. Milligan finally got back into Mississippi’s lineup on July 14th and had a decent finish to the season.
Notably, his power output jumped substantially. Over the final 56 games he had a .122 ISO without a big jump in strikeout rate. In his pre-injury 13-game sample, he was the beneficiary of good batted ball luck, but in the second half was able to cut the whiffs down to a 19.4 percent strikeout rate and put up a .355 OBP. Notably, Milligan’s improvements in the outfield made him one of the top defenders in the system, and despite his lack of arm strength he projects as an above-average center field glove who can also fill in at second base. For a player who will probably never hit for power, building value in this part of his game makes him easier to use a roster spot on should he get to Atlanta in the future.
All in all, Milligan posted a 114 wRC+ in 308 PAs at Mississippi, which was much better than the 83 wRC+ mark he had in a similar number of PAs at that level in 2022.
Having now played 137 games in Double-A, Milligan should be ready to make the jump to Triple-A this season. The Braves don’t seem to particularly value Triple-A experience with their hitters, so it is possible he could either repeat at Double-A or jump straight to a major league bench role. With that said, Milligan will be turning 25 on December 23, so seeing him against more experienced competition is a must. Milligan’s limitations in power don’t fit with the Braves typical targets of interest, so his future may ultimately not be with the team.
Still, he does seem like a player who can provide major league value as a defensive-minded outfield with solid on base skills and speed, even if he’s not going to hit much. Milligan still doesn’t seem to have enough power to project as a regular, but a team looking for a fourth or fifth outfielder may find value in a player with Milligan’s solid barrel control and ability to recognize the strike zone. He also could be a platoon bat against some types of right-handed pitching, as nearly all of his power production came against right handers and he saw an expected increase in walk rate and decrease in strikeout rate when having the platoon advantage. Milligan is thought of as a gamer who gets the most out of his ability, and is one of the high-makeup players the Braves value. A major league opportunity is not out of the question going forward, and while it is certain the Braves will look to add more outfielders going into Spring Training, they’re not currently overflowing with outfield candidates and Milligan could have an outside shot at Atlanta’s bench.