Bernie on the Scene

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, Calif. (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 @BerniePleskoff on Twitter.

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.

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Article first appeared 6/23/11

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