8/2/1992 (Age: 19)
Height: 6’2” Weight: 190
In the 2010 First Year Player Draft, the Braves gave up their first round draft pick to sign flamethrower closer, Billy Wagner, who had a renaissance year at age 38 after surgery for a torn UCL. Some people hated the decision to give up a pick to sign him, but Wagner was simply amazing that year. Without a first round pick, the Braves still managed to draft guys they wanted in Matt Lipka and Andrelton Simmons. It is still too early to analyze the 2010 draft, but the player making the most noise is Brandon Drury, a 13th round draft pick out of Grants Pass High School in Oregon.
Drury is known as a hard worker and according to Danville’s hitting coach, D. J. Boston, Drury is a “baseball rat.” He’s a guy that gets to the park early and spends most of his time in the batting cage. In his first taste of pro ball after the draft, he hit a meager .198/.248/.292 playing for the Gulf Coast League Braves. In 2011, his performance was a complete 360°. He led the Appalachian League with 92 hits, but fell short of the batting title, despite hitting safely in 25 of his final 26 games (1 for 2 in his final game).
Overall, Drury hit a remarkable .347/.367/.525 with a .177 ISO in 278 plate appearances during the 2011 season. Since high school, Drury has been lauded with praises and compliments. He was the best player out of Oregon pre-draft and after playing in the Appy League, Drury was mentioned as one of the league’s top prospects. With that said, I will let you in on a little secret. We will launch our Top 21s for every MLB team soon and Drury is #11 on my list as a potential breakout. With his excellent athleticism, strong work ethic, and above average bat speed, Drury’s stock value has jumped and he comes in at #341 on our Baseball Instinct 360°.
At the moment, Brandon Drury looks like he could become a special bat. His .347 average might be propped up by a .373 BABIP, but he is a line-drive hitter (23% line drive rate; league average is 17-18%) with a lot of room to grow. Scouts and evaluators like Drury’s tendency and ability to hit for average. He has excellent bat speed, a compact swing, and a bat that’s not afraid of the ball. Drury excelled at making contact, which also limited his strikeouts in 2011. This past season, Drury struck out in just 12.6% of his plate appearances, but he cut down his strikeout rate in half from 24.3% – certainly a good indicator.
Drury also needs to take more walks and add more strength. More walks and more patience will allow him to better utilize his raw power. Last season, his walk rate was at a rock bottom rate of 2.2%. Drury can sometimes be too aggressive and swing at everything since he’s such a good contact hitter, but that’s not to say that he has a poor approach at the plate. Pitch recognition and selection will be key as he moves up the Braves’ minor league system. Strength will also be an important factor as Drury matures since he does not have true HR power yet. His .177 ISO was driven by the number of doubles he hit (23 – good for second in the Appalachian League). With some added strength and experience, those doubles could eventually turn into HRs. Drury is able to square up and turn on fastballs and he gets good carry on the balls he puts in play because his swing generates lots of backspin.
With all the hype surrounding his bat speed and contact ability, Brandon Drury seems destined to be the Braves third basemen of the future. However, can he handle that position defensively? Drury played shortstop in high school, but the Braves felt he lacked the range to continue at short. Besides, the Braves have cultivated shortstop depth in their farm system. Drury possesses a good throwing arm, so the Braves shifted him over to third base. Since being drafted, he’s mostly manned the third base corner (77 out of 94 games), but the Braves have also tried Drury all over the diamond, including shortstop and second base with decent results (no errors in 77 chances).
In the 77 games Drury played at third, he committed 13 errors in 189 opportunities – a fielding % of .931, which is NOT a beautiful number. 189 plays in 77 games is a small sample size and coaches believe he can make the plays. Athletically, scouts and coaches feel that Drury has demonstrated that he can handle the hot corner. Despite just average range, he has good arm strength and good fielding instincts. Sure, he might not win Gold Gloves, but he’s not just a one-dimensional, offensive-minded player. Drury’s earned the “baseball rat” label and with more work in the field, he should at least be steady covering third. If not, second base is also a possibility. In 17 limited games in the middle infield, Drury has a perfect record, so if his glove doesn’t make the cut at the hot corner, middle infield is an option.
Drury is officially on the helium bubble! After his outstanding 2011 performance, he received a lot of praise and hype from coaches, scouts, evaluators and analysts. Some already consider him the apparent heir to the Braves’ third base gig after future Hall of Famer, Chipper Jones, retires. Eventually, Drury might have a special bat, he right now, he will not be able to replicate Chipper Jones’ production. He’s not going to compete for a batting title every year with a 2.2% walk rate, but his bat will not be as dreadful as his 2010 debut with the GCL Braves either. Both seasons’ stats are unsustainable with a .252 BABIP in 2010 and .378 BABIP in 2011.
This upcoming year, we want to see Drury produce in Low-A/Hi-A. Can he still square up more advanced fastballs and breaking balls? It’s obvious that he can turn on fastballs at the rookie level, but will his batting eye and pitch recognition keep up at the higher levels? Drury needs to take a step forward on defense as well. As of right now, we’re not ready to anoint Drury as the Braves’ future third baseman after Chipper hangs it up. For one, he won’t be ready for another 2-3 years. With more walks and more patience, Drury should hit for more power and that will only help his stock soar even higher!
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