Red Sox outfield prospect Bryce Brentz
got a taste of what Fenway Park could someday be like for him early in the 2011 season.
He compiled a standout college career at Middle Tennessee State -- leading the NCAA in batting (.465), homers (28), slugging (.930) and total bases (214) in 2009, his sophomore season. Boston made the outfielder the 36th overall pick in the 2010 Draft.
He struggled in his first professional season, hitting just .198/.259/.340 in 69 games with Class A Short-Season Lowell in 2010, but Brentz rebounded with a breakout performance in 2011.
The Knoxville, Tenn., native opened the campaign with Greenville and torched the South Atlantic League for 11 homers, 36 RBIs and a .359 average in 40 games, highlighted by a 26-game hitting streak. Brentz got off to a slow start after his promotion to Class A Advanced Salem, but finished the season strong, hitting .321 with seven homers and 23 RBIs in 28 August games and was named to the Carolina League postseason All-Star squad.
MiLB.com spoke with him early in February as he geared up for the 2012 season.
MiLB.com: What have you been up to this offseason?
Bryce Brentz: I reported early to Spring Training, so I'm down in Florida now. But over the winter, I did a lot of hunting. I also spent a lot of time with my girlfriend, who plays for the Canadian national soccer team.
MiLB.com: You struggled a bit with Lowell in 2010, your first season. What was the big difference between that campaign and your huge 2011 season?
Brentz: It was never anything mechanical with my swing. At Lowell I was too wound up, trying to do too much. Even this past year at times I just had to take a step back, slow things down and concentrate on my game plan.
MiLB.com: You were a pitcher for your first two seasons at Middle Tennessee State. Do you think that gives you any insight into how other teams try to pitch you?
Brentz: Before I would say it did, but not so much now. These pitchers are a lot better than I ever was. I survived on a bulldog mentality -- I just threw hard until the coach came and got me. If I were pitching to me now, I'd throw me high fastballs and breaking stuff in the dirt. That's a pretty good approach to most hitters.
MiLB.com: Considering how you tore up the South Atlantic League early last season, you got off to a relatively slow start at Salem before finishing strong. What kind of adjustments did you make?
Brentz: The Carolina League is tougher -- it's a pitchers' league with only eight teams, so you're seeing the same guys every week. The pitchers are a little sharper and have more freedom. In [the South Atlantic League], if a guy threw you ball one in the dirt, the odds were pretty good you were going to get a fastball next. In the Carolina League, they'll double up with their off-speed stuff -- it's a little more cat-and-mouse.
MiLB.com: Greenville's ballpark has the same dimensions as Fenway Park, including a Green Monster in left. I know you weren't there very long, but did that alter your hitting approach at all?
Brentz: It was kind of a tempting thing to have the wall right there -- you can get completely jammed inside and still get it out to the wall. It made me concentrate on what I was trying to do at the plate, though, which was to use all fields. The ball actually seemed to carry more to right-center there.
MiLB.com: Did the Monster make you glad you were playing right field instead of left?
Brentz: Actually, no -- if it's over your head in left, it's off the wall and there's not a lot you can do about it. Right field is laid out just like Fenway too, with the weird foul [Pesky] pole. If the ball gets past you in the corner, it can take some strange bounces.
MiLB.com: You had a 26-game hitting streak at Greenville. Were you thinking about it much as it went along?
Brentz: I want to say that I wasn't, but it kind of snuck in. In the first 20 games, if I made an out, I'd just think about what happened and think about making adjustments. But once it got to 20 or 21 games, I found myself getting too emotional after outs.
MiLB.com: You play in the Red Sox organization, which has one of the most rabid fan bases in sports. Though you may not have gotten quite as much attention as some other Bryces, how much do you follow what people are saying about you in the media or online?
Brentz: I definitely try to avoid it. My parents have become big Red Sox fans, though, watching the big league club and everything. My mom likes to tell me about some of the negative things she reads (Laughs). She knows that sort of thing fires me up to play even harder. Everyone's going to have critics -- I just try to play my game as best I can.
MiLB.com: Don't worry too much, people are saying good things too! Do you have any particular goals for the upcoming season?
Brentz: Making the big leagues is the No. 1 goal, of course, but you can't control when things like that happen. I mainly want to stay healthy, try to establish some consistency and keep learning.
MiLB.com: During the season, what do you do to unwind, whether it's on the bus or during your few off-days?
Brentz: I have a PS3 that I've been using to watch Netflix movies. I finally bought a game for it two days ago, so we'll see how that goes. I like to do some fishing, but there's not too much time for it during the season.
MiLB.com: Growing up in Knoxville, I'm going to guess you were a Braves fan? Who were your favorite players when you were a kid?
Brentz: Yeah, I was a huge Braves fan when I was little. They didn't pick me, though, so I'm a Red Sox fan now. (Laughs) Chipper Jones was my favorite player, which is kind of funny because we have the same sports agency now. I was a switch-hitter like Chipper when I was younger, but switched to batting righty full-time after a few years of college. I figured I struck out enough right-handed that I didn't need to do it lefty as well.