Brent Clevlen started out the 2006 season with high hopes. He was coming off of a stellar 2005 campaign, one which ended with a Florida State League MVP and had earned him a promotion to AA Erie. Most believed that the worst was behind him, and that his talent and athleticism should serve him well in the new league. Unfortunately for Detroit, the SeaWolves and for Brent, that never happened.
The player ranked eighth in TigsTown.com's pre-season Top 50 has had a rough year so far. Clevlen's offensive numbers, both for power and average, are down, and he has been unable to meet the raised expectations he set for himself after 2005.
Though he would not say that the pressure of being a highly-touted prospect was affecting his game, he did admit that he may be "pressing" during certain situations, and that he has found himself "trying to do too much" throughout the season.
"I'm just trying to find my swing," he says. "I'm trying some new things at the plate, but all I can really do is never give up and keep playing hard."
If the outfielder is to hit his way out of this slump, he owes a lot to the patience of the club and the confidence they have in him as a player. Instead of dealing with the situation with a benching or a demotion, the coaches have continued let him play, hoping that this is just a rough stretch for someone who could develop into a very productive ballplayer in the future.
"It definitely helps a lot," Clevlen explains. "That's how you get out of something like this—you keep playing." Both Brent and the guys in charge believe that he's not going to fix anything by sitting in the dugout.
An excellent athlete, Clevlen has had some trouble converting his athleticism into results on the diamond. According to him, the difference between an athlete and a ballplayer is one thing—"Consistency." "It's all about repeating the good things and not repeating the bad."
Brent's main problem, however, has been his streakiness. Starting three seasons ago, Clevlen has alternated good and bad years. Scouts had believed that 2005 was a sign that the young player had fully recovered from an ugly 2004, but that was before this summer's struggles. Though Clevlen has shown some of power people had expected from him in the last few weeks, it remains to be seen if he can keep that going and bring his whole to game to the park on a daily basis.
Despite the lower numbers, 2006 may prove to be a blessing in disguise for the young player. Another main knock on Clevlen had been his lack of mental toughness, but after going through a long slump for the second time in his short career, he has been able to focus on the game and deal with the situation very maturely.
"I've been really working on not getting to down on myself," he says. "That's the hardest thing in baseball—the mental part." Continuing, he explains, "It's not going to feel good every day, but you have to just keep battling through."
This maturity has allowed him to remain confident in his ability while everything else seems to be going against him. He still believes that he can play baseball at a high level and knows that he's only a few swings from turning this disappointing season around. "It's a game of breaks, and a few breaks can make a big difference."
But don't expect him to sit around and wait around for these breaks to find him. He'll be in the cages, talking to his coaches or doing anything else he can think of to help him get back to the level of play where he belongs. And, as Clevlen and the Tigers hope, 2006 in Erie will be remembered as just a minor bump on the road of the career of a solid ballplayer. If his start in Detroit is any indication, it will be.