Bryce Brentz has made college baseball look like child’s play this spring.
“He has Little League statistics,” Middle Tennessee State coach Steve Peterson said. “But they’re legit. He has done it against some very good pitching, and people have thrown him a lot of challenging pitches because they know how good he is.”
Vanderbilt players and coaches are among those who are well aware of the sophomore outfielder’s abilities.
In two games against the Commodores this spring Brentz was a combined 7-for-9 with eight RBIs, four runs scored and three home runs. In the Blue Raiders’ 8-0 victory in Murfreesboro on April 7, he was a perfect 4-for-4 with two home runs, five RBIs and three runs scored.
His seven hits came against six different pitchers.
“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.”
Minor will face Brentz for the first time Friday when Vanderbilt (34-25) plays MTSU (43-16) in the opening round on an NCAA regional tournament, 2 p.m. (CDT) at Louisville. The junior left-hander will be the Commodores’ starting pitcher in that contest after having watched from the dugout during the two previous mid-week games.
Others have struggled with the right-handed slugger just as much, if not more — regardless of the day of the week.
Brentz enters the weekend with a .482 batting average in 57 games. He has 106 hits (nearly two per contest), 28 home runs and 72 RBIs.
He currently is the top hitter in Division I, 30 points higher than College of Charleston’s Joey Bergman, who is second, and is tied with Alabama’s Kent Matthes for the national lead in home runs.
“We’ve had a lot of power hitters,” Peterson, in his 22nd season at MTSU said. “He just keeps his swing on the plane of the pitch as well as anyone I’ve ever seen.
“You really see it in batting practice. There’s a lot of times you go, ‘Well, he missed that one,’ and the ball goes out of the park anyway,”
On top of all of that, Brentz also is one of the Blue Raiders’ top pitchers (5-3, 81 IP, 4.78 ERA, 57 strikeouts and 30 walks).
On Tuesday, the Knoxville native, was named a semifinalist for the USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award, which is presented annually to the top amateur baseball player in the country.
That announcement came one week after he was named the Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year and eight days after he was invited to USA Baseball National Team trials.
“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.”
It’s not as if no one knew of him previously.
Brentz was the conference Freshman of the Year and a Freshman All-American in 2008. In high school he was a preseason All-American prior to his senior year and ultimately earned all-state honors. The Cleveland Indians drafted him in the 30th round before he enrolled at MTSU.
Still, he managed to go overlooked by some.
“I’d never even heard of him until this year,” Minor said. “Some of the guys said they played with him in high school and said they didn’t see that power in high school. They saw him as a pitcher.”
Now, there’s probably not a pitcher in the country who wants to see him at the plate.
• Vanderbilt will be the only one of the four teams at the Louisville regional without a Golden Spike semifinalist. Among the 30 players on that list are two from Louisville (third baseman Chris Dominguez and pitcher Justin Marks), two from Indiana (pitcher Eric Arnett and catcher Josh Phegley) and Brentz.
• Corbin said his starting pitchers will be Minor on Friday, freshman Sonny Gray on Saturday and, if necessary, Caleb Cotham in the third contest. A decision on a fourth starter will be made if the team advances to that point.
“It lines right up the way we’d want it to,” Corbin said.
• The Commodores were 16-12 this season against teams that qualified for the NCAA tournament and 3-2 against the top eight seeds (2-1 against Florida, 1-1 against LSU).
(All times CDT)
Game 1: 3 Vanderbilt (34-25) vs. 2 Middle Tennessee (43-16), 2 p.m.
Game 2: 4 Indiana (32-25) vs. 1 Louisville (44-15), 6 p.m.
Game 3: Game 1 loser vs. Game 2 loser, 2 p.m.
Game 4: Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner, 6 p.m.
Game 5: Game 4 loser vs. Game 3 winner, 2 p.m.
Game 6: Game 4 winner vs. Game 5 winner, 6 p.m.
Game 7: Game 6 winner vs. Game 6 loser (if first loss), 6 p.m.