Name: Gary Brown
Position: Center field
Notable 2011 Stats: .336/.407/.519 with 34 2B, 13 3B, 14 HR, 77/46 K/BB, and 53-for-72 SB in 131 games with San Jose (High-A)
Why He’s This High: When he was drafted in 2010, Brown’s claim to fame was his excellent speed and center field defense. That showed up in 2011 in his full-season debut, as he stole 53 bases and exhibited his top-notch speed overall.
There were many questions about Brown’s power and especially his plate discipline heading into the draft, but neither area proved to be deficient in his pro debut. Brown ripped 61 extra-base hits and walked well over half as much as he struck out, showing he could get on base more than enough to utilize his speed and hit with enough oomph to force pitchers to attack him with care.
With that broad skillset, he looks to be a big asset in center field.
Why He’s This Low: Brown’s performance is tough to tease out from the hitter-friendly California League, which tends to boost both power and batting average on balls in play. Certainly, with his speed, Brown should be able to post above-average BABIPs, and he’s not a punchless hitter, but we shouldn’t expect him to post .369 BABIPs and .182 ISOs as he progresses.
Furthermore, Brown was 22 years old for the whole season, so he wasn’t particularly young for the level. He’s already turned 23, and as a college product, he’s relatively polished for a prospect. That, of course, isn’t a negative–it gives him a high floor, as he’ll likely at least be a viable center field starter–but one has to wonder what type of further growth he has. It’s not like he’s going to get faster, after all.
Speaking of his speed, Brown needs to learn to be more judicious with his basestealing after getting caught 19 of 72 times in 2011. That’s just a 73.6% success rate, and it makes him barely above the break-even mark as far as run creation with his thievery. If that’s a big part of his appeal, he’d better actually help his team with it.
Conclusions: We’ve seen all sorts of prospects have huge years in the Cal League, and it’s impossible to tell what Brown’s MLB batting lines will look like until he shows what he can do in Double-A. After all, Giants/ex-Giants prospects like Thomas Neal, Roger Kieschnick, and Charlie Culberson have put up huge numbers in San Jose and then cratered in Double-A, and there are plenty of others (Jonathan Gaston, Johermyn Chavez, Rich Poythress, etc. etc.) in other organizations who have hit basically nowhere but California.
Brown’s speed and defense will give him a career, and he’s certainly shown enough promise with the bat that he could well be an offensive asset as well. The question is ultimately whether he’ll just be an Adam Jones sort of player who just treads water with the bat, or if he’ll evolve into a truly dynamic five-tool center fielder a la Andrew McCutchen or Shane Victorino.
At his age, Brown will need to avoid hiccups if he wants to show that he can develop into a cornerstone center fielder and impact leadoff hitter. The more neutral environment in Double-A will be a big test for Brown next year.
In many ways, he’s the hitting version of #78 prospect, Brewers pitcher Tyler Thornburg–a guy with clear talent but some question marks who is already 23 and hasn’t gotten a chance to jump to the upper minors. Since hitters have lower attrition than pitchers, Brown is the better prospect, but unlike Thornburg, he has the Cal League issue still hanging over his head.
A big 2012 could make him one of the best prospects in baseball; a Neal/Culberson/Kieshnick-esque collapse would render him a merely acceptable starter down the line.
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