Kyle Farmer was drafted by the Dodgers in the eighth round of the 2013 First-Year Player Draft, also known as the Rule 4 Draft. He was a bit of a surprise selection, a 22-year-old senior from the University of Georgia who was not ranked as a top ten round pick although Jim Callis of Baseball America did suggest he could go in the top 10-15 rounds. Callis, an alumnus of the University of Georgia, may well have watched his fellow Bulldog more closely than others who were ranking prospects in advance of the 2013 draft.
Farmer had been drafted by the Yankees in the 2012 draft in the 35th round. He chose not to sign preferring to return to the Bulldogs for his senior year. Citing a gut feeling as a reason for his return, he explained it a bit more clearly in an interview.
“I have made a decision and I do want to come back for my senior year,” Farmer said. “It was in my heart. My heart is with Georgia right now. I want to come back and win more games for the university. We’ve got a great freshman class coming in. We’ve got a great senior class. I want to come back and play with those guys and take this team to where it needs to be. I want to make the university proud. For me, as a student-athlete, the student part comes first. You have to make good grades to be eligible to play baseball, so school comes first.”
Farmer served as the Bulldogs’ shortstop throughout his college career. During his college career he played 212 games with 211 starts at shortstop. He compiled a batting average of .308 with 63 doubles, 7 triples, 18 home runs, 11 stolen bases and 168 RBI. On the defensive side he finished his career with the highest-ever fielding percentage by a Georgia shortstop at .968 in 1,045 total chances and the single season record for a Bulldog shortstop with a .978 mark in 2013.
Shortly after making his decision not to sign with the Yankees, Farmer received an invitation to play for Team USA – thus validating the tough decision he had made. As the starting shortstop for the team, he became part of history. On a tour to Cuba and The Netherlands, Farmer won the starting shortstop job on a team representing the United States playing in Cuba for the first time in a generation.
“USA hadn’t played there in 16 years,” Farmer said. “Playing in Cuba was probably the most interesting thing I’ve ever done. We walked into the stadium that first night and it was an all-blue stadium and it was packed. Everybody was there to watch us hit batting practice. It was like a soccer game. Everybody was yelling and chanting and blowing air horns. It was crazy. It was so packed and the Cubans really know baseball. They liked to get involved in the game. I couldn’t think of a better way to spend my summer.”
Perhaps a bigger surprise for many than drafting Farmer was that the Dodgers drafted him not as a shortstop but as a catcher. This wasn’t a fluke or mistake by the Dodgers scouting staff but rather a carefully calculated decision by the Dodgers, who tried him out at the position extensively during a pre-draft workout. Although Farmer had never tried catching before, he certainly seems up to the challenge.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” Farmer said. “It’s in the middle of the action. It’s fun and it’s hard work. I love working hard. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do and I’m just happy the Dodgers took me, truthfully.”
Farmer was quick to point out that Buster Posey was a shortstop in his freshman year with the Florida State Seminoles and as a sophomore Posey moved to the catcher position. Dodger fans will remember that other Dodger catchers have had position changes, perhaps the two best known being Mike Piazza (first base) and Russell Martin (third base). Mike Lieberthal (2007) and Gary “Kid” Carter (1991) who made brief appearances with the Dodgers also were converted to catching. Catcher Koyie Hill, drafted by the Dodgers in 2000 in the fourth round, was drafted as a shortstop.
Farmer has a baseball blood line which seems to be an important factor in Dodger draft selections. When his father Bryan was a pitcher in high school, he was contacted by the Dodgers about being drafted. He had already made a commitment to play for Ole Miss and ended up doing so. The elder Farmer was eventually drafted by the Atlanta Braves and pitched for four years in the Braves’ minor league system, making it up to AAA Richmond in 1989. He ended his professional career with an impressive ERA of 2.80.
The newly minted 6’0″ 195-pound catcher began his professional career in 2013 with the Ogden Raptors in the Advanced Rookie Pioneer League. The Atlanta native has been described as having quick hands and feet to go along with average speed. His body build, make up and strong throwing arm was undoubtedly a big factor in switching him from shortstop to catcher.
Farmer did not disappoint with the Raptors. Offensively he perhaps was stronger than expected although he is was a bit old for the league, having turned 23 in August. He played in 41 games with a .347 BA, .386 OBP with 4 home runs and 36 RBI. Defensively he was equally successful committing only 3 errors for a fielding percentage of .987 while throwing out 39% of would be base stealers. His passed ball total of 12 was a bit high but understandable as he learns the art of blocking balls, calling games and communicating with young pitchers.
Beyond his statistics, DeJon Watson feels Farmer has made considerable progress behind the plate, especially with game calling.
“He’s a conversion guy. He was a shortstop in college, but his game-calling is a lot more advanced than we thought,” Watson said. “He has some work to do as far as flexibility and getting set behind the plate, on blocking, but we’re pleased with where he is. And he has some leadership about him. He’s getting comfortable and starting to get a good understanding of what he needs to do, how to talk to pitchers.”
I expect Kyle to start the 2014 season with the Great Lakes Loons. He will turn 24 in August so hopefully he will advance as far as the High A Rancho Cucamonga Quakes of the California League at some point in 2014.
Kyle Farmer trivia: Farmer made a cameo appearance in the Academy Award-winning film “The Blind Side,” playing the role of the quarterback on Michael Oher’s high school football team.