The main flaw in the Detroit Tigers’ rebuilding effort remains the dearth of quality hitters at all levels of the farm system. Beyond Riley Greene and Isaac Paredes, there isn’t a whole lot to get excited about yet, but Bryant Packard may help them change things in the years to come.
The Tigers 5th round pick in the 2019 draft, Packard quickly left short season A-ball behind to impress with a combination of discipline and power not often seen in a West Michigan Whitecaps uniform in recent years. By season’s end, he’d even jumped to Lakeland for a taste of Florida State League action. That rapid advancement probably won’t continue, but as an advanced college hitter, Packard is a good bet to reach Double-A Erie this season and give us a sense of his potential against a better class of pitcher.
Packard played college ball for East Carolina University in the AAC, and was the 2018 conference player of the year. He posted a 1.133 OPS with 14 home runs in 289 at-bats, and was able to sustain some of that success in Cape Cod League action that summer. He was banged up early in 2019, which looks in retrospect like a stroke of good luck for the Tigers, as it hurt his draft stock. However, Packard rebounded as the season progressed and still finished the year out strong with an OPS just shy of 1.000.
The Tigers selected Packard with the 142nd overall pick in the 2019 amateur draft and sent him to Connecticut to start the year in the New York-Penn League. An 11 game pro debut there showed him to be quite overqualified, and he graduated to West Michigan on July 8. The story wasn’t much different in a Whitecaps uniform. Packard drew walks at a 13.8 percent clip and mashed his way to a 162 wRC+ with three home runs in 23 games. That was enough to get him to Lakeland for the final few games of the season.
Packard stands out for his solid hitting mechanics and plate discipline. He’s solidly built at a listed 6’3”, 200 pounds, though he’s not particularly athletic in his motions other than at the dish. Physically, the potential exists for future above average power grades. However, to get there he’ll need some adjustments beyond just adding muscle.
A few things stand out watching Packard’s swing. He has good balance, keeps his head quiet, and generally has the bat on plane well through the hitting zone. As a result he produces a lot of line drives and hard ground balls and shows the ability to maintain modest splits. He’s neutral at setup, and with a reasonably short load phase producing solid batspeed.
Packard’s zone discipline already stands out from the pack and while he’s yet to be tested by a better class of breaking ball than he saw in college, he doesn’t chase much at this point. He does take an aggressive cut when he sees something he likes, and has a bit more swing and miss than you’d like to see considering how rarely he offers at a bad pitch. He makes plenty of hard contact, but that’s more a credit to his selectively and mechanics than the result of pure contact ability, which should reach average levels but may not be quite the standout skill some believe it is.
It’s easy to have some confidence in Packard’s bat, but the fact remains that there’s a lot of pressure on that part of his game. He doesn’t offer much in the way of arm strength or footspeed, though we’re not talking about a Delmon Young type arm here. He throws well enough to play left field or first base, but it’s a bit below average arm strength. Packard mainly played the corners in college and spent most of his time in West Michigan in left field, but seems destined to transition to first base at some point along his path to the majors.
Of course, that means he has to hit, and in the modern run scoring environment, specifically needs to hit for at least average power. His balanced, level stroke produces good contact, but he doesn’t drive the ball in the air as much as you’d like, particularly as he’s not a guy who is going to squeeze out doubles with his speed.
There’s plenty of time, but slowly working a little more loft into his swing will be a project the Tigers should take a keen interest in. Packard struck out quite a bit in his pro debut, and was a little weak taking advantage of pitches down in the zone, but it was such a small sample at the end of a long season that we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt heading into 2020. With his size and advanced discipline, the hope will be that he can eventually be a consistent 25 HR threat who posts above average on-base percentages, but there is certainly plenty of work to be done to get there.
Projected 2020 team: Advanced-A Lakeland Flying Tigers
Packard was a terror at the plate in college, and showed his ability to transition to wood bats in Cape Cod League play back in 2018, so it wasn’t so surprising to see him mash against A-ball pitchers. He’ll see a bit more refined group in the Florida State League and face a tougher hitting environment. Still, Packard is a very good bet to get out to a strong start and find his way to Erie by the time summer rolls around.
Tigers OF Bryant Packard is a name moving up in most people’s FYPD. Detroit picked Packard in the 5th round after an impressive college career at @ECUBaseball which included a record 32-game hit streak. Since then, Packard jumped three MiLB levels slashing .296/.392/.422 in 39G. pic.twitter.com/qvnXEg17gz— tyler j. spicer (@tylerjspicer) January 21, 2020