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November 5, 2012 at 8:00 AM

Top 40 Season in Review: Bryce Brentz

# 5 Bryce Brentz, RF
2012 Teams: Portland Sea Dogs/Pawtucket Red Sox
2012 Stats: .290/.349/.465, 17 HR, 76 RBI, 30 2B, 41 BB, 136 K, 473 AB

2012 Prospect Preview
The Book: 4.16.12
Brentz working to improve approach in Portland
Brentz, Hazelbaker thrown into the fire

Pre-2012: Brentz led the nation in batting average, slugging percentage, home runs, and total bases as a sophomore at Middle Tennessee State University. His numbers were almost comical as he hit .465 with a .541 on-base percentage and a .930 slugging percentage. He swatted 28 home runs in only 60 games and was a unanimous first-team All-American, and continued his tremendous year by batting .366 with Team USA the summer before his junior season. Going into 2010, Brentz was viewed as one of the top draft-eligible players in the country. His junior season was seen as a bit of a disappointment, as he hit "only" .348 and missed time with a hairline fracture on the inside of his right ankle, while his home run total dropped and his strikeout total rose. Because of this, Brentz fell to the 36th pick in the draft, where the Red Sox scooped him up with the compensation pick they received for Jason Bay leaving via free agency.

Brentz signed quickly after the draft, and reported to Lowell for the summer. Appearing in 69 games for the Spinners, Brentz struggled mightily, batting only .198 and striking out 76 times in 262 at-bats. A combination of factors led to his struggles, including an overly-aggressive approach, some mechanical flaws in his swing, adjusting to life as a professional baseball player, and, reportedly, his adjustment to contact lenses the team asked him to wear, which he stopped wearing at season's end. 

Brentz started the 2011 season in Greenville, where he gave Red Sox fans a glimpse of what made him an All-American in college. He was promoted after 40 news-making games, where he slugged his way to a 1.061 OPS and hit 11 home runs. He had a minors-leading 26-game hitting streak, which he extended several times in dramatic fashion late in games, and was essentially neck-and-neck with Bryce Harper of the Nationals as the minors' hottest hitter for the first couple months of the season.

While the questions about his power were answered, questions about Brentz's approach remained, as he struck out in over 20-percent of his at-bats despite being relatively old for the South Atlantic League as a 22-year-old. It was more of the same in Salem, where he hit 19 home runs in 75 games, but struck out 80 times. Brentz showed the potential to be a middle-of-the-order run producer, but there were questions about how his approach would play in the upper-levels, where pitchers have better off-speed pitches and better command. Regardless, Brentz was very impressive in his first full-season, and the Red Sox named him the Offensive Co-Player of the Year, an honor he shared with Ryan Lavarnway.

2012 Season in Review: Brentz began the season in Double-A Portland, where he was the everyday right fielder, and the up-and-down nature of his campaign was indicative of the streakiness that has become something of a trademark for him. Brentz struggled initially against the advanced pitching in the Eastern League, batting only .216 in April. Brentz struggled particularly with high fastballs and breaking balls away. He would over-expand his strike zone looking for a fastball he could drive. At the end of April, Brentz missed three games with an injury and was limited to DH'ing for two weeks, but he turned the corner in the meantime, leading the Sea Dogs in nearly every statistical category in the month of May. He was doing a better job of keeping his weight back, waiting for his pitch, and using all fields.

June showed more improvement from Brentz in his approach, as he collected more walks (15) than he did in the previous two months combined (13). The added patience did come at the expense of some power, but he showed he was capable of making the adjustments needed to become a major league starter. Eastern League pitchers adjusted accordingly; he saw fewer fastballs, leading to a cold July, but he got hot again in August and was ultimately promoted to Pawtucket for the club's playoff run. Brentz struggled to adjust at first, going 2 for 17 to close the regular season, but got some big hits in the playoffs and was arguably the team's best hitter during that stretch, hitting .333 and helping the PawSox win the Governors' Cup. Brentz is currently playing in the Arizona Fall League, where he was named to the Rising Stars Game.

2013 Outlook: Brentz will begin the 2013 season in Pawtucket, where he will try to put himself in line for a possible promotion to Boston. Brentz is on a similar path to that of Will Middlebrooks the past couple of seasons. Middlebrooks and Brentz put up similar numbers in Double-A, got promoted to Triple-A at the end of the season, and then went on to play in the Arizona Fall League. Middlebrooks took his game to another level in 2012, abusing Triple-A pitching and becoming an impact major leaguer. The Red Sox hope Brentz will do the same thing this season. The outfield situation in Boston is still in great flux: Jacoby Ellsbury, who is surrounded by trade whispers himself, is the club's only certain starting outfielder for 2013 at press time, while Ryan Kalish and Jeremy Hazelbaker are projected to join Brentz in Pawtucket's starting outfield, with Jackie Bradley, Jr. potentially joining them soon thereafter, if not on Opening Day. Still, Brentz is in line to, at the very least, make his major league debut this season, and, at best, play his way into the Red Sox' long term picture in right field.

Photo Credit: Bryce Brentz by Dave Letizi