Valentine impressed with Brentz

695048.jpg

Valentine impressed with Brentz

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- If the job of a young minor leaguer is to capture the attention of the big-league manager in spring training, Bryce Brentz has already succeeded.

Brentz, playing Wednesday in just his second Grapefruit League game as an extra outfielder, grabbed Bobby Valentine's manager with his only at-bat of the afternoon -- a single in the seventh inning against the Toronto Blue Jays.

Speaking about some of the younger players who filled out the lineup in a 3-3, nine-inning tie, Valentine, unprompted said: "I can tell you this, one kid is a little different: the Bryce kid, when the ball comes off his bat, it's a little different.''

Valentine said it was the second time this spring that Brentz had managed to stand out. Earlier in camp, he had noted Brentz in a group of young hitters taking batting practice.

"That means a lot,'' said Brentz afterward. "It's my first game to come up here with the big boys and for him to make a generous statement like that, it makes you feel good as a young player.''

A sandwich pick in 2010, Brent was named co-offensive player of the year in the Red Sox minor league system. He split time between Low A Greenville and High A Salem last year and hopes he might be ready to try Double A this year.

"They told me I'm competing for a spot at a higher level,'' said Brentz. "It depends on how hard I work and what I do. I think I'm ready to get up to Double A. Last year was a good seaso (at Salem), but it wasn't really that big of a difference (compared to Low A), talent-wise. I'm ready for a higher challenge, personally.''

Brentz hit 30 homers between his two stops, a huge number for the lower minors where seasons are shorter and the quality of pitching can vary greatly.

"I always had power in BP,'' said Brentz, "but in my first (pro) season, I struggled. So last year was more (a matter of) toning it down a little and getting back to basics. I didn't miss the fastball and went from there. I stayed focused and stay through the middle and not trying to hit a ball 700 feet when 400 does a pretty good job.''

OFFSEASON

Celtics interested in bringing back big man Kris Humphries

humphries_1.jpg

Celtics interested in bringing back big man Kris Humphries

Former Celtics big man Kris Humphries is among the players the Celtics are interested in bringing in via free agency, sources tell CSNNE.

The 6-foot-9 Humphries, 31, who averaged 8.4 points and 9.5 rebounds for the Celtics in 2013-14 after coming to Boston as part of the Paul Pierce-Kevin Garnett trade with the Nets, averaged 14.8 points and 9.8 rebounds for three teams (the Wizards, Suns and Hawks) last season. 

OFFSEASON

Report: Knicks, Lakers among six teams interested in Evan Turner

Report: Knicks, Lakers among six teams interested in Evan Turner

Evan Turner revived his career with the Celtics the past two years and is now drawing plenty of interest around the league as free agency opens.

The unrestricted free agent averaged 10.5 points, 4.9 rebounds and 4.4  assists as a sixth man last season with Boston. The Sporting News reports that the Knicks, Lakers, Bulls, Pelicans, Mavericks and Grizzlies are looking to bid for Turner.  

Turner earlier expressed an interest in returning to the Celtics, who have their immediate focus on meetings with Kevin Durant and Al Horford this weekend and dealing with their other free agents Amir Johnson, Jonas Jerebko and restricted free agents Jared Sullinger and Tyler Zeller, as well. 

NBA.com’s David Aldridge reports the interest between the Lakers and Turner is mutual. 

PFF: Collins is 'the best linebacker in the AFC'

collins-gallery_0.jpg

PFF: Collins is 'the best linebacker in the AFC'

He may have been left off of the NFL Network's Top 100 list, but Jamie Collins isn't flying under the radar at Pro Football Focus.

On PFF's list of the top 10 defensive players in the AFC, the Patriots linebacker came in at No. 8 and was given the description as the top linebacker in the conference.

Collins' versatility within the confines of the Patriots defense is what makes him so valuable, PFF's John Kosko explains: 

"He doesn’t dominate in any one role like Luke Kuechly does in pass coverage and run defense, but he is very good at all facets of the game. Collins has the athleticism to cover TEs and HBs effectively, the explosiveness to rush the passer, and the size and strength to defend the run. 

"The former Southern Mississippi linebacker is arguably the most versatile player in the NFL, and allows Bill Belichick to employ a defense that confuses opposing quarterbacks. With the only knock against Collins being his 34 missed tackles the past two seasons, the Patriot is the best linebacker in the AFC."

Collins graded out as the No. 5 linebacker in football last year, per PFF's numbers. He ranked behind only Carolina's Luke Kuechly, Minnesota's Anthony Barr, Indianapolis' Jerrell Freeman and Seattle's KJ Wright. 

Fellow Patriots linebacker Dont'a Hightower earned the 10th-highest grade for linebackers last season, according to PFF -- a grade that likely would have been higher had his snap-count (602 in 2015) approached that of Collins (792).

While Collins is a rare physical talent, the argument could be made that it's Hightower who is the more important player to the Patriots defense given his prowess as a pass-rusher and run-defender. He also has myriad responsibilities as the extension of the team's coaching staff in the defensive huddle. 

In order to slow down opposing passing games, many Patriots defensive packages employ either five or six defensive backs and just two linebackers. Lucky for them, they have two of the best in the conference.

Both Collins and Hightower are entering contract years this year, and finding a way to keep them in-house figures to be near the top of the list of priorities for the Patriots front office.