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Texas Tools: Lewis Brinson's Breakout

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

In dynasty leagues there are two types of owners.  One type is data-driven, with spreadsheets for spreadsheets, but also instinctual, able to identify a prospect's breakout season before it happens.

Then there's the type of owner who is just plain lucky.

Lewis Brinson's 2015 breakout season put me squarely into the latter category.  Three years ago I joined a dynasty league (30 major-leaguers/40 minor-leaguers) and inherited a team with a ghastly farm system.  To his credit, the previous owner did have a strong 2012 draft that included pitchers Alex Wood and Jake Thompson, along with Brinson, whom the Rangers had selected with the 29th overall pick in the 2012 first-year-player draft.  But I was not impressed with the young Texas outfielder, whose combination of athleticism and cluelessness at the plate (.237 average with 48 walks and an unfathomable 191 strikeouts in 2013) called to mind the tools and ceiling of a Reggie Abercrombie.  I was about five minutes away from cutting him.

Then the light went on for Brinson.  He made mechanical changes to his swing, keeping his hands and back shoulder quiet while relying on his core, lower half, and natural bat speed to improve plate coverage and uncoil on pitches.  The result was a .337/.416/.628 slash line with 13 HR and 22 doubles in only 64 games with the High Desert Mavericks.  For those who take California League numbers with a grain of salt, consider that Brinson kept hitting at a .321 clip with 7 HR in 36 games following a promotion to Double-A Frisco and during a brief stint with Triple-A Round Rock.  Fans of raw power in a 6'3"-190 lb. frame will love this go-ahead, three-run homer for Frisco last August and especially this leadoff blast a month later, Brinson's first Triple-A home run.

All told, Brinson finished the 2015 season with a .332 batting average, 20 HR, 18 SB, and a 1.004 OPS in 100 games across three minor-league levels.  He even worked his once-horrific walk-to-strikeout ratio down to a respectable 44:98.  As a result, he enters the 2016 season ranked 16th on both Baseball America's Top 100 Prospects list and MLB.com's Prospect Watch.

In our Consensus Top 100 Fantasy Prospect List, originally published on Christmas Eve, the prospect team here at faketeams.com ranked Brinson 28th overall and 8th among outfielders.  As I wrote last November in our consensus ranking and analysis of the Texas Rangers Top 10 Fantasy Prospects, the young centerfielder got a conservative grade from us in large part because the majority of our writers "would like to see Brinson put together another full season of elite offensive numbers."  Brinson, nonetheless, "is an otherworldly athlete with the ceiling of a five-tool stud who, if he reaches his full potential, might remind baseball fans of another Florida high-school centerfielder named Andrew McCutchen."

Re-draft league owners in 2016 should not anticipate much from Brinson at the Major-League level, where he's blocked at all three outfield positions by Shin-soo Choo, Delino DeShields, Jr., and the newly-signed shortstop-turned-outfielder, Ian Desmond.  The Rangers expect to contend for another AL West Division title, and Brinson to-date has logged only 140 at-bats above High-A ball, so it would make sense to leave him in Triple-A for most or all of the coming season.

On the other hand, top prospects who catch fire in Triple-A tend not to stay long.  If Brinson spends a few months destroying Triple-A pitching while injuries or poor performance create an opening in Texas, then he could get the call to the Majors no later than June.  Once promoted, he likely would take over as the everyday centerfielder, for he already represents a big defensive upgrade over the converted infielders and aging veterans who comprise the Rangers' current outfield.  If that happens, fantasy owners in re-draft leagues should pounce.  A power-speed combo at Brinson's age is a rare commodity.  With his tools and rapid development, Brinson could emerge as an annual first-round selection in fantasy leagues.

I'm glad I didn't cut him.