By Maureen Mullen
CSNNE.com Follow @maureenamullen
After being selected with the Red Sox top three picks in the 2010 draft, Kolbrin Vitek, Bryce Brentz, and Anthony Ranaudo found themselves together in Low-A Lowell late last summer. Ranaudo, a right-hander who was a late sign, didnt pitch for the Spinners last season, while Vitek, a second baseman at Ball State, was learning his new position third base, and Brentz, was playing all three outfield positions.
This season, the trio is together again, with the High-A Salem Red Sox.
Vitek, the Sox No. 1 pick and 20th overall last year, began the season in Salem, while Brentz (2nd36th) earned a promotion from Greenville on May 21, and Ranaudo (3rd39th) was promoted from Greenville on May 31.
Vitek was promoted from Lowell to Greenville in late August last season after leading the Spinners with an OPS of .781. He entered Thursdays game against Kinston with an eight-game hitting streak, in which he is batting .424 (14-for-33). Vitek -- who signed with the Sox in mid-June, just a few weeks after the 2010 draft, for a 1.359 million bonus -- is third in the Carolina League with a .289 average (121-for-419) with two home runs and 34 RBI.
Brentz was promoted from Greenville to Salem on May 21. Before his promotion, Brentz hit .359 with a league-leading 11 home runs and 36 RBI in 40 games for the Drive. Last season, Brentz, who signed in June for a bonus of 889,200, led Lowell with 39 RBI in 69 games. Entering Thursdays game, he was tied for fourth in the Carolina League with 15 home runs, giving him 26 total in 90 games this season.
Ranaudo, the 6-feet-7 right-hander out of Louisiana State, who signed with the Sox for a 2.55 million bonus at the Aug. 16 deadline last season, did not pitch for the Spinners last year, making his professional debut this season with Greenville this season. He was promoted to Salem on May 31 after going 4-1 with a 3.33 ERA (17 earned runs in 46 innings) in 10 starts with the Drive.
Salem manager Bruce Crabbe had all three while managing Lowell last season. Hes happy with the progress the three have made. But, of course, they each have room for improvement.
Im very positive on all three of these guys, Crabbe said. Its your typical case of young, still have room to grow, and get better' prospects. They have shown flashes of brilliance and have shown signs of still being human and needing to develop more.
Which is only to be expected for players who are in their first full professional seasons. Still, its a matter of how they handle that adversity and make adjustments both mentally and physically that can define players.
Absolutely, said Crabbe, who is in his seventh season with the organization, serving as the minor league infield coordinator prior to managing Lowell last season.
Its a combination of both, he said. Its having the experience of seeing it happen physically, which puts the right mental thoughts in your mind also, and remembering how it was done. So when he gets it again and gets the reps continuously, then he starts seeing the results.
Vitek, who was drafted as a second baseman out of Ball State, was converted to third base with the Sox, the only position he has played as a professional. Its a work in process. He has 27 errors in 251 chances for a fielding percentage of .892 this season.
Hes come a long way at third base, but still has a long way to go, said one scout.
And with just two home runs and 28 extra-base hits in 107 games, the lack of power has surprised some observers.
The first month was a pretty big adjustment for me, especially with the pitchers, said Vitek, who turned 22 in April. Its a pretty good pitchers league. So I started off struggling a bit and then got the hang of it and started to relax a little bit more and kind of stopped pressing and started trusting myself a little bit more and fell into a groove with the league and finally got comfortable. Its been a lot of fun for me so far. Ive enjoyed this league and this part of the country. Its been a big learning experience for me, being my first full season, just learning how to maintain my body and things like that and just getting into that all-summer-long routine.
Im feeling a lot more comfortable at third base than I ever have. Its been a lot of hard work, taking extra ground balls and things like that. Thats part of the job, part of coming out here every day, and just spending time on making yourself better with your weaknesses things like that. So Ive had a lot of fun doing that and I am feeling a lot more comfortable there.
Third base has been more of an adjustment than he originally thought it might be.
Yeah, absolutely, he said. Theres a lot more with the position that Ive had to learn than I ever thought with the footwork, and the positioning, and the angles towards the ball, and everything. Its been a lot of hard work but I feel like Ive come along way and learned a lot about the position.
Crabbe has been pleased with what hes seen from Vitek this season.
