When Brenton Doyle hit the field for instructional camp with his fellow Rockies prospects, he knew the layoff from competitive action that lasted from spring to early fall amounted to the longest time away from baseball he could remember.
Getting into the batter's box against a pitcher intent on getting outs -- a near-daily experience in a normal summer -- was just about impossible during the unprecedented 2020 non-season. For lots of prospects, being challenged at instructs was downright refreshing.
"We had such a great group of guys and staff at Salt River to make the experience even more enjoyable," Doyle said. "To be able to get back to that kind of level of competition again after a long and brutal quarantine for us Minor League guys, it was an awesome time."
And Doyle, who was a MiLB.com Organization All-Star in 2019 after a stellar debut campaign with Rookie Advanced Grand Junction, made the most of it. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound outfielder stood out from more than a physical standpoint, showcasing his 55-grade power and 50-grade hit tools (per MLB.com).
As fall camp was coming to a close at the beginning of November, Rockies assistant general manager of player development Zach Wilson couldn't help but be enthused about Colorado's No. 13 prospect.
"Maybe the most unheralded and underrated prospect in our organization, and maybe in all of baseball, is a kid by the name of Brenton Doyle," Wilson said. "If you watched him here [at instructs], and you just look at him and you go, 'Oh, that's a big league player that's just rehabbing at instruction.' And no, no, no, no. You know, that's a second-year player, and he just looks every bit like a dude."
If the "dude" was unheralded because of his background as a fourth-round Draft pick out of Division II Shepherd University, he's quickly proven adept in the professional ranks. In the Pioneer League last year, Doyle raked his way to a .383/.477/.611 slash line with eight long balls. And according to FanGraphs, Doyle's 185 wRC+ ranked third across the Rookie-level landscape.
The bulk of his production came over the last two months, when he hit .439 with five homers. He may well have caught fire sooner had he not missed three weeks with multiple fractures in his cheekbone after taking a foul line drive off his face while standing in the dugout.
"It was an unlucky thing to happen to me, but at the same time, I was very lucky that I had no ... broken bones or broken jaw or broken orbital bone," Doyle said. "When my trainer took me into the clubhouse, he thought I broke my jaw and I was like, 'Holy moly. That's like sipping out of a straw for the next couple of months.'"
Rockies hitting coordinator Darin Everson noticed Doyle accepted his time on the shelf in stride. While he couldn't take swings, Doyle studied each game for things he could use in his eventual return.
"I don't ever want to say an injury was a good thing, but he even sharpened his awareness skills and watched the game and learned from the short time that he was hurt," Everson said. "He just watched the game and did a great job of trying to take what he felt was important and watch those aspects of the game, and then to go and apply it."
The time away led to adjustments at the plate. Doyle continually chatted with hitting coach Zach Osborne, and the two made some changes to the slugger's swing and stance. In college and during his first few weeks in Grand Junction, he'd used a stance that was closer to the ground with his legs spread out. In making tweaks when he returned, he started standing upright and felt this helped him generate more solid contact. With his lower stance, he'd had trouble catching up to high fastballs. The revised stance enabled him to hit those pitches with authority.
And it showed. Doyle produced an OPS over 1.100 during the final 29 games of the season before going 3-for-7 in two playoff games.
"My new [stance], I kind of stood up straight and tall. I kind of compared to Cody Bellinger or Wil Myers -- I got a lot taller," he said. "I freed up a lot of my body and I was just able to get the barrel to a lot more pitches. I'm way more relaxed, way more quicker. And it was just a huge confidence boost, especially coming back from an injury like that."
Although the cancellation of the 2020 campaign prevented him from building on that momentum with a first full season, Doyle had access to the Complete Game baseball facility in Manassas, Virginia, where he could take swings with some local college players. Mixing in outside at-bats with some golf and tennis matches, Doyle kept his competitive edge during the summer to help it all "fall into place at instructs," he said.
Everson noted that Doyle's at-home work was immediately evident in fall camp.
"Right off the bat, he came in prepared. He was ready to go," Everson said. "He's that guy that has the ability to make adjustments. And with that, along with his just natural tools of what he brings with his body and his body type and how he moves, he can do some damage on a lot of different pitches, and he was able to show that this instruction.
"In between [Spring Training and instructs], he was very focused and was locked in and we're very proud of him for that."
Without the Arizona Fall League on the docket this offseason, clubs sent the majority -- if not all -- of their best young players to this year's iteration of instructs. Doyle and his teammates approached these games as their own mini AFL.
Doyle appreciated the organization's strict precautions, with the players going straight from hotel to field and treating the camp as a bubble, and was thankful the team and its staff ended instructs without a positive COVID test.
"A lot of us compared it to just like an Arizona Fall League, but just each team bringing a roster," Doyle said. "I mean almost every single team had all their top 30 prospects, unless they had some big league time this year. At each and every game you played, it was so competitive and it was such an awesome time. It just pumped me up for more competitive baseball like that next season."
The Rockies credit the 22-year-old with a growth mind-set, seeing him as a player who has always looked to find ways to get better in any circumstances.
"He's a relentless worker, man. And one of those things that you see a lot of guys that have a lot of success in this game: he's just relentless," Everson said. "He's going to do his thing and then go trust himself when the game starts."
Getting his feet wet against strong opponents this fall, Doyle is looking forward to making his full-season debut after the uncertainty of this year.
"I know all of us are going to be ready for it," he said. "Nothing's going to change. We're just going to get there and we're going to do the best we can."
Andrew Battifarano is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter, @AndrewAtBatt.