Fifteen months ago Gary Brown was viewed by many as an elite prospect, destined to lose Gold Gloves to inferior defenders and lead the Giants to the Promised Land. People were amazed that 23 players were selected before Brown in the 2010 draft. When teams would inquire on Brown, the Giants would show reluctance to part with him to shore up their club in the short term. Many expected him to make it to the majors quickly and become the team’s center fielder of both the present and future.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) July 27, 2011
Now, it looks like Brown is going to forever be remembered as the guy the Giants kept instead of Zack Wheeler, even though it’s unclear how exactly the Mets’ and Giants’negotiations went in the Carlos Beltran trade. After two years of professional baseball, Brown has become yet another “if he can hit…” prospect. What was once viewed as a special talent is now a mysterious talent. There are various opinions out there on the Cal State Fullerton product. If you believe in the hit tool, you think he’s going to be a great player. If you don’t, you think he’s a fourth outfielder. If you’re not certain, you’re in the majority.
“As he grew up in our program, he became more and more of a game changer,” said Dave Serrano, who coached at Cal State Fullerton from 2008-2011. Brown opted for an education after the A’s took him in the 12th round of the 2007 draft and arrived at Fullerton in need of some muscle. He proceeded to add some meat to his bones and became an excellent college baseball player. Late in Brown’s college career, he suffered a broken finger that sidelined him for a few weeks leading up to the draft. Teams weren’t able to get their final looks at Brown, which probably led a few teams to shy away from him. Questions about Brown’s hit tool wouldn’t have been answered in those few weeks, but teams had just a tiny bit less information on him. San Francisco ultimately nabbed him with the 24th overall pick, but his late signing prevented him from playing in games until 2011.
Brown’s first professional season went well. Extremely well, actually. He hit .333/.418/.427 in April and followed it up with a .397/.453/.612 slash in May. Even though he was in the California League, his numbers were impressive. It looked like Brown would fly through the Giants’ system. Some foresaw a possible midseason promotion to Double-A in 2011 with a chance to earn a big-league spot in 2012 camp. Instead, San Francisco kept Brown in High-A all season.
In 2012, Brown was promoted to a much more pitcher-friendly Eastern League. He struggled to make contact in the first few months of the season, but after a strong June/July push ended up with a .279/.347/.385 line. Serious doubts about his hit tool resurfaced, and his approach hadn’t seen significant improvements.
Its easy to see what scouts love about Brown. He’s an elite runner and a superb defender in center field. There’s also a smidge of power, but it isn’t an impact tool. In order to provide value as a big leaguer, Brown probably won’t need more than an average hit tool. Unfortunately, that’s the mystery around him, and sources offer varying opinions on him.
Some scouts think he’ll turn into a pesky up-the-middle-player who hits in the .270 neighborhood while bothering pitchers on the bases. Others see him as a fourth outfielder whose hit tool just won’t play well enough to give him a career as a solid regular. Personally, I see Brown’s hit tool as a 50 at maturity. He can square up prime-time velocity, and the swing is short enough for me to be comfortable with an average grade. It will be fun to see how his speed impacts his offensive output. With routine groundouts turning into hits and singles turning into doubles, Brown’s offensive deficiencies could be somewhat shielded by that speed.
This coming season is going to be a big one for Brown. Many believe that he won’t be ready to contribute in the majors, but a strong year in the PCL could put Brown in consideration for the job in center for the next several seasons.