Wednesday, February 15, 2012

OTF Top 30: No. 1, Gary Brown, OF

There has been a huge delay in posts. I know consistency has been something of a problem in the past, but I had some things at work that got in the way and it was hard to find time to really sit down and write. Now though, I have a little free time, so I should be able to start posting. I will get back to the 2007 prospect retrospective later, but I wanted to get through the profiles first before Spring Training. So, without further delay, here's the first profile in the Top 30.

No.1: Gary Brown, Outfielder

Age: 23 years old
Drafted: First Round (24th overall) in 2010 Draft
College: Cal State Fullerton
2011 regular season numbers: .336 average, .407 OBP, .519 slugging, .925 OPS, .411 wOBA, 140 wRC+, 115 runs scored, 14 home runs, 53 stolen bases (High-A)
2011 Fall League/Winter League numbers: .220 average, .278 OBP, .300 slugging, .578 OPS, .266 wOBA, 40 wRC+, 6 runs scored, 1 home run, 2 stolen bases (AFL)

Why You Should Know About Brown in 2012:

Brown is the consensus top prospect in the Giants system and for good reason. He had an absolutely phenomenal year in the California League in his first full professional year. While he had a stellar career at baseball powerhouse Cal State Fullerton, many baseball experts felt Brown was a bit of a reach at the 24th slot in the 2010 draft. However, after last year, not only did he help change the minds of a lot of those naysayers, but he also became valuable to the point where the Giants were willing to trade former Top 10 pick Zack Wheeler in the Carlos Beltran deal over Brown.

What Are Brown's Strengths as a Prospect?

Brown's speed is his calling card and his plus tool as a prospect. Brown recorded a 3.80 time down the first line according to scouts, which is absolutely blazing (4.00 is usually a plus score), and last year in San Jose, Brown did steal 53 bags to boot. However, while the speed on the basepaths is nice, Brown was known for being a solid contact hitter (he posted a 94 percent contact rate in his last year at Fullerton) and in San Jose he proved much of the same as he posted an above .300 batting average and a contact rate of 86 percent. Furthermore, he also showed some gap to gap power, as he hit 34 doubles, 13 triples and 14 home runs in 638 plate appearances in San Jose in 2012 (which added up to a sterling .519 slugging).

Offensively, Brown's bat turned a lot of heads in 2011, and rightfully so. His speed, contact ability, and surprising power (especially to the gaps) make him an ideal leadoff hitter for the Giants in the future (currently Angel Pagan is slotted in the spot and he's only on a one year contract). However, defensively, Brown also rates very strong and he seems to be more than capable of handling the dimensions of AT&T's spacious park. Brown posted a 2.25 RF/G and a .989 fielding percentage in 2011. He also recorded 16 assists, not bad considering scouts rate his arm as average at best. That being said, he does have excellent range in the outfield, and has an aggressive mindset in the field as well (though at times it can be an enemy as he overplays some balls...that will get better with more experience though and is correctable). MLB Prospect was very high on his defensive potential, as they rated his defense a 55 now, but with 70 potential (on a 20-80 scale).

Where Might Brown Struggle?

Though he had very good college numbers, Brown hasn't done anything to disprove the notion that he isn't anything more than a "California League" wonder. Now, like I said, his college numbers were very good, he has excellent tools, and his California League campaign looks incredible all across the board. That being said, he did not have a very good year statistically in Rookie ball or the Northwest League in 2010 (he posted batting averages under .200 and wOBA's of .311 and .225, respectively). In addition, his 2011 AFL campaign was extremely underwhelming offensively  (.220 average, .266 wOBA). While those numbers are simply too small of samples to really hold against him (99 plate appearances total between those three stints), there will be immense pressure on Brown to perform in Richmond, especially since a lot of Giants fans envision him as the Giants starting center fielder in 2013. A lot of hitters have struggled in the transition from the California League to the Eastern League, and hence, their development stagnated along with their bats. I don't think Brown will fall in that category (as I mentioned in this earlier post), but it is something to think about as a Giants fan.

