Pair of outfielders could be drafted high
Kulbacki and Desme exceeded expectations in junior season
Perhaps Kellen Kulbacki and Grant Desme didn't see the vacuum, but they have unwittingly stepped into it and it could pay big dividends for them come draft day.
Both are college outfielders, Kulbacki for James Madison University, Desme for Cal Poly. It's no secret the college hitter crop is down this year, with a lack of impact bats. Kulbacki and Desme may not have been high on lists heading into the season, but their big years combined with the dearth of talent could mean they'll hear their names called much earlier than either could have anticipated, even if it's not something either contemplated during the season.
"That's something that helps me," Desme said, clearly thinking about the issue for the first time.
"Looking at the college players as a whole, there's a lot of talented guys," Kulbacki said. "I haven't paid that much attention to the power guys. I know there are some good bats. I hope that with my power potential it will help me as much I can. That's all I can hope for."
The pair share more parallels other than being intriguing offensive outfielders in a weak class. Both put up big numbers in their junior seasons. Desme led the Big West Conference in six offensive categories, including all three triple crown stats. He finished the year with double-digits in home runs and stolen bases. Kulbacki isn't as toolsy, but the CAA co-player of the year hit close to .400 with 19 home runs and a .785 SLG to follow up a monster sophomore season which saw him lead the nation in home runs.
Both also play at less than household names in the college baseball world. The Big West does include powerhouses like Cal State Fullerton and Long Beach State, but Cal Poly doesn't generate the same kind of buzz those programs do. James Madison in the CAA hasn't exactly been a baseball factory.
"There's definitely a little bit of a disadvantage in some regards," Kulbacki admitted. It's a mid-major school and when it comes to that, people look down at the talent level. Being a prospect makes it harder, I feel I have to prove something to people watching every game. That's not necessarily a bad thing because it makes you bring out your best every game."
Both Kulbacki and Desme have clicked at just the right time because they were able to learn a valuable lesson: Sometimes, less is more. It's not something that sinks in for young, impressionable hitters very easily.
"My success has come mainly from learning what I can and can't do," Desme said. "It was tough for me the first two years, trying to do too much. I've learned to stay with my approach in every at-bat, to have a quality AB every time I step in the box."
|1. TB||LHP||David Price||Vanderbilt U|
|2. KC||SS||Michael Moustakas||Chatsworth HS (Calif.)|
|3. CHC||3B||Josh Vitters||Cypress HS (Calif.)|
|4. PIT||LHP||Daniel Moskos||Clemson U|
|5. BAL||C||Matthew Wieters||Georgia Tech|
|6. WSH||LHP||Ross Detwiler||Missouri St U|
|7. MIL||LF||Matthew LaPorta||U Florida|
|8. COL||RHP||Casey Weathers||Vanderbilt U|
|9. ARI||RHP||Jarrod Parker||Norwell HS|
|10. SF||LHP||Madison Bumgarner||South Caldwell HS|
"I really worked hard to improve my approach at the plate, hit the ball to all fields and not do too much," echoed Kulbacki.
This lesson really hit home for both outfielders while playing in summer leagues, though they arrived at it in different ways. Desme played in Oregon, far away from the pressures of the college season, where he could tinker with his approach without it impacting his school's won-loss record.
"It really clicked, playing summer ball," Desme said. "I started feeling more comfortable, being able to play every day, working on things without worrying about results. I was able to really slow the game down more this year than I ever have before [as a result]."
Kulbacki hoped to carry his breakout sophomore campaign into the Cape Cod League, but he struggled and didn't have the kind of summer many expected or hoped to see. Count Kulbacki among that disappointed group, but he learned a great deal about not straying too far from what got him there in the first place.
"I feel I definitely didn't play up to my potential in the Cape last summer," Kulbacki said. "But at the same time, the numbers didn't attest to the potential I have with the wood bat.
"We were working on some things with my swing that were new to me and it was extremely difficult to take live at-bats and use them to correct and improve my swing. In the first half I was struggling and I wasn't comfortable. Then I went back to what was more comfortable for me and what worked for me at school and the second half I had much better results."
Just how this pair's results will impact their draft status remains to be seen. All Kulbacki and Desme can do is sit and wait. That's the last, unfortunate, similarity shared by the duo. Both are sitting at home waiting for the First-Year Player Draft with no more baseball to be played. For Kulbacki, it was a season gone bad for James Madison, one in which the team didn't qualify for its conference tournament.
"We didn't have the year we expected," Kulbacki said. "Leading into the season, we had higher expectations for ourselves. We thought we had a better team than what we showed. That happens sometimes. I did the best I could and I know my teammates did, too. I just have to look forward and move on from it."
Desme's time off comes from injury. His season was cut short by a broken wrist. He's in a cast that will come off in about two and a half weeks and it's not expected he'll have any trouble with it long-term.
"It was really frustrating, but from everyone I talked to, it shouldn't affect me," Desme said with regard to his draft status. "I try to make a positive out of it. I'm getting some rest. I get some time off before I play short-season ball. I get a hand up on people who'll get tired as the season wears on."
The time off has allowed the pair to finally shift attention from college results to what could transpire on June 7. While on the field, as Desme put it, he "tried not to focus on it or worry about it. It's pretty much out of my hands and I tried to take care of things on the field."
That "do the job and the rest will take care of itself" attitude certainly seems to have worked for these outfielders. Their names have been mentioned as possibilities as high as the end of the first round and there's a good chance both will be off the board by the completion of the supplemental first round. When they were playing, that sort of talk wouldn't have even registered on their radar. Now, though, they can allow themselves to slowly get revved up for what could be a momentous day for both of them.
"There have been rounds and picks thrown out, but you never know until draft day," Kulbacki said. "There are some teams that have shown interest, but you never know."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.