Gary Brown went to Cal State Fullerton and was drafted #1 by the San Francisco Giants (24th overall) in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft. In 2011, he shined for the Single-A Advanced San Jose Giants, earning California League Rookie of the Year honors. Brown hit .336 and set a franchise record for hits with 188. Other highlights included 13 triples, 14 home runs, 80 RBIs, and 53 stolen bases on 72 attempts. He also made the 2011 Baseball America Minor League All-Star Team, and was voted MVP by his teammates. Although his 7.2 percent walk-rate at Single-A and low walk rate in college were seemingly red flags, Brown’s .925 OPS turned heads, and he immediately became the Giants’ top prospect.
After Buster Posey suffered a devastating leg injury in 2011, the Giants became determined to make a deal at the trade deadline in order to remain in contention and have a chance to repeat after winning the 2010 World Series. Brown was deemed untouchable, and the Giants traded top pitching prospect Zack Wheeler to the Mets for Carlos Beltran.
In 2012 while playing for Richmond in the Eastern League, Brown faced stiffer competition than he did in the California League, and that red flag walk-rate turned out to be a harbinger of things to come. It dropped to 6.5 percent, and Brown hit a wall. By season’s end, he hit .279/.347/.385 as he saw his OPS drop to .731. He did steal 33 bases, but he was caught 18 times. In addition, he only managed 2 triples, 7 home runs, and only 42 RBIs. His strikeout rate increased from 12.1 percent to 14.2 percent, and his power draught suggested Brown’s success could only be attributed to the notoriously hitter-friendly California League. In fact, had it not been for a late season surge, Brown’s numbers would have been far worse than they were in the end.
The Giants pushed Brown up to Triple-A anyway this year, where he has continued to struggle. In his first 197 plate appearances, he was hitting below .220 and managed a rather pedestrian .586 OPS and only 2 home runs. He collected only 2 stolen bases at a dismal 44.4 percent success rate. His walk rate plummeted to 6.0, and his strikeout rate rose to 23.4. But once again, a second half surge has helped Brown in his bid to live up to the high expectations of his draft slot.
Currently, Brown has raised his average to .244 with an OPS of .712. He now has 8 home runs in 71 games. He continues to strike out a lot, but that can largely be attributed to his approach at the plate. Currently, when hitting ahead in the count, Brown is batting .294 with only 8 strikeouts. When he’s behind in the count, that average drops to .169 with 48 strikeouts. It’s possible that Brown may be pressing too much, and with a better two-strike approach he may start to see more success in his numbers in the same way Brandon Crawford has enjoyed this year at the big league level.
While the Giants try to manage their rotation struggles and Wheeler is about to make his Major League debut for the Mets any day now, Brown continues to be challenged in the minor leagues. With nearly half the season left to play in Fresno, how Brown finishes the year should determine whether or not he remains in Triple-A for another year or gets promoted to the Majors next year.
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