San Francisco Giants Top Prospect Gary Brown Demoted to Work on Hitting Approach

Mark ReynoldsCorrespondent IIMarch 16, 2013

General manager Brian Sabean said Brown needs to improve his approach at the plate in the minors.
General manager Brian Sabean said Brown needs to improve his approach at the plate in the minors.Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

After spending the last two years trying to get Brandon Belt to change his hitting mechanics, the San Francisco Giants want another one of their top prospects to rework his stance according to Andrew Baggarly of CSN Bay Area. Baggarly wrote,

Being different often means making tough decisions. Coaches want Brown to put some space between his hands and chest, which should allow him to barrel up inside pitches from right-handers. It’s reminiscent of Brandon Belt’s crossroads the previous two springs, when the Giants urged him to move back in the box and stand up straighter.

Brown was candid: It’s been a push and pull.

“I’ve been hitting [my] way for a long time and had success, so being honest, it’s hard to change that on a whim,” he said. “But I’ll keep working at it. I’d like to force the issue this year and I don’t think that’s out of the question.”

As a junior at Cal State Fullerton, he hit .438 en route to winning the Big West Player of the Year award. The Giants used the 24th pick of the 2010 draft to select Brown, and he picked up right where he left off in his first full minor league season. He hit .336 and stole 53 bases at High-A San Jose in 2011 to establish himself as one of the game's top prospects.

Since his breakout campaign in San Jose, Brown's stock has fallen. He hit just .220 against the stiffer competition in the Arizona Fall League in 2011.

Then, his on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) dropped nearly 200 points from .925 at San Jose down to .731 at Double-A Richmond last year. His stolen base total dropped from 53 down to 33, and his success rate fell from 73.6 percent to 64.7 percent.

He had a better go of it in his second crack at the Arizona Fall League last year—hitting .313/.357/.375 over 75 plate appearances. However, he went 7-for-28 (.250) with just one walk and nine strikeouts during spring training. He's been optioned to Triple-A Fresno, where he's likely to spend most of 2013.

General manager Brian Sabean said that Brown's bat still needs more seasoning.

He needs to go back to the Minor Leagues and work on his approach...He obviously can play the outfield. But to be an everyday player, he has to swing the bat with more authority and he's still learning how to do that (h/t Chris Haft,

His future success is dependent on him finding consistent success against right-handed pitching. The right-handed hitting Brown batted just .264/.325/.353 against same-sided pitchers last season compared to .317/.404/.472 against lefties.

In order to improve against right-handed pitching, he'll either have to find a better set of hitting mechanics as the Giants want him to, or he'll have to compete better with the stance he currently employs.

Hitting is ultimately about competing with the opposing pitcher, seeing the ball well out of his hand and squaring up a good pitch to hit. If you're worrying about mechanics, you can't compete at a high level against the best pitchers on the planet.

Chicago White Sox hitting coach Jeff Manto believes that succeeding in Major League Baseball is less about mechanics and more about having a strong approach at the plate. He told David Laurila of FanGraphs,

I firmly believe — and I’m probably in the minority on this — that once you get to the big leagues, your mechanics are just about fine. I don’t think you ever have the perfect mechanics on every swing, but if you have a good approach every night, you can succeed. Everybody at this level has the mechanics to play here...

One thing we try to do here is worry about the ball. We believe that if we worry about the ball, the ball becomes the most important thing and mechanics will take care of themselves.

The Giants want Brown to change his mechanics, but the upper levels of the minor leagues aren't the best place for that. Brown needs to feel confident in his stance and swing so that instead of fighting himself, he's only fighting the opposing pitcher.

The Giants wanted Belt to retool his swing, but there's little noticeable difference between his hitting mechanics now compared to when he first came up two years ago. Belt seems to have improved with experience and confidence, not by drastically overhauling his stance and swing.

Perhaps the Giants would help Brown reestablish himself as a top prospect by allowing him to hit from whatever stance feels most comfortable so that he can go about rebuilding his confidence at the plate instead of second-guessing himself.

Hitting a 95-mile-per-hour fastball is an exceptionally difficult task, especially when the pitcher has other offerings to account for. Trying to hit a baseball while worrying about the way you are going about it makes hitting just about impossible.