February 3, 2013

ON BASEBALL: Brentz looking for consistency

By Kevin Thomas kthomas@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

The trail has been blazed. Bryce Brentz should know what to do.

Just follow Will Middlebrooks, and you will find yourself a regular in the Boston Red Sox lineup.

Piece of cake, right?

These baseball prospects are robots after all. One talented player succeeds. Another one should be able to shine down the same path.

Brentz, 24, listened to my tongue-in-cheek reasoning with patience.

"I would love to sit there and say this is what will happen -- that I'll do the same thing he did in Pawtucket and then get called up to Boston," Brentz said. "We're two different ballplayers. Will is Will. He's a very talented ballplayer."

Brentz is not bad himself. But, of course, the Middlebrooks comparison is unfair.

It's just so tempting.

Middlebrooks, now 24, came into his own playing third base for the Portland Sea Dogs in 2011, batting .302 with 18 home runs in 96 games. He got a taste of Pawtucket at the end of the year and then honed his game even more in the prospect-rich Arizona Fall League.

In 2012, Middlebrooks broke out, reaching the majors and staying put, hitting 15 home runs in 75 games before breaking his wrist in August when he was hit by a pitch.

Now along comes Brentz, another free-swinging prospect, who the Red Sox hope can be harnessed into a disciplined power hitter.

Brentz is only three months younger than Middlebrooks. Brentz was drafted out of college in 2010, Middlebrooks out of high school in 2007.

When Brentz played right field for the Sea Dogs in 2012, he batted .291 with 17 home runs in 122 games. Yes, he had 130 strikeouts, but he also walked 40 times for a .355 on-base percentage.

Brentz got a taste of Pawtucket last year, actually starred in the Paw Sox's championship run, and then impressed in the Arizona Fall League.

"It was a short off-season," Brentz said with a smile.

So now what is Brentz's plan?

"I'm trying to figure out the things I want to be more consistent at," Brentz said. "Last year in Portland there were a lot of peaks and valleys. I'd like to stay on the peaks a little more.

"But the valleys are good learning experiences. At every level you have them. Try to make the most out of those."

Brentz would go on streaks last year, going on a tear one month, and then pressing and swinging at bad pitches for a couple of weeks.

"The thing we preach to him is consistency," Red Sox Director of Player Development Ben Crockett said. "He has a good feel for the mistakes he makes. He usually knows what he's doing when something goes awry.

"When he's locked in, he's a pretty good hitter. The more often he can be in that position, with his right-handed power hitter .... we could use one of those."

Boston might have a power right-hander in Middlebrooks. It took him a while to get his batting approach down, to quit trying too hard and let his talent come through. He seemed to figure things out in Portland.

Likewise, Brentz made strides at Hadlock Field last season.

"Had (batting coach Dave) Joppie in Portland always preaching, 'stay with your approach, stay consistent.' Sometimes it's human nature to want to do more," Brentz said. "But really, less is more."

When Brentz was promoted to Pawtucket at the end of the season, it was either the adjustment to a better league or Brentz trying too hard, but he was hitless in his first 14 at-bats.

He then recorded eight hits over his next 17 at-bats, including a 6-for-14 performance in the opening round of the International League playoffs, with two home runs.

Now he is set to return to Pawtucket. But for how long? It was expected that Middlebrooks would play most, if not all of 2012 in Triple-A. But he was called up May 2, and never went down.

"I'm happy for him and hopefully something like that would happen to me," Brentz said. "But it may not. I may come out of the gates and struggle. I may have to learn a few more things.

"I have high expectations for myself. Hopefully I can fulfill them."

Kevin Thomas -- 791-6411

kthomas@pressherald.com

Twitter: ClearTheBases

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