How does a freshman manage to post a .483 batting average in one of the most competitive baseball conferences in the country?
Just ask Brett Bartles.
“I relax my hands and get my front foot down,” Bartles said. “You can’t start your swing until your front foot is down. Once that’s down, you just react and hit the ball. Just try to square it up on the barrel.”
This seemingly simple strategy has helped the rookie infielder emerge as the most dangerous offensive threat on the baseball team. Bartles currently leads the team in total hits and RBIs, earning 23 and 15, respectively.
“[He’s] been unbelievable offensively,” head coach Bill Hillier said. “I can’t remember ever having a freshman that’s come out of the shoot the way he has.”
Hitting has always been the strong point of the North Carolina native’s game. In his senior year at A.L. Brown high school, Bartles earned him a place on the second squad of the 2004 North Carolina All-Impact Team.
Even though Bartles enjoyed success in his high school career, however, the infielder says his swing has improved since coming to Duke.
“I’m seeing the ball well right now,” Bartles said. “I’ve never really hit so much before in my life. Before, I’d foul [pitches] off in high school or summer ball. Now, whenever I see a good pitch, I usually hit it. I don’t foul it off.”
A three-sport athlete in high school, the freshman is now able to focus solely on baseball for the first time. Despite participating in both football and basketball, however, Bartles always considered baseball his main sport.
“My mom went to college to play basketball, and my dad went to college to play football,” Bartles said. “I really didn’t want to have to live in their shadows, so I played baseball.”
Bartles said that the opportunity to concentrate on one sport has allowed him to improve his offensive performance drastically.
Assistant coach John Yurkow has been working with the freshman’s swing all year. Bartles said that the extra practice has helped him to refine his perception at the plate.
Get Overtime, all Duke athletics
Signup for our editorially curated, weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.
“Now I can really see and slow the pitch down,” Bartles said. “A 90 mile-per-hour fastball isn’t blowing me away.”
Though Bartles has not shown any sign of freshman jitters in his offensive production, his defensive performance suffered early in the year at the shortstop position. Duke’s top hitter has committed a team-worst 7 errors on the season.
“I think the reason I would mess up the routine play is because I’d try to speed everything up and not take my time and focus,” Bartles said. “The plays that I didn’t have time to think about, like in the hole or up the middle, I fielded them at a pretty high percentage. It’s just the plays that I let get in my head.”
Due to the freshman’s miscues, Hillier moved Bartles from shortstop to first base. Since relocating to first base, Bartles has increased his fielding percentage to a respectable .939 and has gained greater confidence on the field.
“I think a lot of my fielding problems came from me thinking ‘I’m in the ACC,’” Bartles said. “That really got in my head for a little while. Now, after being on the field and seeing what the competition's like for a while, I really feel comfortable out there.”
Like his approach to batting, the freshman’s perception of his stellar season thus far is deceptively simple.
“The season’s been pretty cut-and-dry,” Bartles said. “ I just go out there and do the job and let it fall into place.”