Hes top five average in the league, Crabbe said. Ive seen a very good progression at third base. From where he started with me last year, hes made very good strides, even though hes got 27 errors at third. But for playing the number of games -- hes played in over 100 games --hes shown durability. The ability to hit for average, in a very tough hitters league. Hes shown the ability to sustain through adversity defensively and make progress in that same aspect.
This season Salems last regular-season game is Sept. 5 has given Vitek goals to focus on for the offseason and next year.
Id just like to improve on my strength and maybe add a few pounds to my structure, said Vitek, listed at 6-feet-2, 195 pounds. And keep working on third base and my glove work there. Definitely my hitting. Maybe try to add a little more power for next year, increase my power numbers at the plate a little bit maybe instead of just being a singles base-hitter to multiple bases. But mostly just my strength and stamina and body structure.
Brentz, a right fielder with a strong arm, has also had to make adjustments to the higher level. Despite going 7-for-12 with a home run and four RBI in his last four games, Brentz, out of Middle Tennessee State, is batting .259, 100 points below his average in Salem.
Hes got real good raw power. His home runs are not cheapies, said the scout. Hes got a big swing and can be pitched to, but the ball comes off his bat really good. He can be a bit of an adventure in the outfield.
Brentz, who was set back several weeks by an injury to his left wrist shortly after his May promotion, has already made adjustments this season. In 69 games with Lowell last year, he hit just .198.
Brentz came up here and started out like gang busters and then got hurt, Crabbe said. The wrist issue set him back about three weeks and then came back an struggled a little bit, trying to get his timing back and his rhythm, and then finally kind of got back in the swing of things. Hes showed streaks of power potential and has put together short stints of flash but hasnt shown the consistency as far as hitting for average.
Whats next for Brentz in the learning process?
Consistency, Crabbe said. A consistent approach, a consistent day-in and day-out approach. Its definitely there. But the consistency of doing the same things day in and day out at the plate, knowing your limitations and staying within yourself.
Which Brentz has been figuring out.
Im really aggressive, he said. I try to do too much in the box. Ill try to hit a ball 900 feet when I see a hanging breaking ball or a fastball, instead of just putting a nice swing on it and just putting the barrel to it. Thats always been my Achilles heel. When I first got drafted and got into the system I was a really high-effortenergy person and thats how I am now. So just kind of calm that down. My hitting instructors for both teams, Salem and Greenville, theyll say the same thing: Stay calm, stay relaxed, just let your ability take over. And thats what weve been trying to do. Its been successful. Were still in A-ball. Were not where we want to be, in Boston in the big leagues. But its a process, and thats part of me learning about myself down here. Even when I get in slumps, dont try to do more, dont try to do less. Just be relaxed and take a deep breath. Step in the batters box and just play.
Hes got a really good curveball. Its a big league out pitch, the scout said. His fastball has been about 89-91, and he gets up to 92-93 when he gets in trouble. He has a tendency to overstride, so hes throwing uphill. But when hes right, hes really good.
But, like Vitek and Brentz, Ranaudos season has not been without some adversity. In 12 starts spanning 63 innings with Salem since his promotion, Ranaudo is 3-5 with a 4.86 ERA and a 1.349 WHIP. In his last 10 starts, he is 2-4 with a 5.29 ERA, with opposing batters hitting him at a .281 mark.
This has been a definite challenge for him, Crabbe said. To go into his first full year at this level, hes responded well. Hes made improvements. Hes had some tough outings and hes had some success. Hes shown overpowering stuff at times and inconsistencies at times. Hes shown the ability to locate and hes shown the inability to locate.
Its been a good year for him. Hes shown a lot of positives, and what its going to take. Its been definitely a tougher year than I think he thought it was going to be. I think he was challenged a lot more than expectations. I think hes met a lot of the challenges, dont get me wrong. But its been a definite challenging year for him at this level. Its a long season. This kids a workhorse and he wants the ball. He loves the work. He loves the challenge. I think hes been frustrated with not having more success possibly. But I think its good for kids to be challenged, and hes been challenged right off the bat.
Those challenges give a young player an opportunity to learn a great deal not only about the game but also about himself.
Absolutely, Crabbe said. Hes learned an immense amount of things, and not that hes had a lot of failure, but i think the limited amount of time that hes been here hes been able to see what its going to take in the future, in a long season, in adversity, and what its going to take to have success.
Which is what ever young player wants to see.
Maureen Mullen is on Twitter at http:twitter.commaureenamullen.