Height 6-1, Weight 200, B/T: L/L, DOB: 12/12/1986
2009 Redlegs Baseball Prospect Ranking: Not Ranked
Byron Wiley is beginning to emerge as a legitimate prospect. His ascension up the ladder has been driven largely by his offensive game, which is defined by his ability to control the strike zone. While he has admittedly been somewhat old for his level of competition, his performance level is still strong. Wiley has the rare and potentially valuable combination of tools and skills. He provides good athleticism, but also understands how to translate his athleticism into offensive production. Wiley has a true understanding of how to hit, which led Dayton manager Todd Benzinger to call him a "flat out pure hitter." Wiley controls the strike zone well and maximizes the number of times he forces a consequence to the At Bat on a hitter's pitch.
While he's still raw and needs to prove himself against more advanced competition, Wiley is certainly trending in the right direction early in his professional career. If he continues to progress and develop, then he will prove to be a steal for the Reds, who selected him out of Kansas State in the 2008 draft.
Byron Wiley played for three years at Kansas State University. He joined K-State out of Tomball High School where he was a four year letterman, was first team all-state, and ranked as the third best player in Texas in 2005 by Texas Baseball News.
In 2006 as a freshman, Wiley started 44 out of 48 games and posted a slash line of .297/.425/.483/.908 with 5 homers and a 31/30 K/BB ratio. He also swiped 7 bases in 10 attempts. A stellar collegiate debut. His best game that season was his 3-for-6 performance against South Dakota which included 2 homeruns and 4 RBI. He finished up that season with 10 multi-hit games and 5 multi-RBI games.
He turned in quite an encore performance during his sophomore year, posting a .366/.494/.526/1.020 slash line with 7 homers and a 46/43 K/BB ratio. He was better across the board, including on the bases where he swiped 14 bases in 15 attempts. He played in 55 games, starting 54 of them in centerfield for the Wildcats. He led the team in hits (71), batting average (.366), RBI (44), runs (42), home runs (7), walks (43), and on-base percentage (.494). He ranked fourth in the Big 12 and 27th in the nation in walks, while his OBP of .494 was tops in the league. During the season, he had an 8-game hitting streak, 22 multi-hit games, and 12 multiple-RBI games. It was a tour de force type offensive performance for Wiley.
Unfortunately for Wiley, but perhaps fortunately for the Reds, his junior year was a complete disappointment. His level of performance dropped to .227/.342/.297/.639 with 1 homerun and a 51/20 K/BB ratio. He swiped 5 bases in 6 attempts.
Wiley credits his time at K-State with "helping him mature as a player and as a person." He continues to identify strongly with the school, even going so far as to have Wildcat slogans written on the knobs of his bats during his 2009 season in Dayton. The slogans include "Wiley the Wildcat" and "E.M.A.W." (Every Man a Wildcat).
Perhaps a bit surprisingly, Wiley agreed to turn pro after the Reds selected him 659th overall in the 22nd round of the 2008 draft. Given his stellar first two collegiate seasons, it was realistic to expect him to return to K-State for his senior season in the hopes of rebuilding his draft value and improving his bargaining position.
Fortunately for the Reds, Wiley did decide to turn pro after his lackluster junior year. Upon doing so, he immediately set out to return to his previous level of performance and prove his worth to his new organization.
The Reds sent Wiley to the rookie Pioneer League after he agreed to terms in 2008. In what was remaining of the 2008 season, Wiley ripped the cover off the ball. He produced to a tune of .328/.427/.635/1.062 in 137 ABs. He swiped 3 bases in 4 attempts, put up 27 extra base hits (17 2b, 5 3b, and 5 HRs), and a 49/24 K/BB ratio. His BABIP was rather high at .476, but his line drive rate was a robust 22% so the luck component wasn't quite as significant a factor as it might appear at first blush. He was squaring the ball up well and driving it with authority.
For the 2009 season, the Reds moved Wiley up to low-A Dayton, where Wiley continued producing at a good clip. His power numbers decreased, but his .275/.395/.461 slash line once again demonstrated that he has some of the best on-base skills in the entire system. His BABIP (.363) and line drive (15%) rate both regressed, which resulted in the decrease in his batting average (.275).
Wiley's best game of the season took place in early July, when he cranked three home runs against West Michigan. He joined Wily Mo Pena and Juan Francisco in the record books as the only three Dayton Dragons to hit three homers in a single game. This type of big game performance from Wiley may speak to additional, untapped power potential.
Interestingly enough, Wiley scuffled a bit at home and performed very well on the road. For Dayton, he hit .233/353/.406, while on the road he hit .312/.430/.510. Dayton isn't known as a pitcher's park, so the disparity probably isn't indicative of anything truly noteworthy, but still warrants a mention.
