Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the prosecution (Craig and Jason) will attempt to sell you on the fact that Gary Brown does not have the skills required to be a prominent fantasy prospect on our collective radars. They will tell you that Brown's ranking at #30 among our OF prospects was about 75% because they think he should be there and 25% out of pity for yours truly. Well, let me make it clear -- this is just not true. The defense maintains that even though Brown is already 24 years old and struggled to match his 2011 Cal League success statistical success in the Eastern League this season, he is still easily a top-100 prospect and a top-20 OF prospect for fantasy.
In order to get a sense of why there is so much uncertainty around Brown's prospects at the major league level, let's look at him on a tools basis first. The easy ones to grade are his defense and speed, which are both plus to plus-plus tools. The speed will be particularly useful in fantasy, as that will be his calling card. Any time a player has the potential to steal a ton of bases at the highest level, we must pay attention. The defense I mention only because of the cascading effect it has on his value -- if Brown is even a remotely productive offensive player, his skill in the field will keep him in the lineup. He does have an above-average arm as well, by most accounts, though that one really doesn't matter for our purposes.
I'm sure at this point, I have not said anything which the prosecution has disagreed with. However, we have now reached the crux of the case. First, the power. I will be perfectly honest with you all, Gary Brown will never be a player you rely upon for power. He has 21 HR in over 1,100 minor league at bats, and 14 of them came in the power haven known as the Cal League. On top of that, AT&T Park is one of the worst places for RH power, registering well below-average no matter where you get your park factors from. I think he has the bat speed and ability to square up velocity to hit 12-15 HR at his peak in a neutral ballpark, but that may be moot while he's in the Giants organization.
Speaking of bat speed and ability to square up velocity, we have to talk about his hit tool and how this will translate to his potential major league success, as everything else we've talked about up to this point relies upon it. If it becomes an average to above-average tool, Brown will be a fantasy stud and occasional All-Star. If it's a below-average tool, he may be relegated to dreaded fourth outfielder status. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is where you must cast your vote. At the end of play on June 12, Brown was sitting on a .238/.317/.310 line with 2 HR and 16 SB in 246 AB. Those numbers from a 24-year old in Double-A reek of reserve outfielder. However, from June 13 to the end of the season, Brown hit a much more robust .315/.356/.452 with 5 HR and 17 SB in 292 AB.
Those numbers from mid-June to the end of the season are a lot closer to the .336/.407/.519 line he put up in the Cal League in 2011, and considering the difference in offensive environments, it's reasonable to say the Double-A line was more impressive. So are there any reasons we should take his latter half of the season as closer to his talent level going forward than the former?
Bernie Pleskoff, a former scout and current contributor to MLB.com, said at the SABR conference just last month that Brown "made the most significant mechanical change of anyone I've seen from spring training (of 2012) to now." He also added, "When I saw him in March, he couldn't reach a ball on the outside part of the plate. But he's made some adjustments and now he's on his way." Yes, the prognostication here is just the thoughts of one man, but the confirmation of changes to Brown's swing is the important takeaway here. And because of that, and the success he had during the second half of the season, I'm not willing to throw him down the OF prospect mineshaft.
So, in conclusion, Brown will more than likely start 2013 at Triple-A and has a clear path to playing time if he hits out of the gate (he has the daunting Gregor Blanco and Andres Torres ahead of him on the depth chart). I expect him to do so, especially given that he'll be operating in the Pacific Coast League, another hitters haven. And while he has developed more risk over the last year, I still think he has nearly the same potential upside as when he was ranked #17 on last year's Top 100 Dynasty League Prospect List. Don't let the souring on his prospect status fool you, Brown is still fully capable of being a .280/.340/.420 hitter with 7-10 HR and 35+ steals (which was essentially his line this year in Double-A) -- with upside everywhere on top of that. After all, it was only 11 months ago that Kevin Goldstein (formerly at Baseball Prospectus) said of Brown's upside: "Brown has the potential to be a fantasy monster with a high batting average, 15-20 home runs, and 50 stolen bases annually."
I implore you, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, do not give up on the good man Gary Brown. While he has undoubtedly lost some of his prospect shine, the light within him still burns bright.
The defense rests.