One of the most pressing needs that the Detroit Tigers organization had going into the 2019 Rule 4 draft was players with legitimate hit tools. It can be confidently said that the team addressed this issue back in June, selecting and signing a handful of high-grade bats from the amateur ranks to bolster the offensively anemic player development system.
With the 142nd pick in fifth round of the draft the Tigers selected Bryant Packard, a bat-first junior out of East Carolina University who put up video game numbers in his collegiate career and fills a much-needed void in the team’s farm system. While he leaves a lot to be desired in other aspects of the game, Packard has the potential to be an impact player if the stars align just right.
The 6’3 lefty outfielder hails from Greenville, N.C., where he played high school and college ball before being drafted by the Tigers. In his three years at ECU, Packard put up a slash line of .358/.427/.569 and hit a total of 21 HR with 97 RBI over 531 at-bats. He also played in the Cape Cod Baseball League during the 2018 season — where he was a teammate of fourth-round pick Ryan Kreidler on the Wareham Gatemen — and produced similar numbers to his overall collegiate career against the best that the amateur ranks have to offer.
What stands out the most about Packard is his offensive performance during that 2018 NCAA season leading up to his Cape Cod summer. He hit a torrid .406/.462/.671 for East Carolina that season earning him the American Athletic Conference player of the year honors. He set school and league records with a 32-game hitting streak, cranking 14 home runs and knocking 50 RBI, along with 16 doubles, 20 walks against 46 strikeouts, and six stolen bases in 219 at-bats during a sophomore campaign that Ted Williams would be proud of.
His stats would descend back down from the stratosphere in 2019, but he still put up impressive numbers leading up to the draft. He returned for his junior season to put up a .354./.447/.556 line against ECU foes. While those numbers are not quite as scorching as the year prior, they are still quite robust even in a lower-tier conference, and were good enough to earn him a draft selection in the fifth round.
Packard has a plus hitting tool that allows him to successfully put the ball in play. While his power probably grades out a little below average, he can still produce decent extra base numbers with his bat-to-ball skills. That, plus his ability to take walks, has led to a very encouraging on-base percentage during his amateur career that sits well above the .400 mark. Packard does not need to be a masher to be productive, but his ability to find gaps in the defense is key to his success if he is not putting the ball over the wall.
Baseball America even allayed concerns about Packard’s junior season, noting that he was held back by a wrist injury early in the year. They are worried about his defense — more on that in a bit — but are pleased with what he brings to the plate.
Still, he has a terrific, loose swing with a great understanding of how to hit, and his wood bat track record against top-level competition should ease concerns over his profile.
What Bryant Packard does not have are the other tools in the kit, mainly speed and defensive acumen, and possibly health. MLB Pipeline’s scouting report says the following:
Though he’s a below-average athlete with speed and arm strength to match, he can play an adequate left field when he’s fully healthy. He had to DH at times this spring when his back flared up.
That last sentence is pretty discouraging when discussing a 21-year-old athlete. But even more to the point, Packard’s value lies strictly in his bat as he seems to be a bit of a defensive liability. He did manage to steal 11 bases against 4 caught stealing during his NCAA career, but he only hit 3 triples — none in his explosive 2018 season — and the overall outlook is that he will probably grow out of the speed he is afforded by virtue of youth.
He also has some strikeout issues, with a K rate of 22% during his college days. While this number is not horrific, the quality of pitching he saw at ECU was also not terribly advanced either. It is hard to predict how he will perform against the better hurlers he will see in the mid-to-upper minors, but this number does not bode well for him.
Packard is currently ranked No. 106 overall by MLB Pipeline and No. 118 by Baseball America based solely on his hit tool, which in itself is quite encouraging. So far in the Tigers minor league system, he has picked up where he has left off, hitting for a high percentage but with moderate power numbers. While Packard has popped a couple of dingers with the Whitecaps, his slugging percentage sits at a mundane .500 between West Michigan and Connecticut in a limited 64 at-bats.
The farm cupboards are currently barren when it comes to players with plus hit tools, and Bryant was the right type of prospect that the Tigers needed to draft. Whether or not he pans out is up to him and the coaches working with him in the development pipeline, but the offensive skill-set appears to be there.
His ceiling at this point is a productive batter who either fills a corner outfield role or designated hitter, though he may not pack enough power for either of those positions. His floor is an organizational player who puts up modest minor league numbers and hangs around for a few seasons. Either way, Bryant Packard should be a fun prospect to follow these next few years.