Last year in San Jose, Gary Brown was the proverbial "talk of the town" as the center fielder for the San Francisco Giants' (A) affiliate in the Bay Area. After being selected by the Giants in the first round of the 2010 draft, Brown's first full professional season in 2011 raised eyebrows across the organization. The former Cal State Fullerton product hit .336, stole 53 bases and broke a San Jose Giants team record with 188 hits.
It was a breakout season across the board for Brown, who added 14 home runs and 80 RBI in 559 at-bats. Regarded as having the best speed in the organization, Brown's wheels translated not only on the base paths, but in center field as well. He was ranked by Baseball America as the best prospect in the Giants organization and earned a spot on the Futures Game All-Star roster.
With the expectations sky high, Brown's 2012 season left much to be desired, but still showed he is capable of being the everyday center fielder and leadoff hitter the Giants envision him as.
He got the bump to Richmond (AA), and struggled through the first half of the season before rediscovering his groove after the break. He finished with a .279 batting average, seven home runs and 42 RBI, stealing more than 30 bases for the second year in a row. The numbers weren't close to the stat line he produced in 2011, but there were still signs of a future leadoff hitter in the making.
Many players have trouble making the adjustment from Single-A to Double-A, so Brown's drop in production can't be labeled a complete regression.
His exceptional speed will allow him to beat out many hits others would not, while his relatively low strikeout rate shows he is able to make contact on a regular basis. Coupled together, both of these abilities will allow him to maintain a high average and on-base percentage wherever he plays. He also has and will always be a threat to run, something the Giants have been consistently lacking at the top of the lineup since Brett Butler left the Bay Area.
While Brown likely will never have 20-plus home run potential in the big leagues, his other tools are so well refined that he could easily be a productive major league player without much of a power tool.
Speed doesn't take days off and Brown has plenty of it to burn. Given a full season of major league at-bats, there is no question Brown could steal 30-40 bases per year and be a defensive standout in the outfield.
San Francisco has been pleased with the play of Angel Pagan in 2012, but with the circumstances surrounding Melky Cabrera and his suspension, there is a good chance the "Melk Man" may not return to the Giants next year.
Cabrera's departure could mean an opportunity for Brown, who will undoubtedly get a hard look in spring training. That being said, the Giants may pursue other avenues outside of the organization to fill his spot if they deem Brown isn't quite ready in 2013.
With all that said, Brown could be ticketed to start the season in Fresno (AAA) come 2013, and complete his progression through the system. There, he will be only an injury or slump away from getting his chance to play in the big leagues—where Brown's speed will be on display throughout the spacious confines of AT&T Park.