All eyes are going to be on Hand’s Scott Braren this spring.
The senior center fielder has a Division I baseball scholarship in his pocket and will be the guy other team’s will try to keep off the base paths. Yet, Braren is hoping that there’s enough protection in the lineup where other teams will be forced to pitch to him.
“I don’t think teams will be able to avoid me this year,” said the lefty-swinging Braren, who will attend Boston College this fall. “They have a No. 2 and No. 4 hitter they have to pitch to. Last year, we didn’t have that luxury, and in the first few games, I was a wreck and let the whole hype get to me. Towards the end of the year, I was better.”
The Tigers went 10-10 during in the regular season last spring before being ousted by Bunnell, 6-1, in the first round of the CIAC Class L tournament.
While Braren’s 2013 season was a bit below his average, he was often pitched around as teams wouldn’t let him beat them. Still, he hit .355 with nine doubles, one home run, 13 RBIs and 16 walks.
This spring, protection won’t be a problem.
With third baseman Ray Miklos hitting in front of him and ace pitcher/second baseman Reed Smith (who was hurt last year) behind him, teams will have to pitch to Braren.
“When I was a freshman, no one knew who I was, so they threw to me,” Braren said. “Last year, I realized I had to open up my zone, hit the ball the other way, be patient and take more walks.”
Braren has started in every game of his high school career, which is rare. But his statistics bore out just how valuable he is to the Tigers. In 68 games over three seasons, Braren has hit .358 with 19 doubles, five triples, five home runs, 64 runs scored and 38 RBIs. He has also reached base at a .510 clip, while his slugging percentage is .590.
“He has such a presence when he gets into the batter’s box,” Hand coach Travis LaPointe said. “He has great bat control, hands and a great batter’s eye. He also knows the strike zone so well that it sometimes gets him into trouble. He thinks it’s a pro strike zone and the high school zone is bigger.”
Braren committed to Boston College early, having made his decision in his sophomore year.
“Early in my high school years, my dad and I went to five or six BC games, so it was always one of my top choices even before I got recruited,” he said. “When they offered me a scholarship, it was a dream come true and was too hard for me to turn it down.”
Other schools interested in him were Connecticut, Rhode Island and Marist.
It will be a huge step up for Braren at Boston College as the Eagles play conference games against the likes of perennial national powers Florida State, Georgia Tech, Clemson, Miami and North Carolina. This summer, he’ll prepare by playing for Nashua, N.H., in the Futures Collegiate Baseball League, which is a couple of steps below the Cape Cod League. Each team is allowed two players just out of high school.
“That will be my test and I can see where I stand with college-level pitching,” Braren said. “From there, I have to work hard to face top-notch pitching.”
During batting practice, LaPointe works with Braren on hitting the outside pitch.
“I work on the outside corner with him, but high school pitchers will make plenty of mistakes for Scott to hit,” LaPointe said.
Braren is also the first to admit that he needs to work on his approach at the plate when he sees left-handed pitchers.
“I’m never happy when lefties step on the mound,” Braren said. “It’s a lot easier to hit right-handed pitchers. There are so many righties that you get thrown off when you see a lefty pitcher. I think with the left-handed arm slot, you think the ball is coming at you a little bit and you end up not having the same stride.”
Last summer, Braren saw a better diet of lefties while playing for the Connecticut Bombers.
“I faced a lot of good competition and saw some pretty legit lefties,” Braren said. “I also need to work on hitting the outside pitch and strengthen my arm.”
Continuing to work. Something Braren keeps on doing just to get better. No wonder he’s one of the best players in the state.