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2023 Minor League player review: Darius Vines

Vines finally got the call to the majors in 2023 in what was a mixed bag of a season for the righty.

Salt River Rafters v. Mesa Solar Sox Photo by Chris Coduto/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Long a notable name on Braves prospect lists, Vines finally made his way to Atlanta in 2023 after battling a shoulder injury in the early part of the season.

How Acquired

Vines was taken by the Braves in the seventh round of the 2019 draft out of California State University, Bakersfield. Vines had been previously drafted by Houston in 2016 (32nd round) and Chicago in 2017 (27th round) but did not sign.

Preseason report card

Coming into 2023, Vines checked in at number seven on our preseason top prospects list. However, due to injuries, a couple of new draftees added to the list and the early season performance of other prospects, Vines slipped to number 13 on our midseason rankings.

There was a very good chance for Vines to make an impact at the big league level in 2023 from the get-go. He already held a 40-man roster spot and had performed at Triple-A Gwinnett the season prior. While he eventually made it to Atlanta, a shoulder injury delayed his debut for months.

What we saw in 2023

The shoulder injury pushed Vines’ season debut into the last day of June. But, once he debuted at the big league level, he showed flashes of what he could provide to the rotation or as a bullpen piece down the road.

In the minors, Vines appeared in ten games, including nine starts, ranging from the FCL squad all the way to a six-game stint with Gwinnett where he posted a 2.88 ERA, albeit with a scary 5.06 FIP and 4.96 xFIP across 34 13 innings. Following his performance down on the farm, Vines finally got the call to the show, getting the start against Colorado on August 30, where he tossed six innings of two-run ball with a 5/1 K/BB ratio while getting the win. He made three long relief appearances, until making one final start against the Cubs, where he again went six innings while allowing three runs — two earned — and two homers while tying his career high in strikeouts with five and walking two.

In the majors, Vines posted numbers that were not unreasonable considering his fine but not dominant track record in the high minors: 90 ERA-, 115 FIP-, 127 xFIP-. He earned 0.1 fWAR in 20 13 innings of work. Perhaps surprisingly for a call-up, his real issue wasn’t walks, as he actually had a lower walk rate in the majors than in his two stints at Gwinnett. Instead, he neither struck out enough batters, nor kept the ball on the ground all that much; the latter is surprising given his pitch shape and overall pitching style.

Overall, it was pretty cool to see Vines make his debut and successfully brave Coors Field. He also showed some propensity for swing and miss when he needed to, though it was infrequent in general. Check out this well-placed cutter retiring Dominic Smith with the bases loaded:

On the flip side, the limited strikeouts, limited groundballs thing meant he got into hot water a few times. For example, before he struck out Smith above, he had walked the bases loaded, and retired just two of the seven batters he faced in that inning. Even when he did get a grounder, it sometimes turned into this, because sub-90 mph fastballs on the inner portion of the plate are very easy to turn on:

At the conclusion of the season, Vines was one of a handful of Braves selected to represent the team in the Arizona Fall League. In four starts for the Salt River Rafters, Vines showed much better strikeout stuff, with a strikeout rate nearing a third of batters faced and a strikeout rate consistent with his major league stint. Unfortunately for him, though, he was saddled with a 5.51 ERA in those games.

2024 outlook

Headed into 2024, if he were on another team, Vines would be likely to be a meaningful contributor at the big league level on Opening Day. That still could be the case depending on what Atlanta does this offseason addressing the rotation. Vines could easily slot into that fifth starter spot if he puts up a good showing in Spring Training. But given the depth of the bullpen and the questions around the rotation, right now Vines is a bit of a longshot to make the Opening Day big league roster, unless injuries strike.

Instead, Vines figures to begin 2024 in Gwinnett working on his craft and waiting for an opportunity to help out at Truist Park, where he figures to be one of the first call-ups once the Braves need an extra arm.

From a quality perspective, Vines seems like a fine long relief or mop-up guy at this point, though the Braves appear to be pivoting to a bullpen that might be hard-pressed to find room for an arm like that. He’ll need to show way better strikeout stuff, like he did in the AFL, and/or find a way to actually get the ball on the ground to profile as more than long relief or a spot fifth starter in the majors. Some of that might require changing his arsenal, as right now, all of his pitches are somewhat similar, and he relies more on command and location than deception or pitch sequencing to get outs.

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