Wednesday, March 5, 2014
Brentz working hard to make an impression
By Gordon Edes
JUPITER, Fla. -- "My brother got all the size," Bryce Brentz says. "I'm the runt of the family."
Six-foot-four Jared Brentz has at least four inches over his twin brother, and a build that bears a greater resemblance to Charlie Brentz, their father who played football both ways for the Mississippi State Bulldogs.
Bryce Brentz boasts good power but needs to develop more plate discipline.
Both Bryce and Jared can hit a round ball a long way. Jared is a long-drive champion in golf. Bryce hits baseballs for a living, and after putting up monster numbers in college at Middle Tennessee State, he's looking to find permanent employment with the Red Sox, who don't have an outfield job open at the moment but could be looking for help later this summer. Two home runs in the first week of exhibition play is a fine way of getting yourself noticed, and on Tuesday in Jupiter, Bryce also threw a runner out at third base from right field.
Last spring, no one was expecting Jackie Bradley Jr. to win a job out of camp, either, so Brentz said he and fellow outfielder Alex Hassan, who figure to continue their apprenticeship in Pawtucket, know that they might be one injury away from a big league call-up.
"Yeah, you get to this point, we know it's there," Brentz said the other day. "Jackie had a great spring training, and boom, he's up there. Guys like Hass and I are working hard. We've got to be ready if our name is called."
There's something else, by the way, you should probably know about the Brentz twins, which might shed some insight into how competitive they are. Jared had both of his feet amputated as a child. He was born with a rare disease called arthrogryposis, which left him with club feet. Bryce was delivered first. Jared, as he has described it, was tucked in under his mother Cyndi's ribs.
"Basically his knees were up in his chest," Bryce said.
By the age of 9, Jared had undergone three surgeries. When he was 12, he elected amputation, which in his mind was better than the alternatives, winding up in a wheelchair or walking freakishly.
Now, with prosthetics, he's hitting drives 350 yards and longer and winning national amputee long drive competitions. He's also working for a security firm while pursuing a degree in criminal justice with a concentration in homeland security at Middle Tennessee State.
He and Bryce give each other no quarter, which is about the way it's always been.
"I never saw my brother as handicapped," Bryce said. "Four months after his [amputation] surgery, he was still rehabbing, and had a cast on his feet up to his knees. He was in a wheelchair, and he threw me a ball.
"I had to kind of jump for it, and I got mad. I threw it at him kind of hard and it hit him in the chest. We always competed. Sometimes we wanted to kill each other, like most brothers. I never treated him as handicapped, and he doesn't want to be treated that way. Most of the time you can't tell he's a double amputee."
Brentz hopes to follow good friend Jackie Bradley's Jr.'s path to the big leagues.
Does anyone doubt that Jared Brentz was among those who gave Bryce an earful about what happened last February when Brentz, a first-round sandwich pick in 2010 who had been invited to his first big league camp, shot himself in the thigh with a handgun? It happened, Bryce said, while he was cleaning the gun.
It was only a minor wound, but the Red Sox rescinded their invitation. Brentz remained in the minor league clubhouse, except for the odd summons to be an extra player in an exhibition game.
"Everyone killed me," he said. "I killed myself. We kind of joked about it, too, just to get over it. The jokes were worse than the experience.
"It's done, it's in the past. I'm glad nothing bad happened. I have to laugh at myself. The Red Sox had to make their decision and I respected it, I understood it. It was my mistake, and I had to take responsibility, own up to it."
Mistake acknowledged, career resumed. Brentz's summer was interrupted by an injury to his right knee that required surgery to repair a torn meniscus, but despite playing just 88 games, he hit 19 home runs (including two he hit while rehabbing in the Gulf Coast League), tied for most in the Sox minor league system.
In four minor league seasons, the right-handed hitting Brentz is averaging one home run per every 21.6 at-bats. Compare that to Will Middlebrooks, who is valued for his right-handed power. In the minors, Middlebrooks averaged a home run every 27.88 at-bats.
What remains to be seen is whether Brentz can harness his aggressiveness into greater plate discipline. Last season, in 349 plate appearances in Pawtucket, he struck out 86 times while drawing just 20 walks. He's aware of what he needs to do. It was what he tried to do playing for Escogido in the Dominican winter league, though he ran into a problem not uncommon for a first-time visitor.
"I was sick the first couple of weeks, getting used to the food and water," he said. "I was out of my element.
"But I worked on my defense and I worked on seeing a lot of pitches, which is not my nature. I didn't have results hitting-wise, but I got to do some work that helped."
That work continues in the Sox clubhouse, where he sits next to Bradley Jr., with whom he has forged a close relationship as they came up in the minors.
"Me and him, we have that type of bond, we're almost like brothers," Bradley Jr., says. "We can bicker and argue -- we don't really argue, but we're so comfortable with each other we can talk to each other about anything. We joke around about this and that; other people might take offense to it but that's just how close we've become.
"And as a ballplayer, he has raw talent, extreme power. The ball sounds different coming off his bat. Him and [Xander] Bogaerts, it literally sounds different off his bat."
It's a sound yet to be heard off Brentz's bat in Boston. But keep your ear to the ground. It's getting closer.