Not all baseball observers agreed with San Francisco's selection of center fielder Gary Brown in the first round of the 2010 first year player draft. In reality, that's what makes the June draft so intriguing. There are always differing opinions.
Brown was a high school baseball hero at Diamond Bar High School in Diamond Bar, California (the same high school as Jim Edmonds; in fact, his uniform, No. 22 was retired in 2007). He was good enough to be named to the second team on the All American High School outfield. His abilities in 2007 earned him a selection by the Athletics in the 12th round of that year's draft. He chose not to sign, opting instead to attend Cal State Fullerton.
The 22 year-old right-handed hitting speedster had an outstanding career at Fullerton having been named to the Big West Conference All-Star Team outfield in 2010 as well as being the Conference Player of The Year. He was named to the Second Team College All-American team. Brown led his league in runs scored, hits, batting average and on-base percentage. His skills led Brown to receive a $1.45M signing bonus from the Giants. At one point, Brown indicated he really didn't want a full-time regular "job" after having experienced bagging groceries at a supermarket. Playing professional baseball was much more to his liking. Oh, and he's superstitious as well. On his Twitter and Facebook accounts, Brown says that he carries chap stick in his back pocket for good luck. He also likes people watching.
What made Brown such a standout in high school and college? Begin with the fact his speed from home to first from the right side of the plate is usually 3.9 seconds or better. He's been clocked as fast as 3.69. That type of speed is a plus-plus tool around which to build a career. He makes good contact at the plate and he has begun to flash considerable power. The combination of speed and power bring Red Sox center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury to mind. Certainly it's way too early to think Brown could have an Ellsbury type career, but it is entirely possible. I compare him more to the Angels' 6-foot-1 Peter Bourjos, a player that is making continued progress as an extremely good defensive center fielder with blazing speed. Some people think he's more like Reggie Willits, another speedy Angels outfielder. Certainly, Brown's six-foot, 185-pound frame is similar to Willits. But I think Bourjos is a better comp, although Brown has more power.
Speed and defense are an attractive combination to major league clubs. It's difficult to find leadoff type hitters. Guys that can run and play center field are usually moved along in organizations and given the chance to play. Then it's up to them to hold their job. Speed alone does not guarantee major league success. Joey Gathright had blazing speed, but he was unable to get on base enough to keep his job. Frankly, Brown can do more than just run and steal bases. To illustrate his effective hitting prowess, Brown won the California League Player of the Week award May 8 after hitting .433 on a 13-for-30 week. He had five doubles, one home run, scored four runs, stole two bases and drove in 12 runs. Not bad for a guy pegged as merely a basestealer.
Stealing bases is Brown's main ticket to the big leagues. Once in his baseball career Brown is said to have stolen second, stole third and then when the catcher returned the ball to the pitcher, Brown stole home.
There are some aspects of Brown's game that need refinement. For example, he has been criticized for not seeing enough pitches and not taking enough walks. That's the same criticism Bourjos has heard in his early years with the Angels. Some scouts don't think Brown's arm is strong enough to play center field, and arm strength is always an issue for an outfielder. Some throws from deep center field are the most difficult to make in baseball and hitting the cut-off man is crucial. Arm strength, or lack thereof has been an issue surrounding Juan Pierre throughout his career and ultimately, it's what forced him to left field. Teams still try to take an extra base on Pierre even though he's moved to left. So the issue with Brown is real. I'm sure he'll do just fine and his arm will be strong enough to play regularly. If he can hit, walk and get on base he'll be playing.
My biggest concern regarding Brown is his constant foot movement as he awaits the pitch at the plate. The shifting of the feet must provide a comfort level for Brown. However, if the pitch arrives when his weight is not shifting properly, he could be getting himself out. Generally, hitters are more successful if their weight shift is consistent and lacks excessive movement or fidgeting. Some players tap their toe, and some players lift a leg just before they swing. Brown shifts his feet. If it works for him, that's all that matters. At some point, however, some hitting coach may try to change that little nuance. For example, this spring the Phillies tried to change Domonic Brown's hitting mechanics. It confused him and detracted from his progress, and now he's back to his old comfort zone.
Brown's statistics thus far this season at High-A San Jose in the California League are as follows:
287 at-bats, .328 with six homers and 47 RBI along with 32 stolen bases and 14 times caught stealing. Brown has walked 25 times and struck out 48. His OPS is .876.
By comparison, Bourjos has walked only 16 times in 240 at-bats at the major league level.
To date in his professional career, it's probably fair to say that Brown has outplayed his reputation. He's a better overall hitter than projected at draft time. He is beginning to show much better plate disciple and is making more consistent contact. He's been able to put the barrel of the bat on the ball and he's hitting with power.
Brown is probably headed for the leadoff position in the Giants' lineup. He'll move up the minor league chain rather quickly because of his ability to make things happen. Once he arrives in San Francisco, it's likely he will steal bases, get lots of leg hits and play quality defense in center field. He could be a fixture in the outfield for years to come, probably starting in late 2012. Blazing speed will bring excitement and energy to the game and force the defense into mistakes. Bunts and dribblers could become as good as a double once he steals second base.
Speed changes games. Maybe not as much as a three-run homer breaks open a game, but speed makes things happen. That's the type of player I think the Giants have in Brown; a game-changer. He's a player that will cause the opposition to make mistakes. I like his upside, and I like his flair for being a bit "edgy."
To this observer, it's fairly obvious that this chap will stick.
Follow me on Twitter @BerniePleskoff
Bernie Pleskoff is a former pro scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. He is a graduate of the Major League Scouting Bureau's Scout School in Phoenix.