PAWTUCKET – The anatomy of a young hitter adjusting to a new minor league level has been on full display lately.
In the case of outfield prospect Bryce Brentz, the hot streak he carries into the Governors’ Cup finals represents a complete 180 from where he stood following a handful of Triple-A games.
It took Brentz four games and 12 at-bats before collecting his first PawSox hit – legging out a grounder to third base in the third inning of the regular-season finale. Looking back at that innocent play, the slow roller proved to be the catalyst that allowed Brentz to exhale deeply and settle into a steady groove.
In the five ensuing games since getting off the schneid, Brentz has been an offensive force behooving of his slugging potential.
The 23-year-old was arguably Pawtucket’s top performer during the four opening-round games the ball club needed in order to vanquish Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, going 6-for-14 with two home runs and five RBI.
“He didn’t have a lot of success early,” noted Pawtucket skipper Arnie Beyeler, “but now he’s getting comfortable here.”
All told, Brentz enters the championship series on an 8-for-17 tear (.421), one that he extended with a leadoff double in the second inning against Charlotte. Two innings later, the right-handed hitting Brentz displayed opposite-field power with a screaming shot off the right-field fence that resulted in a triple.
“He can drive the baseball and it’s a really live bat,” said Beyeler. “It’s going to be fun to watch him develop because he’s a guy who can impact the middle of the lineup with his bat.”
The quick fashion in which Brentz has settled in with Pawtucket represents a substantial leap from where he was earlier this season while a member of Double-A Portland. Starting a new level after being named the Red Sox’ 2011 Minor-League Co-Offensive Player of the Year, Brentz struggled to the tune of a .216 average with 29 strikeouts and 88 at-bats.
Eventually, Brentz was able to lift himself out of the doldrums and thrust himself into a position where his numbers at the end of his Sea Dogs’ tenure – 17 homers and 76 RBI – were on par with his output at previous stops. Looking back, though, Brentz understands the depths he had to climb in the fourth months that followed his tough start to the 2012 season.
“I had to realize that it was the same game after a period in which I was trying to do too much,” Brentz acknowledged while sitting in Pawtucket’s dugout on Tuesday afternoon. “(In Double A), the pitchers have a little more freedom to throw what they want whereas in the lower levels, they don’t have that option. They have to come after hitters with the fastball and you can just tee off on it.”
The hard lessons Brentz accrued in April undoubtedly came in handy as the 2010 first-round supplemental pick – the result of Boston losing outfielder Jason Bay in free agency to the Mets – struggled to get on track in the early going with the PawSox.
Yes, he was able to regroup in much quicker fashion with the PawSox than was the case with the Sea Dogs, yet it’s worth noting that the Tennessee native had 458 at-bats under his belt upon getting promoted to Pawtucket nearly two weeks ago.
In other words, Brentz had plenty of at-bats under his belt and with it a better understanding of how to minimize the low points.
“This time, I was much more relaxed and able to maintain that effort level,” he said. “It’s one of those things that as a young hitter, you’re just got to learn, and you learn through at-bats. That’s why I think having 400-plus at-bats at Double A is what’s allowed me to make that transition.”
Added Beyeler, “The mark of a good hitter is when you learn to make your adjustments and learn how to stay out of those peaks and valleys and more on an even keel. For the most part, Bryce has been able to do just that.”