MURFREESBORO, Tenn.—Looking for the best player in college baseball this season? Might want to schedule a trip to Middle Tennessee State.
If two-way standout Bryce Brentz isn’t hands-down the top player in the country, the junior is on the short list.
As a sophomore, Brentz led the nation in home runs and batting average as well as slugging percentage and total bases, while winning five games and posting a respectable 4.57 earned run average as the Blue Raiders’ Friday night starter. He backed up his spring performance by batting .366, hitting a pair of homers and driving in 18 runs over 23 games with Team USA, along with posting a 5.40 ERA in five relief appearances.
“When you play as competitive a schedule as we play and lead baseball in home runs and batting and all that other stuff . . . he’s pretty good,” veteran MTSU coach Steve Peterson said. “When pro scouts talk about ‘five-tool players,’ he’s got all five tools.
“His ability to hit the ball out of the park—I’ve never coached a guy that consistently gets backspin on the ball like he does.”
Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin can attest to Brentz’s talent at the plate. In four games against the Commodores last season, the Knoxville, Tenn., native went 8-for 16 with three home runs and eight RBIs.
“When you’re comparing players you see on the opposition, I don’t think there’s any doubt he’s as good as any player—whether he’s from Arizona State, UCLA, Cal State Fullerton or LSU,” Corbin said. “It doesn’t matter what world he’s playing in or what playground he’s playing on, he’s one of the best if not the best on that playground. You can move that playground from Nashville to Fullerton and he’d be just as good on that playground. “Not only can he play for anyone, but in certain cases, particularly as an offensive player, he can dominate for anyone. He’s got that type bat.”
Although Corbin said Brentz would be a viable pitcher for any team in the country, it’s his bat that motivates baseball people to draw some rather daunting parallels for the modestly built Blue Raider.
“He’s old school,” Peterson said of the 6-foot, 190-pounder, who bats and throws righthanded. “He’s built like Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays. He’s got that framework. He’s what baseball players were prototypically. We never have pushed him as hard on the weights because he’s had to do so much for us, but he’s definitely a guy who will get stronger.”
As indicated by his numbers last season, when he had only one more strikeout (32) than he had walks, Brentz is hardly an all-or-nothing offensive threat.
“He’s not only a power hitter, but he’s a hitter,” Corbin said. “He’s a hitter who can hit and has power. He’s a true combination of strengths. Mays wasn’t that big, either.
“Those pure hitters have strength in their hands and they have a knack for the barrel going directly to the ball. They’re a complete package in terms of timing, strength and athleticism that gets rolled into one, and from that you see their gift. Those guys are unique. They hit with their hands, and they have an innate ability to put the barrel to the ball consistently.”
Taking Center Stage
Those guys were all center fielders as well—something that Brentz also will be able to say if Peterson has his way.
The plan for the spring is to move Brentz from a corner into the middle. To accommodate that transition, he will also come out of the rotation and move into the closer’s role for MTSU.
“The last time I played center field full-time was my junior year in high school,” Brentz said. “I know there are going to be questions, but if I can cover ground and make the plays, I think it’ll help me out in the draft.
“Hitting is something I take pride in. The pressure’s on my defensive game—my reads, my routes. You can only do so much with athletic ability. I don’t get to take as many fly balls as other outfielders because I’m doing (pitcher fielding practice). I think my work needs to be done on the defensive side.”
On the mound, Brentz is set to replace MTSU’s single-season saves leader, Coty Woods. “We’ll have to see how our weekend staff goes,” he said. “There’s no set schedule. You have no idea when you’re going to come in. But I think that fits my mentality perfectly.”
Peterson said while Brentz won’t likely be evaluated as a pitcher, what he shows in that role will impact his draft status.
“I think you can really find out what kind of competitor somebody is on the pitching mound,” Peterson said. “(Pro scouts) will still be able to see that. But they’re all interested in him as a hitter.”
Maurice Patton covers college baseball for The (Nashville) Tennessean.