It’s the Year of the Bryces in the Sally League


The biggest story in the Low-A South Atlantic League has been the torrid hitting of 2010 #1 overall draft selection and Nationals super-prospect Bryce Harper.

But for all of Harper’s brilliance, did you know that he hasn’t been the best hitter in his league? In fact, he’s not even the best hitting prospect with the first name Bryce in the Sally League. Nor the second, even. I guess it’s just the Year of the Bryces!

Pirates first base prospect Matt Curry paces the SAL with a 1.148 OPS, followed quickly by Red Sox outfield prospect (and 2010 supplemental draftee) Bryce Brentz and Rockies catching prospect Bryce Massanari. Harper’s fourth.

We’ll undoubtedly cover Curry in another article, and everyone already knows about Harper, so let’s focus on the other two Bryces here.

Despite being the 36th overall selection last year, Brentz’s breakout comes as something of a surprise, since he was utterly lost in the short-season New York/Penn League last year, hitting .198/.259/.340 with 76 strikeouts in 69 games.

Of course, this isn’t the first time that a prospect’s full-season debut erases memory of a poor short-season debut (there are many other examples this year, in fact), and Brentz’s surge serves as a cautionary tale to those who write prospects off as overdrafts due to a few dozen poor games played on the heels of the grueling college season. He also had issues with contact lenses that the Red Sox tried to get him to use last year, which contributed to his struggles–the opposite of Eric Hosmer‘s well-documented pre-2010 problems, if you will.

Brentz, a solid defensive right fielder, has cut down his strikeouts to a reasonable level, and at age 22, he proved he’d mastered the SAL. The Red Sox thus promoted him to the High-A Carolina League earlier this week, and the outfielder has homered in each of his first two games there. His stock is definitely on the rise.

Massanari, on the other hand, is still a complete unknown in prospect circles, mainly because he’s a 25-year-old in the Sally League, which is never good. On the other hand, if any 25-year-old in Low-A is going to go anywhere, I’d bet on the catcher hitting .353/.435/.615. Wouldn’t you?

A 30th-round pick in 2009, Massanari made his debut in short-season ball as a 24-year-old last season and hit all of .242/.324/.374, which makes one wonder why the Rockies even brought him back this year, but clearly they saw something in him. Massanari is a solid defensive catcher who’s only allowed four passed balls in 53 career games caught, and he’s gunned down 13 of 28 (46%) runners attempting to steal.

Given Massanari’s age, it could be prudent to skip him up to Double-A right now and see if he’s for real, but the Rockies’ hands are tied in that regard due to the presence of top prospect Wilin Rosario behind the plate in Double-A Tulsa. Rosario’s batting line (.261/.298/.477) doesn’t really merit a promotion, as Triple-A Colorado Springs’ friendly environs may only exacerbate his hacktastic tendencies. In any case, Massanari’s numbers are so good, particularly for his position, that we should take him at least somewhat seriously as a prospect until he falters.

Neither Brentz nor Massanari are likely to have star careers like Harper, but they’ve certainly both improved on lackluster 2010 performances and could be interesting to watch going forward–Brentz due to his draft spot and relative youth, and Massanari due to the lack of quality bats behind the plate.