The only real concern about Brown (other than his arm strength, which is graded as mostly average by scouts; but he's a centerfielder and it's fine for his position) is probably his plate approach, which was much maligned going into the 2010 draft. Basically, Brown doesn't walk very much. It isn't Francisco Peguero-bad, but he's not going to be piling up the free passes either. Last year, he showed a lot of improvement from his college numbers (he only drew 9 walks in 210 at-bats in 2010 with the Titans), as he garnered 46 bases on balls (a 7.4 percent walk rate) and a BB/K ratio of 0.60. That being said, in the AFL, he only drew 1 walk in 55 plate appearances (a 1.8 percent rate), a bit of a regression from his solid approach in San Jose (though as stated before, it's a small sample). One of the plus aspects of Brown's game is not only his ability to make contact, but his speed. Though he could be a little more selective on the basepaths (he was caught 19 times last year), 53 stolen bases is nothing to shrug about. Brown could be one of the Giants' best stolen base threats in a long time (better than even Andres Torres, who had great speed, but did not accumulate a lot of stolen bases). However, if he struggles to get walks and recognize pitches, it's going to limit his value, because that speed will be on the bench rather than on the basepaths. (Though as I've said in my earlier post about Brown, his sneaky value comes in his HBP numbers, which make his BB/K ratios even better when you add them in to the ratio; so that could be something that could make up for the lack of walks).

A nitpicky thing I have read a lot of scouts complain about is Brown's mechanics in the batter's box. A lot of scouts feel he has too much movement pre-swing, and that it makes them wonder if his noisy mechanics will hinder him as he climbs up the system and faces better pitching. To be honest, yes, I think Brown in the batter's box looks ugly. I don't like all the movement with his legs (he twitches his back leg a lot) and he does at times show cases of "happy feet" (where he's moving his feet in the batter's box prior to the swing), though it doesn't seem as bad as it was in college. That being said, I think that concern about Brown is down the ladder with me, perhaps even a non-issue to be frank. Once Brown gets loaded up for his swing, everything looks good, and he gets out of the batter's box fast for a right handed hitter. From what I've seen, none of his quirkiness does anything to hinder his approach or swing. Is it the prettiest swing in the world? Probably not. But is it effective? Absolutely, and until it ceases to be effective, I'll consider the "noise" pre-swing as a minimal issue at best.

Grades on Brown's Tools:

Hitting for Average/Contact Ability: 18/20 (He was good in college and made strides last year; I think he should be a mid-80 percent contact hitter who'll threaten the .300 mark on an annual basis).
Plate Approach: 17/20 (Showed good discipline in 2011, but before I grade it in the A-minus range, I want to see him transition that for a second straight year).
Power: 16/20 (Depends how you view power; if it's big flies, than he's got C-grade power at best; if it's gap to gap power, Brown has a ton of potential, and this grade could go up next year if he can hold up his gap to gap power in the Eastern League in 2012).
Speed: 20/20 (Gary Brown is FAST. Enough said.)
Defense: 18/20 (Big knock is his average arm, but his range and aggressiveness make up for it; as a center fielder, I think he could have big-play, Gold Glove potential).
Health/Makeup/Intangibles: 19/20 (No major injury issues and did play 131 games last year in San Jose; seems like an upstanding guy too, which doesn't help you a ton as a prospect, but it's better than being a jerk, which seems to hurt you more than one would think as a prospect; either way, he seems like he could easily fit with other baby faces like Madison Bumgarner, Buster Posey, and Brandon Belt at the Big League level).

Overall Grade: A-minus.
Projection: Starting Center Fielder at the minimum, could have big-time contributor/All-Star potential.

Summary: I like Brown a lot, which is why I graded him as an A-minus prospect (I know Sickels graded him as a B-plus). I think Brown has some plus tools (speed being the obvious one) and some tools that could get better with more and more exposure to professional pitching. To be honest, it's hard to find a lot of flaws with Brown's tool set or abilities. Sure, he had a bit of a slump mid-season that probably prevented an earlier callup, but the overall numbers don't lie: Brown was simply phenomenal in the California League. Of course, we've been down this road before with "phenomenal" California League performers. Yet with his tool set and potential, I think Brown will not only be successful next year in Richmond, but at the Big League level as well.

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