Right now, the weak side of the Detroit Tigers’ development system is a lack of bats. That will likely look different a year from now as the club’s top three pitching prospects graduate to the majors. Meanwhile, the team selected hitters with all six picks in the 2021 draft and generally drew good grades for their haul of players. Yet there are still a few interesting hitters in the system who have largely been out of sight over the past year and a half. Of that bunch, Bryant Packard ranks highly as one to watch closely this year.
The 23-year-old left-fielder doesn’t bring a lot of value to the table beyond his bat, but he has a reasonably good chance to hit, and enough power to make it count if he does. Packard had a really impressive season in his sophomore year at East Carolina, and then battled some injuries in his draft year and saw his numbers slip a bit. The Tigers picked him up in the fifth round of the 2019 amateur draft and hope they landed a hitter who was just finding his stride on draft day.
Packard was born in Seattle into a Navy family and moved around before landing on the east coast in high school, where he was talented multi-sport athlete. Baseball was his game in the end, and ultimately he chose East Carolina University baseball over bigger names like Duke and North Carolina. That proved a wise decision as by his sophomore year Packard was the AAC Player of the Year. After his big sophomore year, Packard had a pretty good season with the wood bats in the Cape Cod League that summer too.
Unfortunately Packard’s junior year was slowed by a wrist injury from a collision early in the season. Packard still posted excellent numbers but his power declined enough to take a little shine off his draft stock. The six-foot, three-inch left-fielder did finish the 2019 college season strong as he put the wrist issue behind him, and the Tigers looked to have gotten a bit of a bargain when Packard proceeded to hammer his way through Single-A West Michigan to reach the Florida State League by season’s end.
The Tigers assigned Packard to short season A-ball post-draft, and an 11 game stint with the Connecticut Tigers saw him post a 155 wRC+, and earn a quick trip to the Midwest League. With the Whitecaps, Packard found his power groove, smacking three home runs in 94 plate appearances, walking 14 percent of the time and putting up a .404 on base percentage. A quick look with the Lakeland Flying Tigers didn’t go so well but he was only there for five games as their season ended.
Packard can do some damage at the plate. His swing and approach mesh well with the Tigers love of line drive hitters who can spray the ball the opposite way, but he also has real power potential if his approach develops enough to unlock it. Packard has a pretty good eye for the strike zone, discipline, and solid bat control, so there’s a fair chance he’ll hit enough to carve out a major league niche even if he struggles to unlock his power against premium pitching. He takes a healthy cut, but he’ll have to learn to pull more balls in the air to hit his ceiling as a hitter.
As a prospect, you have to like the fact that Packard built up throughout 2019, coming back from a fairly nasty wrist injury to put up a good season. The fact that he then finished so strong in West Michigan was really encouraging. Injured early in his junior year, he got stronger and stronger as the 2019 season progressed, handled a lot of challenges, and sent Tigers fans into the offseason with a little buzz about his prospects.
The main issue with Packard as a prospect is that he doesn’t really provide any value other than his bat. He can play a passable left field, but the Tigers seem keen to establish him at first base to build a little more flexibility into his game. Projections aren’t real optimistic at either position at this point. His ticket the show will always be his bat, but Packard has worked on his speed and athleticism, and if he hits, his defense won’t be a limitation.
There are some hints that Packard’s move into the upper levels of the farm system may require some adjustments. Despite doing a lot of damage in 2019, his pro debut still featured a good amount of swing and miss in his game. He also struggled to hit the ball hard in the air, particularly to the pull field. Packard sprayed plenty of hard line drives and ground balls, but he didn’t find many pitches he could drive to right field, and served a lot of balls the opposite way instead. That’s a credit to his hit tool but won’t help him slug his way to the major leagues.
Packard hits from a neutral, balanced stance with more of a rotational swing without a lot of weight shift. He manages to leverage pretty good power out of his lanky frame anyway. Expect some work ahead to maximize his damage to contact ratio, including adding a little more muscle. After 18 months without a minor league game, it will be really interesting to get a look at Packard this spring.
Projected 2021 team: Double-A Erie SeaWolves
Had things gone normally, Packard would’ve started at the Advanced-A level in 2020, and hopefully hit his way to Erie during the summer. Now he’s going to have to skip a level, like many in his draft class, and take on a more consistent level of talent on a day to day basis. It’s just impossible to know who improved the most physically and in terms of pure skills during their year away from actual gameplay. Patience is advised in the early going, but if things go well, Packard could be just down I-75 in Toledo this summer with a chance to start making his case for a spot in the Tigers future lineup.