March 14, 2013 at 11:45 am by Ethan Purser under Draft
One of our initiatives this season at Capitol Avenue Club is to prepare you, the reader, for the 2013 Rule 4 Draft in June. The Braves have the 31st or 32nd overall pick, depending on Kyle Lohse’s ultimate destination. While it’s clearly impossible to know who they are targeting with this particular pick this early in the process, we can throw some darts and highlight quality prospects who could be in consideration at this point and in later rounds as the college and high school seasons progress. You will see plenty of first-hand scouting reports of top draft talent along with collegiate performance recaps once the MiLB season begins and nightly stat roundups commence. Enough of this; let’s get down to business, shall we?
The state of Georgia is not lacking this year in terms of draft talent at both the collegiate and high school level. I recently caught a midweek game at Georgia Tech and came away very impressed with the team’s crop of 2013 draft-eligible prospects. On this particular night, the Yellow Jackets boasted an impressive outfield in terms of draft prospects, highlighted in center field by senior Brandon Thomas. Thomas was selected in the fourth round by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2012 but decided to return to campus for his senior season. Thomas possesses a strong 6’3”, 210-pound frame, yet still covers plenty of ground in center field thanks to his plus speed and the length of his strides. At the plate, the switch-hitter leaves a good bit to be desired. He lacks top-shelf bat speed from both sides of the plate, and the swing itself can get lengthy — especially from the right side — leaving him vulnerable with respect to pitches on the inner half of the plate. Thomas’ big frame has always hinted at some untapped power potential, but he has yet to consistently show this tool at the collegiate level. As previously mentioned, he’s an above-average to plus runner, getting down the line in 3.9 seconds on a bunt attempt on this particular night. If everything breaks right, Thomas could be a solid fourth outfielder at the major league level, as his ability to play all three outfield positions competently and bat from both sides of the plate would certainly be positives in this role. I struggle to see even this, however, as his poor hitting tools mixed with his lack of power raise serious questions about his transition to the professional game.
Kyle Wren, a 30th round pick by the Cincinnati Reds in 2012 as a draft-eligible sophomore, manned left field for the Jackets. That name should sound familiar; Kyle is the son of Braves’ GM Frank Wren. Wren’s carrying tool is his plus-plus speed. On a jailbreak, Wren made it to first base in 3.65 seconds. At the plate, Wren is a pesky hitter with a short, line-drive oriented swing. His swing can become bottom-hand dominant, causing him to lose barrel control and forcing the majority of his best contact to the pull-side. Wren’s a small dude — he’s listed at 5’10”, 172 pounds — and lacks any sort of power projection. In the outfield, Wren uses his blinding speed to cover tons of ground. Besides power, Wren’s arm is his weakest tool. In fielding practice, Wren’s throws had visible arc and routinely two-hopped the catcher on weak bounces. Ultimately, he reminds me of Sam Fuld, not on a direct tools level, but in the ultimate role that he could occupy at the major league level. Guys like Wren are my ultimate scouting blind spot; he’s a personal favorite.
Rounding out Tech’s outfield on this cold, blustery night was Daniel Palka. Palka lit up the Cape Cod League this summer, wowing spectators and prognosticators alike with his plus-plus left-handed raw power. Palka is, to put it bluntly, a grown man; his muscular 6’2”, 220-pound frame aids in his ability to send balls well over the fence with regularity. He begins his swing from an open stance and with his bat in a fairly vertical position. From here, Palka loads his rear hip by cocking his front hip with a big leg raise and an inward knee turn. Palka does a great job of clearing his hips and separating his upper and lower half, creating impressive torque and leverage. He loads his hands in an ultra-aggressive manner, a trait that I love to see in power hitters. He drops his hands, tips the barrel toward the third-base dugout, and unloads with ferocious intent. With a swing like Palka’s, the intentions are evident — he wants to harm baseballs. This type of swing obviously has some holes, and mixed with a bit of loop on the backside as a result of a flatten-then-swing move, Palka will swing and miss with regularity at the professional level. Palka could have the most raw power in the class, though, and this could cause teams to be on him very early in this year’s draft. The bad news, however, is that he ultimately does not profile in right field. Palka can certainly hold his own at the collegiate level, though he should ultimately wind up at first base due to a lack of playable foot speed and the worry that he will get slower as his midsection and lower half continue to add bulk as he matures. This is a shame, as one could certainly argue that his second-best tool is his arm, which could be a true plus weapon in right.
Tech’s shortstop, Mott Hyde, became my focal point for a majority of the game. A 44th round pick out of high school in 2010, Hyde possesses a sturdy 5’11”, 190-pound frame with a muscular and well-defined upper body, which includes broad shoulders and very strong forearms and wrists. At short, he shows good footwork and instincts, properly identifying and reading hops off the bat. His lightning-quick transfer helps his above-average arm strength play up during game action and his above-average to plus speed helps him cover the position well. At the plate, Hyde has a fairly short and compact swing, displaying power potential that could be above-average for an up-the-middle position. His first move with his upper body is to drop his back shoulder, causing a bit of an uppercut that limits the amount of time his barrel stays in the zone and opens up some holes above his hands. The natural loft created by this move, however, aids in his current power output and future power potential. While Hyde will likely never hit for a ton of average at the professional level, he could make up for it with plenty of extra-base pop, a valuable trait at an up-the-middle position. One could make the argument that he will have to move off of shortstop as his lower body continues to fill in and he loses a couple of steps. While I could theoretically see this happening, I’m not completely sold; I think he can handle the position for at least his first few professional seasons. If everything works out, I could see him becoming a second-division regular at the position. It’s not going to work out, though. It never does.
*Note: Zane Evans, another player who is draft-eligible this season, was not catching in this game. I’ll save my thoughts on him for when I am able to see him behind the plate.