Boston Red Sox top prospect Bryce Brentz rebounded from a difficult short season debut in 2010 to explode for 30 home runs across two single-A levels during the 2011 season. His outburst has left prospect followers envisioning an answer to the Red Sox right field problem by as early as 2013. In scouting Brentz, the concept of age-versus-level is an important consideration as 22-year old high round college picks are generally expected to devour that level of competition. In Brentz’ case, the video game power numbers make it quite difficult to assess his true skill level and if/how his bat will play at the game’s highest level.
With this being keeper and dynasty league draft season, January/February of each year is really the only time I’ll binge on prospect lists to gain an edge come draft time. For the past few weeks, seeing Bryce Brentz listed on Red Sox top-10 lists was certainly not unexpected, but the number of overall top-100 rankings Brentz has achieved is borderline shocking. Is Brentz a “guy”? Sure, but the next contact I speak to who views him as an impact bat will be the first.
Listed at 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, Brentz is well-proportioned and appears close to fully developed. As an athlete, the phrase “solid, but unspectacular” comes to mind as Brentz looks the part of future big leaguer, but nothing really struck me as exciting or worth mentioning in depth from a physical standpoint. Quite honestly, once the first pitch was thrown, teammate Brandon Jacobs stood out as a physical presence while Brentz faded into the background.
At the plate, Brentz showed patience and did not chase fringe breaking balls out of the strike zone. On a few occasions, he offered at fastballs up and displayed a hit tool with more swing-and-miss than I was expecting to see. Additional length was noticeable in the back of his swing leading to more drag than wrist snap through the strike zone. Brentz’ hips also appeared to open early which contributes to the perceived drag and swing length. The sum total of swing parts raised red flags for me as more advanced pitching will exploit Brentz’ swing forcing him to cheat on better velocity to compensate. Those precious hundredths of a second will also negatively effect his ability to sit back on breaking pitches leaving Brentz little more than a guess hitter.
After a promotion to high-A, Brentz’ strikeout totals spiked to nearly 25% hinting at this coming to fruition considering he struck out as a sub-19% clip in Greenville. Small sample size aside, another 6% increase in double-A would be a crushing blow to his prospect status and is in the realm of possibility. Of course the beauty of off-season instructs is that these issues are addressed during that time and Brentz may very well present as an improved hitter this spring.
A good comparison in this case would be Diamondbacks Paul Goldschmidt who posted eerily similar peripherals at 22 in high-A leading to the same types of question marks surfacing during the off-season. The Diamondback player development staff overhauled Goldschmidt’s swing mechanics drastically simplifying his approach to spectacular results. His walk rates jumped, his strike out rates plummeted, and the shortened swing path allowed him to better identify pitches without losing much, if any power production.
On defense, Brentz simply was not tested, but his lack of game speed may eventually lead to a move to left field. For now, right field is a comfortable home, but one where he projects as more average than plus at the position based on my perception of his tools. A scouting contact agrees stating, “nothing really stood out, but he showed confidence in tracking balls towards the wall. As a 45ish runner, he should be okay, but not above average in right.”
In terms of speed, Brentz simply doesn’t have any real usable game speed which presently rates as below average. Based on his body type, he’s likely to slow down with age and his legs may become a liability which will need to be offset by base running skill and defensive positioning/strong route running.
Ultimately, Bryce Brentz is a good, but not great prospect who does not scout as well as the numbers would indicate. Beating up on inferior pitching, 30 home runs looks awfully impressive on paper, but loses much of it’s luster in context. This leaves Brentz being viewed more as a player with a ceiling falling somewhere between fourth outfielder and average regular depending on how much one believes in his ability to adjust at the upper levels and tweak his hitting mechanics.
Fortunately for Brentz and the Red Sox, the aforementioned Goldschmidt has laid out a strong blueprint for success as a player who took many of the same knocks as a prospect, but overcame and developed into a viable big leaguer much more quickly than was first envisioned.
With lofty rankings already being assigned to the young right fielder, it appears as if prospect analysts are more bullish on Brentz than Goldschmidt at the same point in time. However, drastic improvements like those Goldschmidt attained in the areas of strikeout and walk rates are rare and Brentz’ path to Boston may have more potholes along the way than prospect followers expect.