When the Atlanta Braves selected Victor Vodnik with their 14th-round pick in 2018, there was much talk about his raw talent and his potential for durability issues, and both have been self-evident throughout his professional career. Vodnik asserted himself as the top player from an admittedly weak draft class, but also found himself left available (and unclaimed) in the Rule 5 draft this past week.
2022 Preseason Outlook
Vodnik remained one of the Braves’ better pitching prospects coming into 2022, and arguably was their most purely talented, but he was coming off of an injury-riddled 2021 that had his future hanging by a thread. Another slew of injuries could’ve push the talented right hander out of the rotation despite his upper-90s fastball and two average offspeed pitches that granted him a tremendous ceiling. At 21 years old he made it to Double-A, but after his rough season there, would be repeating the level.
What we saw in 2022
Vodnik started the season on the injured List once again, and that was perhaps the final nail in the coffin for his career as a starter. He debuted on April 26th as a reliever for Mississippi and it was immediately apparent that he could make an impact in that role. He struck out 14 batters over seven scoreless innings to earn himself a quick call up to the Triple-A Gwinnett bullpen. Vodnik continued to have success at Gwinnett with a 2.95 ERA in his first 15 outings, but his command was a major problem and he once again came down with an injury that took him out for six weeks. Vodnik was even better upon his return with a 2.89 ERA over his final nine appearances, and in that time he struck out 14 batters in 9 1⁄3 innings. Vodnik’s upper-90s heat played well in those short stints and he was able to tighten up his slider a bit and lean on his changeup as a three-pitch reliever.
His FIP and xFIP at Triple-A, though, were 4.01 and 4.03, respectively, showing that there’s probably still some work to be done there.
The sky is no longer the limit for Vodnik, but the major league bullpen is and he has a real chance to sneak into Atlanta next season. He was passed up in the Rule 5 draft and so will be remaining in the Braves system. The Braves’ strong bullpen will make the major leagues tougher to crack, but he is the type of talent that will eventually get a shot if he can stay healthy. That is the biggest problem for Vodnik, however. He has a smaller frame and hasn’t even managed to prove he can remain reliable healthy as a reliever, and that’s something that typically does not improve with age.
The missed time has affected his ability to develop his command, which is poor at this stage and is the one thing that seems to get him into trouble. Vodnik has to prove he can stay healthy and throw consistent strikes, at which point he represents the highest-ceiling reliever in the system by a solid margin. 2023 will be a” prove it” year for Vodnik, who is in danger of being one of many relievers who have success at Triple-A but never find the control and command necessary for a team to give them an extended look at the major league level.