College Sports

Charlotte 49ers infielder’s goal lies beyond the buzz of his lofty MLB draft outlook

Brett Netzer has a chance to become just the second Charlotte 49ers position player ever selected in the top five rounds of the Major League Baseball draft, which begins Monday night.
Brett Netzer has a chance to become just the second Charlotte 49ers position player ever selected in the top five rounds of the Major League Baseball draft, which begins Monday night. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

After a summer in the prestigious Cape Cod League and earning third-team preseason All-America honors from Collegiate Baseball Newspaper, the attention surrounding Charlotte 49ers second baseman Brett Netzer rivaled that of any player in the program’s recent history.

Many outlets projected Netzer to be an early-round pick in the MLB draft. And amid the hype, he attempted to block out such distractions.

It’s almost like they’re way more excited about it than I am.

Brett Netzer, on his family, friends asking him about the MLB draft

Thus on Feb. 15, just two days before Charlotte’s season opener against West Virginia, Netzer tweeted, “Less noise = More clarity,” a simple message he embraced throughout his junior campaign.

However, in recent weeks, that hasn’t been as easy. Friends and family members have repeatedly asked Netzer about the MLB draft, which begins at 7 p.m. Monday.

The reason for the excitement? Netzer has a chance to become just the second 49ers position player ever selected in the top five rounds.

“It’s almost like they’re way more excited about it than I am,” Netzer said. “You kind of have to be even-keeled about it. You can’t get too caught up in everything as a player … I’m just ready to start playing and find out who with.”

JUST TWO OFFERS

Such notoriety never followed Netzer before he arrived at Charlotte.

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Charlotte 49ers infielder Brett Netzer tweeted before the season that “Less noise = More clarity.” But getting away from the buzz surrounding his major-league draft projections hasn’t been easy. David T. Foster III dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

Coming out of Fort Mill High School, Netzer said he received just two scholarship offers, one from the College of Charleston and the other from the 49ers. In the fall of 2013, he committed to Charlotte, a program seeking a return to relevance in the highly-competitive Conference USA after eight successful years in the Atlantic 10.

Netzer played shortstop in three varsity seasons with Fort Mill. But in Netzer’s freshman campaign with the 49ers, coach Loren Hibbs moved him into left field to get his left-handed bat in the lineup.

“I think that was kind of the first step in really his maturation process,” Hibbs said, “to be willing to accept that and go out there and work as hard as he could to become a really good outfielder.”

Netzer received C-USA All-Freshman team honors after hitting .318 over 41 games in 2015. Yet, it was during the ensuing summer that he started making an impression on professional scouts.

Playing for the Alexandria Aces in the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League, Netzer won the batting title with a .349 average and was named by Baseball America as the No. 8 prospect in the league.

Netzer parlayed that successful summer into a memorable spring, hitting .384 and playing second base in his sophomore season with the 49ers. That helped him earn a temporary contract with the Wareham Gatemen in the Cape Cod League.

‘TOO MUCH PRESSURE’

Upon arriving in Wareham, Netzer said he looked to prove himself against some of college baseball’s top talent, give Charlotte some exposure and turn his temporary contract into a full-time spot. But such stresses led to a 2-for-18 start at the plate.

“I was just putting too much pressure on myself,” he said. “It wasn’t that the competition was overwhelming. My swing just got long and I was trying to do too much with my swing and didn't end up hitting my weight.”

Netzer didn’t receive a full-time offer from Wareham. However, the Hyannis Harbor Hawks came along and presented him with that opportunity – one he made the most of.

In 26 games with Hyannis, Netzer batted .283/.360/.424.

He’s got a chance to be a guy who plays for an extended period of time in pro ball.

49ers baseball coach Loren Hibbs on Brett Netzer

“I think him struggling early on at the Cape and then really, really playing well at the back end of the summer was just a testament to what we think he’s got a chance to be,” Hibbs said. “He’s got a chance to be a guy who plays for an extended period of time in pro ball and hopefully play in the big leagues.”

Netzer will likely inch closer to that goal this week.

Despite taking a small step back at the plate as a junior, hitting .342, and committing a team-high 14 errors at second base, Netzer is ranked by MLBPipeline.com as the No. 197 prospect in the MLB draft. When he’s selected, he’ll become the first 49er picked since 2013.

But neither that accomplishment nor the noise that will likely come with it will satisfy him.

“For me, it wasn’t the goal to get drafted,” Netzer said. “The goal is to get to the major leagues and stay there for a while. I’m just excited to start that journey.”

Pat James on Twitter: @patjames24

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