Bryce Brentz is a rising junior from Middle Tennessee State, and he’s expected to be a top draft choice in the 2010 draft, having already been drafted once by the Cleveland Indians in the 30th round of the 2007 draft. However, the position at which he’ll be drafted has changed. Highly touted as a pitcher entering college, Brentz has now made himself into one of the best outfield prospects in the college game. Here’s your first rundown in a series where I’ll examine a number of prospects in the 2010 draft class.
Brentz went to high school in Knoxville, Tennessee at South Doyle High School, during which he was an all-state player as a pitcher. The Indians drafted Brentz as a result of the great progress he made during his senior year, though they had no interest in him as a hitter. However, Brentz improved his hitting greatly as time went on, making himself into a starting outfielder during his freshman campaign with Middle Tennessee. He ended up starting 51 games that year, hitting .329/.404/.671, tying for the team lead in home runs with 18, and leading the team in steals with 13 in 16 attempts. However, he struck out 47 times, most on the team, compared to just 24 walks. His name was on the radar screen entering 2009, but no one expected the breakout year he had.
Armed with a guaranteed starting spot, Brentz exploded onto the major prospect scene. He finished with a .465/.535/.930 line in 230 at-bats, slugging 28 home runs, 19 doubles, and a pair of triples. His steals fell to 7 in 11 attempts, but he improved his strikeout-to-walk ratio to 32-to-31. This easily made him the best all-around statistical hitter in the country, 2009 draft class hitters included. He’s followed up his incredible regular season with a Team USA roster spot, and he’s continued to hit, probably showing the best bat of the USA hitters. Through 47 at-bats with the team, he’s hit .447/.480/.617, leading the team with 6 doubles, and he’s added a triple. However, he hasn’t hit a home run yet, and his 12-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio is again concerning. He has managed to steal 4 bases in as many attempts. On the whole, Brentz’ 2009 season has propelled him into the national spotlight, and he’s still got a pair of games in Japan and the World Baseball Challenge in Canada with Team USA to cement his status as one of the elite hitters in the 2010 draft class.
Now that we have the pure performance numbers out of the way, let’s look at how Brentz compares in the scouting community. Here’s a couple quotes in an article that essentially tells you what top prospects and coaches think of him:
"He just doesn’t get out — we can’t get him out," VU pitcher Mike Minor said. "He can hit breaking balls; he can hit fastballs. You can’t blow it by him."
"I called Team USA just to act upon Steve Peterson’s endorsement of his player," VU coach Tim Corbin, a former U.S. national team coach, said. "He’s the best hitter we’ve seen. … I think he just hits everything."
That’s the number seven pick in the 2009 draft and the coach of prospect powerhouse Vanderbilt. And that essentially sums up everything I’ve heard privately, as well. He just simply has a great bat. He’s going to hit for average, and his power, while not earth-shattering is above-average. He has fairly good pitch recognition skills, but because his bat load is deeper than most good hitters, he has to rely on his superior bat speed to make it up. He can easily do that, but it’s a concern for the long-run, as he’ll have to adjust his batting style if his bat speed ever slows down, which can be as a result of simple aging or hand and wrist injuries. All hitters and outfielders face high risk of hand and wrist injuries, so his stock could certainly fall if anything were to happen over the next 11 months. I do have concerns that he hasn’t seen enough quality breaking stuff, and like most young hitters, he sometimes gets overanxious to swing, giving away at-bats where the opposing pitcher simply wanted to walk him. That seems to be the explanation I’m getting on why his Team USA strikeout-to-walk ratio is so bad, especially in comparison to some of his teammates.
Defensively, Brentz should have no problems at a corner outfield spot. He’s definitely not a center fielder, though. He still pitches for the Blue Raiders, 88.2 innings in 2009 actually, and that’s a testament to his plus arm strength. He has fairly average range, maybe a tick above, and the arm strength plays up. I worry about him continuing to pitch, as any arm injury severely limits his value in the outfield and as an overall package, similar to how Dustin Ackley had questions about his overall value before he played some center field late in the year for UNC. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Brentz give up pitching in order to concentrate on his hitting and fielding next spring, though he’s thrown 8 innings of relief with Team USA, allowing 5 earned runs on 10 hits and 7 walks, striking out 12. As you can tell, he can be overpowering, but his command just isn’t what it should be. He’s really cheating himself by risking arm injuries, as his value lies completely in his bat.
Looking at the 2010 draft class so far, I’d say Brentz has definitely put himself right in the top ten. A good number of the top prospects entering the spring have faltered a little either in the spring season or summer, some both, while Brentz has continually moved forward. He’s now made himself arguably the best outfielder in entire 2010 draft class, with Florida State’s Tyler Holt definitely in the picture, but for different reasons. Brentz has to keep producing and stay healthy to keep his draft value, as corner outfielders generally don’t get overdrafted, and that puts a lot of pressure on him for his junior season. Draftitis is always a concern, but Brentz has continually gotten better over time, and his run with Team USA proves that he can handle himself on the same stage with big prospects from bigger programs. I have no doubt that Brentz can build on his monster sophomore campaign, ending up as a top draft pick in June 2010.