From his first year to his second year, Wiley improved his BB% from 15.0% to 16.3% and cut his strike out rate down from 28.8% to 24.5% against a more advanced level of competition.
Wiley has performed well so far in his professional career, but the case could be made that a polished college hitter should be having success against rookie league and low-A ball pitching. And, that's certainly a valid point, but good production is still good production. At the very least, Wiley deserves a bit of credit for performing like he "should." The 2010 season should bring more advanced pitching and more of a challenge for Wiley, but so far he has more than held his own as a professional.
Swing Mechanics and Plate Approach
Wiley doesn't have a long and lean body type like so many young prospects, but rather he is solidly put together with a strong lower half. His body type could portend more power to come as he continues to mature physically and hone his swing, but it could also lead to reduced speed if he continues to add weight to his lower half.
At the plate, Wiley uses a quiet approach and slightly wider than shoulder width stance. His shoulders are level and his hand position is high. His hands start up by his left ear and he hits with a high back elbow. He uses a small bat waggle to keep loose while waiting for the pitch. When the pitch is delivered, Wiley utilizes a very small stride. He does more than just lift his front foot up and place it right back down, but he doesn't advance his lead foot forward very much. The stride is important for two reasons: 1) to "cock the hips" and 2) to transfer the weight forward to meet the pitch. The hips are a significant source of power in the baseball swing. Typically, they are cocked during the stride, as the front hip tends to rotate inwards to build up energy to unleash during the swing. In addition, the stride starts the weight transfer during the swing.
At times, a wide stance can limit a hitter's ability to cock his hips and generate power in his swing. However, it can certainly be done, as evidenced by two all time great hitters with very wide stances, namely Joe DiMaggio and Albert Pujols. At this point, it isn't looking like a concern for Wiley, but perhaps bears watching.
As Wiley makes his stride, his weight transfers forward and he draws his hands back into the hitting position. Once he front foot hits the ground, he begins to fire his hips, which both generates power and clears the way for his swing, allowing him to drop the head of the bat on the ball. Wiley has smooth, fluid swing that is fairly level, but has just a touch of uppercut. He generates good bat speed and gets good extension through the zone. He maintains good balance throughout the swing and hits off a solid foundation. He finishes his swing by letting his top hand come off the bat, utilizing a one-handed follow through. You can see that his swing has the potential to get too long at times, which could hinder his ability to make consistent contact. Overall, Wiley has a nice, advanced approach at the plate and a nice, smooth swing to go with it. This combination allows him to both work the pitcher for a pitch he likes and gives him the potential to actually do something with that pitch when he gets it.
Here is a look at Wiley in action for K-State:
One thing that Wiley will need to work on his two strike approach. As a late count hitter, Wiley will see far more 2-strike counts than those aggressive, early-count hitters like Juan Pierre or Willy Taveras. In a perfect world, Wiley will continue to work deep into the count, which will enable him to be selective and draw walks, but also improve his two strike approach to cut down on the strikeouts. If he can shorten up in two-strike situations, he might be able to get quicker to the ball and limit the times that he fails to put the ball in play.
Wiley isn't likely to develop into a true power hitter, so shortening up in 2-strike situations will likely provide more benefits (putting the ball in play to give himself a chance for a hit) than detriments (reducing his power and his chances for a homer). Wiley already reaps significant production benefits from his late count approach, but refining his 2-strike approach to cut down on strike outs would make him more effective at the plate and improve his chances for success against more advanced pitching.
Defense and Positional Value
At this point, Wiley's skills in the field lag behind his skills at the plate. The Reds have utilized Wiley primarily in the corner outfield spots. He spent a great deal of time in center at the collegiate level, but has played 93 games in right, 36 in left, and only 2 in center during his professional career. Given the number of quality centerfielders currently in the Reds system, Wiley's best chances are likely in a corner slot.
Despite his good over athleticism and speed, Wiley still hasn't managed to turn his defensive tools into above average defense. In 2009, minorleaguesplits.com rated him as 2 runs below average in left and 1 run above average in right. There is likely room for improvement, as Wiley's footspeed and athleticism give him the tools necessary to play a solid outfield. More experience should enable him to improve his positioning and reads on fly balls.
Overall, Wiley is an intriguing prospect. He's flashing the best on-base skills of anyone in the system outside of Yonder Alonso. When you pair his good athleticism with his plus on-base skills, you have the makings of a solid prospect. Questions still abound about Wiley, namely whether he can find success against more advanced pitching, increase his power output while maintaining a reasonable strikeout rate, and improve his defensive game. Even so, he possesses arguably the most important skill in baseball, the ability to get on base, and has the athletic skill to give him a relatively high development ceiling. Next year will be a big test for Wiley and will provide an important data point for his career trajectory, but for now he checks in at #20 on the list.