If the San Francisco Giants cannot bolster their offense by acquiring a better offensive shortstop or some power in the outfield by the trading deadline, one way to significantly improve the team would be to promote their top prospect, center fielder Gary Brown.
The Giants could promote Brown to play center while moving Angel Pagan to a corner outfield position and back into the lead-off spot.
Brown is on a tear at Double-A Richmond right now. Over the past 10 games, he is hitting .422/.435/.667, raising his seasonal slash line to .289/.355/.393 in 425 plate appearances.
Brown now has over 1,100 plate appearances in minor league baseball, and he has hit .310/.382/.457 with 80 stolen bases for his career. For comparison, Brandon Belt and Buster Posey both received less than 1,000 minor league plate appearances, with 825 and 750 total, respectively.
While Brown has not played at Triple-A, it isn't necessary for him to compete at that level before entering the big leagues. Double-A is a tougher level of competition because it is much harder to hit in the pitcher-friendly Eastern League in which Brown plays. Also, there are more prospects at that level than at Triple-A, which has become a holding pattern for veteran players who couldn't quite cut it in the big leagues, like Todd Linden and Fred Lewis.
Brown would likely put up similar offensive numbers to Gregor Blanco, whom he would be replacing in the starting lineup. However, Brown would significantly improve the Giants' outfield defense over the final two months of the season, which would help the pitching staff.
Pagan has been a disaster defensively this season. He gets poor reads, late breaks and takes bad angles on balls hit his way.
According to both defensive metrics used by FanGraphs, Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) and Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), my negative scouting report on Pagan is backed up by the numbers. He has been worth nearly negative five runs on defense according to UZR and negative six runs according to DRS, both near the bottom of the league for center fielders.
According to Keith Law, a former front office official with the Toronto Blue Jays who now scouts amateur players for ESPN, Brown's strengths are his speed and defense, while his bat still needs development. Here was Law's scouting report on Brown via a recent episode of the ESPN.com's Baseball Today Podcast:
He's an 8 runner [highest grade on the 2-8 scouting scale]...He's almost as fast as Trout...It's not a great swing, he's never gonna have power. It's very slappy, very linear, very short to the ball...The thing I always liked the most about Brown wasn't the speed, it was that I thought he had a chance to be a really good defensive center fielder. I still do...As long as he stays in center, he can be an average regular.
Part of the reason the Giants collapsed down the stretch last season was due to their defensive inefficiency.
Cody Ross was a fish out of water in center field, Carlos Beltran struggled to play right field at spacious AT&T Park, and Orlando Cabrera and Jeff Keppinger were statues on the middle infield. Their lack of a defensive range, coupled with their offensive ineptitude, was enough to keep them home for the postseason.
It would be ideal for the Giants to upgrade the offense at the trading deadline, particularly by adding more power. However, there is no guarantee that they will be able to make a significant splash. If they can't bolster the lineup at the trading deadline, promoting Brown to the big leagues would be a simpler solution to improve the team.
If you can't outscore your opponents by thumping them to death, the alternative is to prevent them from scoring. If the other team can't score, the Giants can't lose.
Freeing Gary Brown would help the Giants prevent runs while also developing their top prospect for future seasons in the heat of a pennant race.