TACOMA, Washington -- Bryce Brentz took a difficult spring and turned it into a sensational summer with a spectacular performance Monday, capturing the Triple-A Home Run Derby title for the International League with 18 blasts in the final round, 38 in total. Hometown favorite Daniel Vogelbach, representing the Pacific Coast League, was unable to keep pace in the final round, sending seven balls over the fence at Cheney Stadium, home of his Tacoma Rainiers.
"Pretty special, considering how things started out," Boston's 2010 Compensation A pick said of the All-Star experience. "Coming in and not having the spring I wanted to, still kind of searching through some things mechanically. At one point, I really hit rock bottom and then [Pawtucket hitting coaches Rich Gedman and Bruce Crabbe] and I made an adjustment, started doing a toe tap and just sync up some things. It's been pretty good."
After leading the first round with 16 home runs, Brentz needed only a handful in Round 2 and decided to rest after dispatching four. After a few timeout pep talks by Pawtucket teammate Edgar Olmos, Brentz started taking Fresno Grizzlies manager Tony DeFrancesco deep again.
"Tony was awesome. It was the first time I ever had to hit off him. We hit a little in the cage and he threw the ball really well. I was able to stay on top of it and drive it out. I'm just pretty blessed right now," the 28-year-old outfielder said. "It was really about Tony, throwing consistently in the same area. I was looking to go to left-center, and he was keeping everything middle-in and making it a lot easier for me."
Vogelbach had the deepest shot of the night, sending one sailing over the scoreboard in right-center in the second round. Pregame talk was about the possibility of the Mariners' No. 8 prospect launching one over the tall batter's eye in dead center, but he dismissed that as fantasy.
Video: Bryce Brentz wins the 2017 Triple-A Home Run Derby
"I don't think anybody's hitting one over the center-field wall," Vogelbach said. "I've taken a lot of batting practice here and seen a lot of games here. ... You don't want to hit a ball to center field."
Charlotte's Danny Hayes reached the second round with nine, but added just four to his total. Columbus' Richie Shaffer matched his first-round total of nine to end with 18, but it wasn't enough to keep pace with Brentz or Vogelbach's total of 19 first and second-round shots.
Nashville's Renato Nunez, who leads the Minor Leagues with 24 long balls, hit five in the first round and Reno's Christian Walker belted six.
Making his time count: Shaffer's first Major League hit was a home run for the Tampa Bay Rays on Aug. 4, 2015. Two days later in his first home game at Tropicana Field, Shaffer's blast off Mets pitcher Bartolo Colon broke a tie and gave the Rays the win. His next home run was in a game memorable for other reasons -- David Ortiz joined an elite club with his 500th homer.
"I have had a limited window in the big leagues," Shaffer said. "But it's been a memorable time every time I've been out. The first hit, that first home run. Just sort of the culmination of your whole life of work and trying to get there. Then you get that moment. It being a home run too. That was just awesome."
Alternate history: In the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, the Los Angeles Dodgers selected Shaffer in the 25th round and Walker in the 49th, but neither player signed. Shaffer instead accepted a scholarship to attend Clemson and Walker took one for South Carolina. Ultimately, Shaffer was picked in the first round of the 2012 Draft and signed with Tampa Bay, while Walker signed as a fourth-round pick of the Baltimore Orioles. In Triple-A All-Star action, they face off representing Cleveland and Arizona.
Shaffer's recent career has been anything but linear. After finishing the 2016 campaign on the Rays' big league roster, Shaffer was traded from the Rays to the Mariners. Then in the span of just 50 days this offseason, the 26-year-old outfielder was designated for assignment by the Mariners, claimed and DFA'd by the Phillies, claimed and DFA'd by the Reds and then claimed by the Indians.
"It was wild. It was a lot of head scratching and uncertainty, but when the dust settled, I was in a good spot. Once I got into camp, it was great and just time to hit the ground running. I think having all that happen just helped me get my head on right and reprioritize, focus on the things I can control," he said. "Sometimes you get so caught up in the things that are outside your control, being a younger player. Not having the ability to control your own future, that sometimes gets clouded up in your brain and takes you away from the things you should be focusing on, which is on-the-field stuff.
"I tried to use it a fuel. I tried to go out there and make a bunch of teams regret their decisions. That's just baseball, though."
High-school sluggers: While All-Star Bryce Harper was in Florida watching the 2017 MLB Home Run Derby at Miami's Marlins Park on Monday, history stretched all the way across the continent to Tacoma. In 2009 at the International Power Showcase at Tropicana Field, an event to highlight high-school top prospects, Harper famously hit a record 502-foot home run. The Derby winner that year, though, was Walker. Harper's record didn't last long, though. Vogelbach set a new record at 508 feet in 2010, en route to winning the entire Derby.
"Well, that was a while ago," said Vogelbach. "It was a metal bat and it was a lot different."
Some other familiar names from those two events have been Randal Grichuk (St. Louis Cardinals), Dante Bichette Jr. (Trenton), Jayce Boyd (Las Vegas), Jake Mayers (Syracuse), Kyle Smith (Hillsboro) and Kayden Porter, who competed in the 2011 Triple-A Home Run Derby in Salt Lake City as a high-school player.