SoxProspects News

August 25, 2017 at 1:22 PM

Scouting Scratch: Potential Sept. call-ups Jalen Beeks, Bryce Brentz


PAWTUCKET, R.I. -- With the September roster expansion around the corner, today's Scouting Scratch focuses on the two PawSox not currently on the Red Sox 40-man roster most likely to be added to the big league club for the stretch run—left-handed pitcher Jalen Beeks and outfielder Bryce Brentz.

Beeks has been one of the most consistent arms in the Red Sox system this year. He started the season with a return to Portland, where he had spent the second half of 2016 with fine, if uninspiring results (65 1/3 IP, 4.68 ERA, 1.53 WHIP, 56 K, 28 BB). This year, returning to the Sea Dogs' rotation following a stint pitching in the bullpen in the Arizona Fall League (for the purpose of limiting his innings, reportedly, rather than exploring a potential move into that role), Beeks saw great improvement, putting up a 2.19 ERA and 1.16 WHIP with 22 walks and 58 strikeouts in 49 1/3 innings. Since his June 3 promotion to Pawtucket, he has continued to put up similar numbers, a 3.45 ERA and 1.16 WHIP with 26 walks and 88 strikeouts in 86 innings.

Earlier in the season, it was clear Beeks had made some mechanical adjustments to clean up his delivery. It appears that he has made further tweaks recently, staying more vertical and no longer rocking back before coming forward. Even with these adjustments, he still has deception in his delivery that causes hitters to have trouble picking up the pitch from his hand. He also repeats his delivery much better later into the game.

Beeks' fastball sat 89-91 mph in my most recent look, topping out at 93 mph. His top velocity was down a tick from earlier in the season, but he controlled the pitch well and did a good job minimizing hard contact. Even though he has only average to slightly above-average velocity for a left-hander, he was still able to miss bats with the pitch, eliciting nine swinging strikes, eight from right-handed hitters. Beeks also got five of his six strikeouts with the pitch.

Beeks complimented his fastball with all three of his secondary offerings—a cutter, changeup, and curveball. Interestingly, Beeks relied heavily on his curveball even though he really struggled to feel the pitch and was unable to throw it for a strike until the fourth inning. He threw the pitch 73-78 mph and it was at its best in the higher end of the velocity band. The pitch showed long, 1-to-7 break, but was on the loose side and he wasn’t able to get over the pitch and snap it off early. As the game went on, he started to get better feel for it and snapped off a few average ones with depth that started in the zone before falling off the table, one eliciting a swinging strikeout.

Beeks' best secondary pitch was his changeup, which flashed above-average potential at 84-86 mph. He showed advanced feel for the offering and threw it with deceptive arm speed. The pitch showed drop and will be a key pitch for him, especially against right-handed hitters.

Beeks' cutter, which has evolved from his slider, showed short, horizontal break at 86-88 mph. He threw the pitch to both right-handed and left-handed hitters, and got a pair of swinging strikes from right-handed hitters.

Though he isn’t on the 40-man roster right now, Beeks is a prime candidate for a September call-up. He is Rule 5-eligible this offseason and therefore has to be added to the 40-man roster anyway in November. Although it would require making room on the 40-man roster, it makes sense to add him this year and give him his first experience at the major league level, where he could join Fernando Abad and Robby Scott as left-handed options out of the bullpen, working either in short stints or in a long relief role. In the past few weeks, the Red Sox have run into trouble due to the lack of a long reliever in the bullpen, forcing them to turn to some their late-inning arms when their starters struggle early. Beeks could fit in that role, keeping them in games and giving them quality innings to bridge the gap between a starter and back of the bullpen.

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Now 28 years old, Brentz has enjoyed something of a career renaissance since he changed his swing mechanics in May. From the start of the season to May 19, Brentz hit .162/.205/.286 with only 4 home runs and 6 walks with 30 strikeouts in 112 plate appearances. After a a three-day layoff, Brentz returned to the lineup on May 23 and switched from using a leg lift to a toe tap as a timing device. From that point on, Brentz has hit .318/.387/.637 with 26 home runs, 19 doubles and 34 walks compared to 71 strikeouts in 346 plate appearances. And the change is no statistical fluke—he looks like a completely different hitter.

The mechanical change was small but has made a huge difference with how Brentz is seeing the ball. The quality of his at-bats has increased and he is making more contact, most of which is hard-hit. To start the year, Brentz had loud hands and a leg kick timing device before whipping the bat through the zone, often out of control and with little regard for the type of pitch or location. Now, Brentz starts with his feet close together and is much quieter pre-pitch. As the pitcher starts his delivery, Brentz uses the quieter toe tap timing device, which keeps his lower half back before he swings.

Brentz has always had good bat speed and power, and this subtle change has allowed him to tap into both with an increased contact rate and better selectivity. In recent games scouted, he did a good job laying off tough breaking balls that would have caught him out in front and off balance in the past. He grinded out at-bats, most notably in an eight-pitch battle during which he fought back from being down, 0-2. He made consistent hard contact and made pitchers pay for mistakes up in the zone.

Like Beeks, Brentz isn’t on the 40-man but has a very good chance to be added in September. The Red Sox bench has lacked competent pinch-hitters all year, and if he can translate his performance from Triple-A to the major leagues, he could make an impact in that role or as a platoon bat against left-handers, against whom he has hit .303/.410/.618 with 8 home runs in 105 plate appearances even including his poor start to the year. Brentz has been taking ground balls at first base since at least July, and should he show the ability to play passable defense there could be an intriguing option in September and going forward with Sam Travis scuffling at the plate with Pawtucket.

Photo credit: Jalen Beeks and Bryce Brentz by Kelly O'Connor

Ian Cundall is Director of Scouting for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @IanCundall.

 
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