SARASOTA, Fla. — Hey, did you hear the one about the baseball prospect who shot himself in the leg right before spring training and couldn’t play?
Bryce Brentz was the punch line of a lot of bad jokes in January when the handgun he was cleaning accidentally discharged and a bullet passed through his left leg. But there was nothing funny about the missed opportunity.
Instead of attending spring training with the Red Sox and getting a chance to advance in the organization, Brentz was left with two wounds and a lot of explaining to do.
“It’s one of those things you have to deal with. I couldn’t put my phone down because it was ringing so much. It was a bad two days,” the 24-year-old outfielder said. “But that’s part of life in these days of social media. Everybody knew what happened.”
Brentz tried to convince the Red Sox that he was healthy enough to attend spring training by showing up in Fort Myers in early February. But his invitation had been rescinded.
“I know that I messed up. I hate that I put the Red Sox in that situation. I respect their decision and I understand it,” he said.
On Friday, Brentz was called up from minor league camp to start in right field in the first game of a split-squad doubleheader. He showed the Red Sox what he was capable of in the fifth inning, driving an 0-and-2 pitch from Luis Ayala well over the fence in left field.
“Happy to be up here,” Brentz said after the Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles played to a 3-3 tie in 10 innings. “He threw a sinker and I got it. It didn’t sink that much and I put a good swing on it.”
Brentz will join the Red Sox again on Saturday for their game against Tampa Bay and one day could be their right fielder. He hit .296 with an .833 OPS for Double A Portland last season and earned a promotion to Pawtucket.
Brentz was a force in the International League playoffs, going 8 for 24 with three doubles, a triple, two home runs, and five RBIs as the PawSox won the championship.
“I needed a couple of games to get situated in Pawtucket,” Brentz said. “At first I was trying to do too much and I needed to get calmed down. But once I started playing a normal game it clicked for me and was just baseball.
“The playoffs were awesome; it was a great experience. We had a great bunch of guys. It carried over into the offseason for me. It was my first time in the postseason and it was a lot of fun.”
Because of his power and strong arm, Brentz profiles well as a right fielder and will play that position for Pawtucket to start the season. He has improved his plate discipline with age and isn’t as easily fooled by breaking pitching or lulled into trying to pull every pitch.
“There are indicators of what type of discipline he does have. But I think as you mature as a hitter, that’s going to take some time. That’s not an overnight thing,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said.
Farrell is eager to get a better look at Brentz, particularly given how valuable a commodity power is. He also likes Brentz’s personality.
“He is very headstrong. Strong competitor. You like that directness about him. He’s not afraid to speak his mind and he believes in himself,” Farrell said.
The gun incident was humbling. After a standout career at Middle Tennessee State and being selected with the 36th overall pick of the 2010 draft, Brentz advanced steadily with the Red Sox. Then he became the subject of ridicule.
“It’s a life lesson. Sometimes you have to learn the hard way. You learn and you move on,” he said. “It’s motivation, too, because I missed out on the big league camp opportunity. Inside you feel like, ‘I want to get back out there and show them what I can do with the opportunity.’ But you can’t make it all up at once.”
As Brentz was left contemplating his mistake, former Portland teammate Jackie Bradley Jr. has been the star of camp.
“Jackie’s a great player, unbelievable player. He’s having a big impact on the team and people who have watched him play knew that he would,” Brentz said. “I saw it last year. I think we all expected that from Jackie.”
Said Bradley: “It’s great to be on the field with him again. Bryce was tremendous last season. I hope we play together a long time.”
Farrell was impressed with the swing he saw from Brentz.
“Power is certainly there. We’ll get a chance to see him a couple of more times before we break camp,” Farrell said.
Brentz, more than ever, appreciates the chance.
“I feel fine now, everything is back to normal. I just want to play baseball and forget about what happened,” he said. “I made a mistake and I paid a price. Now I want to play some baseball and show people what I’m really about.”