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Jeff Malm Joins 'From Phenom To The Farm:' Episode 47

Malm, Jeff
Jacob Turner (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)

“From Phenom to the Farm” releases new episodes every other Tuesday featuring players whose experiences vary across the professional baseball spectrum. Players will discuss their personal experiences going from high school graduation to the life of a professional baseball player.

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As two-way talent in the 2009 draft class from the Las Vegas prep ranks, Jeff Malm knew he wanted his future to be as a hitter—he just wasn’t sure where. Like most top prospects, shortly after high school graduation, he had a choice to make.

A die-hard Southern California fan as a child who didn’t take much convincing from the coaching staff in committing to the Trojans, Malm would’ve been extremely content heading to play 1st base in Los Angeles. In the run up to the draft, Malm, his family, and his advisors crunched numbers to formulate the bonus he’d need in order to pass on college.

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Team Malm weighed his perceived value from scouts, the typical bonus given to college first basemen outside the top ten picks, and the value of a college experience.

“[The bonus] needed to be something like “Maybe I don’t want to pass up on this,” said Malm.

Pro ball had more than just the financial aspect in its favor—while Malm loved the Trojans, he harbored big league dreams like any other ballplayer, and wasn’t intimidated by the grind of professional baseball.

Malm was a veteran of two U.S. Junior National teams, a squad consistently loaded with elite talent, and split time at first base with future All-Star Eric Hosmer. His high school team was no pushover either—the Bishop Gorman team Malm spearheaded as a senior featured future big leaguers Joey Rickard, Tyler Wagner, and a freshman named Joey Gallo, with former professional baseball players on the coaching staff. Malm had spent most of his high school playing days surrounded by talented, highly competitive environments.

“[With] my experiences at Gorman and with the Team USA stuff in the summer—I felt I was as prepared as I could be for pro baseball, for a high school player,” said Malm. “That was a huge factor.”

A player can be as prepared for pro ball as possible, but it’s near impossible to fully replicate the grind for a player from the prep ranks, as Malm soon found out after signing with the Rays as their 5th round selection. He spent his first professional season at short-season Princeton in the Appalachian League, and slashed a meager .220/.296/.310—not quite what he’d hoped for.

“I really had never struggled in high school,” said Malm. “That was the hardest year of my life, by far (…) it wasn’t really what I expected pro ball to be like at the time. I had all these great dreams and aspirations, and here I was in West Virginia just really, really, really struggling.”

Malm righted the ship during his second season, but in the ensuing years alternated between comfort at the plate and deep struggles. He’d often find himself in the batting cage pregame fighting with his swing. Still only 23 by the time he’d reached Double-A, the Rays started to give Malm indications that his skills as a hitter weren’t as highly valued by the organization as they’d been on draft day. After two separate stints on the phantom disabled list, the Rays floated to Malm that they’d like to see what his left arm had in the tank on the mound.

While throwing bullpens was “like riding a bike,” in terms of being second nature, Malm was still a hitter at heart. Following his release by the Rays in the 2014 offseason, he’d continue to seek out jobs as a hitter, but only found opportunities as a pitcher.

His first season as a pitcher found him back in short-season, this time for the Angels organization in the Pioneer League. The ensuing offseason, the Dodgers gave Malm a shot to win a job as a hitter in Spring Training, but when those spots dried up, sent him out to High-A Rancho Cucamonga as a reliever.

Malm turned out good numbers during his season in the Dodgers organization, eventually making the Triple-A playoff roster, but after being signed and subsequently released after Spring Training 2017 by the Rangers, he found himself pitching for then-independent St. Paul—but still hoping to swing the stick.

When a roster crunch forced St. Paul to cut Malm’s roster spot in 2018, he caught on with Sioux Falls, and finally was able to dust off his first basemen’s mitt.

“It was just closure for me,” said Malm. “I didn’t know for sure if I was going to be done, but I knew I needed to get that little bit out of my system—I’m very grateful and lucky to have gotten that opportunity.”

Malm hit four home runs in 32 games for Sioux Falls, and retired after ten professional seasons.

On our latest episode of ‘From Phenom to the Farm,’ Jeff Malm joins to discuss his decade in professional baseball. He discusses sharing the field with elite talent as a prep, transitioning to pitching as a pro, and why it’s important to take ownership of your career.

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