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Atlanta Braves 2022 Minor League Player Review: Freddy Tarnok

Now a member of the Oakland Athletics organization, Freddy Tarnok features an intriguing yet inconsistent arsenal

New York Mets v Atlanta Braves Photo by Adam Hagy/Getty Images

Freddy Tarnok was one of the Atlanta Braves’ top pitching prospects going into this offseason, and that made him one of the biggest names in the trade that brought Sean Murphy over from the Oakland Athletics. Tarnok broke out with a phenomenal 2021 season, but 2022 brought back many of the problems that previously plagued the supremely-talented young starter.

Preseason report card

When Tarnok was taken in the third round of the 2017 draft he was seen as a major project for the Braves to undertake. That proved true throughout his career, as his flashes of brilliance have been interspersed with far more common frustrations. Tarnok never produced in any substantial way as a starting pitcher through his first three professional seasons, but the blocks were building to what the future could hold for him. In 2021 his arsenal came together and suddenly the Braves had a 22-year old carving up Double-A hitters with a nasty three-pitch mix. Expectation immediately raged around Tarnok and he came into 2022 with the potential to cement himself as the system’s top pitching prospect.

What we saw in 2022

Tarnok was simply not as good for most of 2022 as he was the prior year. For the first half of the season, much of his command gain from the prior year regressed, and his curveball, which was previously his best pitch, backed up to being just average. His walk rates were not particularly egregious, but his inability to locate pitches got him hit hard and he had a 5.77 ERA in early June. Things did improve as he started to keep his fastball out of the middle of the plate, but it backed off a tick from the 96-98 he showed consistently the previous season. His changeup has shown consistent improvement as a professional and was the key to his second-half turnaround as once he began to locate the pitch the strikeouts, weak contact, and clean innings began to pile up. Over Tarnok’s final 17 games he had a 3.03 ERA, struck out 87 batters in 68 13 innings, and managed to make his major league debut where he recorded two outs against the Mets.

2023 Outlook

Tarnok is a fascinating prospect to keep an eye on in 2023. If he tightens up the spin on the curveball to get it back to the above-average-to-plus pitch it was in his earlier seasons, he suddenly has a viable major league arsenal. Command is still a huge red flag, even though it picked up at the end of the season, though there is still some belief that his premium athleticism can continue to help it improve. It’s unclear whether Tarnok is ready for a long-term major league assignment at this stage but he is the one prospect that would be most likely to make the Braves regret trading him. His inconsistency makes his value and his long-term projections impossible to pin down, but at his best he is a strikeout machine that is able to survive despite inefficiencies with his strike-throwing.

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