We’re always looking for the “next big thing” – whether we’re talking about sports, technology, … or whatever. In sports, it’s all about Who? will step up in the next season; Who? will excel; Who? will exceed expectations; and exactly Who? will we want to root for when odds are overcome.
Today I want to start taking a look at the Braves’ minor league system and see if we can’t identify a few of those guys… the ones to watch for this year as they move up the ladder toward achievement of their own major league dreams. This will be an occasional series, highlighting one player each time. But whether these reports turn out to be right or wrong, each player should certainly be worth a good long look in 2014.
Kyle Wren is more than just your average home-grown talent. Yes, of course he will always be known as the son the the Braves’ General Manager. But in a few short months with the organization (and that must have been an interesting first contract negotiation, huh?), he’s already proven that being drafted by Atlanta was neither about nepotism, nor a fluke. In fact, it was probably a bit of a surprise to see him still on the board at the end of the 8th round (253rd overall) when the Braves came around on the clock again. As the AJC reported, Kyle had been told from multiple teams that he could be picked up somewhere between the fourth and sixth rounds. Even Baseball America had him pegged at 210th in their top 250. So despite Frank Wren’s concerns (and his own recusal from the process), the Braves’ brass couldn’t pass him up again.
It didn’t take long for him to give the rest of the league pause for passing him over. Kyle started in Danville on the Appalachian League team for rookies. After a scant 5 games, he got a ticket to Rome. Now the Rome Braves play a 140 game schedule and being drafted in June, Kyle was only around for 47 of these. But let’s just have some fun and pro-rate his stats out to 120 games – which would have been second-most games-played on that team:
- .328 batting average
- .838 OPS
- .382 OBP
- 28 doubles
- 10 triples
- 5 homers
- 82 steals
- Oh, and for the entire Summer, he grounded into exactly 2 double plays.
This isn’t exactly unusual. In ACC play with Georgia Tech, Wren hit .360 with a .423 OBP and stealing 28 bases over 64 games (I guess they held him back!). You could argue that he was better as a pro in some respects.
>> At right: Kyle and Frank together with brother Colby >>
So how can he improve? First off, the question will be whether the Braves feel he’s ready to move up to another level. Given his age (will be 23 in April) and 2013 results, I expect so. This means the High-A Carolina League Lynchburg Hillcats. In fact, he actually did get that call-up right at the end of 2013, so this is really a no-brainer: 1 game, 2 plate appearances with a walk. Oddly enough, the opponents caught him in his lone stolen base attempt.
Steals and speed are definitely a hallmark of his game, so the challenge will be in keeping that up with more advanced pitchers and catchers involved. He grades out at 70 on speed based on the report I’ve seen, which is near the top of the 30-80 scouting scale. To this point, he’s been able to get by on raw ability, but as he moves up, he will have to ‘think’ more on how he uses that speed.
His arm strength is okay, but is light for major league Center Field purposes (Kyle played a lot in LF in college). He grades significantly less than Michael Bourn or B.J. Upton in that regard… a lot closer to Todd Cunningham in many respects, in fact. Where Wren is better than most is in fielding and speed. If his bat remains consistently good (.300-plus average with low strikeouts and high OBP), then it will be hard to ignore Kyle as a potential major league lead-off man, regardless of his CF arm (at 5’10″/175, he will not have the power that teams look for in corner OF prospects). The key will be seeing how he does… probably this year and next… against the High-A and AA competition. This is why he’s on my list of players to watch.
Just for fun, let’s look ahead a bit: B.J. Upton’s contract runs through 2017. Even if he turns into Mike Trout, it’s hardly likely that the Braves would try real hard to re-sign him. Jordan Schafer is the current heir apparent to CF (not counting Jason Heyward), and he is under team control through 2016. Elsewhere in the system, the aformentioned Todd Cunningham is nearly 25 years old and has probably hit his peak as a player: roughly a AAAA-level guy; 4th or 5th outfielder on any depth chart. Mycal Jones (Myke) is the AA incumbant and will be 27 in May. He is close to topping out as well. Former top prospect Matt Lipka was handling CF for Lynchburg and he’s just not hit the way the Braves expected as a 1st-ish round pick in 2010. Thus, there are currently no real barriers to moving Kyle upward whenever he is ready to do so.
Given Wren’s background in a baseball family, the ‘thinking’ part of the game is likely second-nature to him already. The desire to prove himself aside from his roots is next – and that drive is what I believe will keep him moving up for a while.