PAWTUCKET — For a different change of pace, Bryce Brentz is garnering more headlines for his nifty glovework than his ability to deposit souvenirs over the fence.
Long known as a power hitter with a strong arm, the PawSox outfielder is doing his best to bring attention to his defense. With two down in the fifth inning of Monday’s game against Syracuse, Brentz robbed Eury Perez of surefire extra bases as he went full extension on a sinking liner in the left-center field gap.
Initially, Brentz retreated back a few steps in left field before turning on the afterburners. A righty, the 25-year-old placed his body in perfect position that all that remained was to see whether Perez’s hard smash would somehow nestle into his mitt.
At the time, Syracuse had a runner at third base with Pawtucket protecting a 2-1 lead. Instead of scoring the tying run and having the potential go-ahead run in scoring position, the Chiefs could only watch and marvel at what had taken place.
“The time before, Eury had hit one to me. It was a low line drive and with runners on first and second and less than two outs,” Brentz explained. “If I dive for that one and make a catch, okay great. If it gets past me, both those runners can score. I let that one go and got it back in to (third baseman Garin) Cecchini as soon as possible. The bases were loaded, but we got out of it with a double play.”
As Brentz delved further, the circumstances in play in the fifth inning made him more inclined to take a gamble and see if he could thwart Perez.
“I saw it off the bat very well and knowing that (Pawtucket pitcher Chris Hernandez) likes to throw cutters to right-handed hitters, I just kept trusting my route,” said Brentz.
Monday’s grab represents one of several noteworthy catches Brentz has made during the season’s opening week. On Tuesday, PawSox manager Kevin Boles talked about just how far Brentz has come as a defender. It’s a subject that Boles is more than qualified to talk about, given that he had Brentz for 122 games in Double-A Portland during the 2012 season.
“The game awareness has really picked up just from seeing him a few years ago in Portland to now,” said Boles before getting in specific areas where Brentz has made significant growth. “From positioning to looking at the center fielder and working in tandem with him to backing up bases, he’s doing the little things and managing the game within the game. Obviously the arm strength is there, but the first step quickness, you saw that along with the athleticism (Monday night).”
Broached about his recent string of web gems, Brentz came across as someone who believes that he’s only just begun to scratch the surface.
“It’s something that I’ve been working on since pretty much being in pro ball,” Brentz pointed out. “I’ve always been labeled as a power hitter and not known for my defense, but I’m trying to become a complete player. A lot of hard work has been paying off, but by no means do I have it figured out.”
A center fielder in high school and his first two years in college, Brentz was moved to the corners during his junior year at Middle Tennessee State University. These days, he’s a diligent worker who understands that the only way to get better is by developing a pregame routine that allows you to enter the game with the utmost confidence.
“If you watch during batting practice, he’s taking extra fungos and doing the touch throws … it’s not just all muscle and airing it out every time. There’s a lot of things going well for him these days,” Boles noted. “Becoming a quality defender takes time. It’s not something that happens overnight for players, but what’s happening with Bryce is not by accident. It’s a process that if you’re paying attention to what your teammates are doing and your routines, it’s something you can move ahead with.”
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03