Name: Bryan Byrne
Draft: 12th Round, 2005
Position: First Base
Weight: 200 lbs
History: Bryan Byrne manned the hot corner at St. Mary's before it became apparent that he did not possess the arm for third base. He shifted briefly to second, then was drafted as a first baseman by the Diamondbacks in 2005.
Statistics Courtesy of The Baseball Cube
Byrne quickly adapted to his new position, as a fantastic arm is not required to play first base. The question became whether he would bat well enough for a hitter's position. The switch from aluminum to wooden bats sapped Byrne of not only his power, but his perennial .300+ batting average during his professional debut in Missoula.
Since then, Byrne has improved his batting average and his slugging percentage every year. He enjoyed two separate 13-game hitting streaks in Visalia, leading the team in batting average, runs, hits, RBI, and walks en route to winning FutureBacks Player of the Year honors there. In the postseason, Byrne went 7-for-19.
Part of the reason Byrne felt so comfortable last year at Visalia was that he grew up in California. So it bodes well for his major league career that he was born in Phoenix...
Batting and Power: Although he is more of a doubles hitter than a home run guy, Byrne is nevertheless a bit of a pull hitter. Like most left-handed batters, he prefers pitches down and in. That helped him excel in the California League, where pitchers strive to keep the ball down to keep their pitches from leaving the ballpark.
"This league seems to be more of a sinkerball league, then the Midwest League is more of a four-seam fastball type league," Byrne explained to us last year. "I'm a pretty good low-ball hitter."
The 6-foot-3 first sacker can take an outside pitch the other way if he's worked there, which is how he remains so consistent at the plate, and how he handles southpaws almost as well as he does right-handers. His size makes scouts believe that he could develop home run power, but that would play against his natural swing.
"I'm a gap-to-gap guy," said Byrne. "The minute I try to hit home runs, I get into trouble anyway. I just try to put a good swing on balls, get a good counts to hit, have good ABs, and the numbers will show."
His greatest assets at the plate are vision and patience. Byrne recognizes pitches, knows the strike zone, and can wait on offspeed stuff. Those qualities only figure to improve with age and experience.
Base Running and Speed: Running the bases isn't a big part of Byrnes' game, although he did leg out five triples and swipe four bases last year. He's a lot like Mark Grace in that he's very opportunistic on the bases despite having below average speed. He may need to tone that aggressiveness down as he gets older.
Defense: After taking the sub-par arm out of the equation, Byrne becomes a plus defender with his soft hands and quick reaction time. He has also mastered the art of scooping throws in the dirt in just a few years; having shortstop Pedro Ciriaco heave balls his way at close to 100 MPH for the past three seasons has made Byrne ready for just about anything at first base.
"I've played with Ciriaco for three years now, and I kind of have an idea of what he does and how his ball fades when he throws it to me, and whether it sinks," offered Byrne. "He tends to fire them over there pretty good."
Byrne has therefore gotten very comfortable at first base and ranks as one of the best defenders in the organization there along with Brad Miller.
Major League Clone: Sean Casey
Prediction: Even though Byrne does not have the prototypical power a lot of teams look for from the first base position, he will draw high enough on-base percentages to start in the big leagues. That may or may not happen with the Diamondbacks, who remain fairly deep at a position that other players often switch to as they get older.
ETA: Byrne should once again pair with Ciriaco, this time at Double-A. There's no reason to believe that he won't be major league-ready by 2010. There is a good chance that Conor Jackson will have been traded by then, but Byrne must also line up behind Javier Brito for Jackson's highly coveted role.
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