PLAINFIELD TOWNSHP, Mich. (WOOD) — In 2020 before all of minor league baseball was suspended due to COVID-19, current West Michigan manager Brayan Peña got the chance to coach current Whitecaps outfielder Bryant Packard.
They were both a part of the Connecticut Tigers, the New York-Penn League affiliate to the Detroit Tigers.
While the two only got to spend roughly a week together, it didn’t take long for Peña to love managing Packard.
“(Packard) is just one of those guys that doesn’t quit,” Peña said. “Sometimes you have to tell him to get out of the cage, go inside and rest, slow down. We have a lot of games to play. But that’s the good thing about him, he never settles.
“It’s not difficult to fall in love with a guy like that.”
So far this season, all the work ethic Peña speaks to on Packard has been showing at the plate.
In 194 at bats, Packard is hitting .227 but has shown more power at the plate this season than ever before in his career. He has six home runs in 2021, doubling his MiLB total (3) coming into this season. He has driven in 22 runs, stolen five bases and has an OPS of .692.
The Tigers drafted Packard in the fifth round of the 2019 MLB Draft. He played 11 games with the Connecticut Tigers, 23 in West Michigan — before their move to High A — and was bumped up to Lakeland for five games. Now he has been with the Whitecaps for 53 games.
Packard admits there are still things he wants to add to his game on both sides of the ball but feels like he’s been swinging the bat better now than ever.
“Even if I have a series that isn’t as great right now, my swing still feels the same,” Packard said. “I want to hit the off-speed stuff better. Trying to slow down my mentality at the plate and have me just being me.”
According to the MLB Pipeline, Packard is the No. 19 ranked prospect in the Tigers organization. His estimated time to see the big leagues is 2022, but that’s not the main thing on the East Carolina product’s mind.
Right now, he’s happy in West Michigan and loves working on his game with Peña and his teammates.
“He’s the man,” Packard said of Peña. “When you get drafted you don’t think people wan to win down here, people will be selfish, (but) not him. He wants to get the most out of this team, I think that’s what he’s done.”
So far this season, Packard and the Whitecaps have seen plenty of streaks winning and losing.
The team started the season 4-7, loaded with rookies that hadn’t experienced any level of professional baseball. Then, things started to click.
The Whitecaps took four of six games from Wisconsin and then came home to sweep Lake County in a six-game series. They would win seven in a row before losing again, propelling them to 15-9 and a first-place positioning in the High-A Central standings.
Then, things started to track backward again to where the Whitecaps are now at 30-34, playing a little under .500 baseball over the past month.
It’s not coincidental that two of the Tigers’ top prospects, Spencer Torkelson (No. 1) and Dillon Dingler (No. 4), were called up to Erie in June and the Whitecaps had a tough time adjusting.
“(Torkelson and Dingler) are obviously two of the best players I’ve ever played with, if not the best,” Packard said. “It was like taking Freddie Freeman and Ronald Acuna Jr. away from the Braves. It’s different when they leave, but we have guys and a great camaraderie, and we’re going out there every night to try and win.”
For Bryant, it’s all about using is A swing more often than his B and C swing. His defense has been good whether in the outfield or at first base. If he continues to work on that, he will be doing everything he can to help the Whitecaps win while he’s in West Michigan.
“(Packard) understands the type of hitter that he is,” Peña said. “He’s such a young player and for him to understand what opponents are trying to do and the adjustments that he makes during the game, that is impressive.
“He’s a very smart player, and we really like what we see from him.”