Gary Brown Rights The Ship In Richmond
The Double-A Eastern League this season may not feature a pitcher with a
hammer breaking ball or a future 30-homer masher, but it has been home
to some of the most dynamic center-field prospects in the game.
Exhibit A: Richmond's Gary Brown
, who has recovered from an early-season
funk to hit .336/.388/.502 (77-for-229) with 21 doubles and five homers
in his last 54 games. Only Trenton's David Adams
and Altoona's Brock Holt
have higher averages in that span, and with 15 stolen bases in 20 tries Brown
has vaulted to a second-place standing in the league with 31.
"Since early June he's absolutely turned it on," Richmond manager Dave
Machemer said. "He looks like a slight kid until you see him up close
and you see he's wiry strong, that he can run and that he's got some
The 24th pick in the 2010 draft by the Giants, Brown relied on his own
natural feel for hitting during his full-season debut in the California
League last year, batting .336/.407/.519 for high Class A San Jose and
established a franchise record with 188 hits. But the 23-year-old Brown
slumped out of the gate this season, batting .232/.312/.301 in 246
at-bats through June 12, as he moved from an extreme hitter's league to
Richmond's cavernous yard, The Diamond.
Machemer credits a mechanical adjustment with turning Brown's season
around. "We've worked with him on keeping his front side more
resistant," the manager said, "because he had a tendency to open up too
much with his front foot and leak out to his front side."
That one change added balance to his swing and dozens of points to his
batting average, but neither hitting nor stealing bases may be Brown's
"When you watch this guy on a daily basis you realize that he's an
absolute Houdini in center field," Machemer said. "He has made catches
this year where there was no chance of catching ball. Balls in the gap,
over his head, coming in—nobody in this league can play center field
like this guy.
"He has easy 65 range (on the 20-80 scouting scale) and maybe even 70."
Erie manager Chris Cron concurs. "When you coach a lot of third base,"
he said, "you get a sense for when a ball is an out, a hit or a no-doubt
hit. I've seen more than one no-doubter hit out there, and sure enough
there's Brown running to the gap to catch the ball on a regularly
Center Fielders Aplenty
Nearly all of the Eastern League's 12 teams this season has featured a
tooled-up prospect who can handle the defensive demands of center field
in the big leagues. Here we add 11 more names to the mix, combining with Brown to give the EL a dozen center fielders to monitor. League managers voted Brown the Fastest Baserunner and Best Defensive Outfielder in our annual Best Tools survey
, and they nominated him for Most Exciting Player.
Abe Almonte, Trenton (Yankees)
Bats: Both. Age: 23.
Best Tools Wins: Best Baserunner. Nominations: Best Defensive Outfielder.
Machemer summed up Almonte's biggest asset nicely. "This guy turns baserunning into a science," he said.
"He's very astute at picking up signs, and he never does anything wrong
on the bases. The great thing is he brings that to every game." When
he's not terrorizing opposing defenses, Almonte shows a classic leadoff,
small-ball approach, seldom selling out for power while keying into the
situational aspects of hitting, such as bunting and moving runners. He
ranks third in the EL with 30 steals.
Jackie Bradley, Portland (Red Sox)
Bats: Left. Age: 22.
Best Tools Nominations: Best Batting Prospect, Best Defensive Outfielder, Most Exciting Player.
Though he's not a blazing-fast runner, Bradley has the instincts to
profile as a plus defender and also a basestealing threat. He led the
minors in on-base percentage while with high Class A Salem this season,
though he has fallen back to the pack since joining Portland.
Regardless, his feel for the zone gives him a chance to hit at the top
of an order.
Matt den Dekker, Binghamton (Mets)
Bats: Left. Age: 25.
Best Tools Nominations: Best Strike-Zone Judgment.
Den Dekker probably swings and misses too much to bat at the top of a
lineup, but he's a gifted center fielder who flashes occasional plus
power and has the speed underway to collect extra bases on balls hit in
Tyson Gillies, Reading (Phillies)
Bats: Left. Age: 23.
Slowed by hamstring issues since joining the Phillies organization in
the Cliff Lee
deal with the Mariners, Gillies has the type of
athleticism that will buy him multiple opportunities to put his
speed-oriented game to good use. He knows his game doesn't revolve around power, and has the type of
bat speed and contact skills to hit at the top of the order.
Robbie Grossman, Altoona (Pirates)
Bats: Both. Age: 22.
Best Tools Wins: Best Strike-Zone Judgment.
Acquired by the Astros in the deal that sent Wandy Rodriguez
Pittsburgh, Grossman still ranked third in the EL with 59 walks nearly
three weeks after switching organizations. A switch-hitter who waits for
his pitch and hits to all fields, he profiles as, at worst, a top-notch
Aaron Hicks, New Britain (Twins)
Bats: Both. Age: 22.
Best Tools Nominations: Fastest Baserunner, Best Defensive Outfielder.
A disciplined hitter who runs and throws well, Hicks already has
established career highs in homers and steals this season in his
Double-A breakthrough. The 2008 first-rounder could team with Denard
and Ben Revere
next season to give the Twins the fastest outfield
in the big leagues. A natural righty hitter, Hicks has ironed out his
lefthanded swing this season, posting an .811 OPS after notching a .705
mark last year and a .722 in 2010.
"Hicks can beat you in five different ways," New Britain manager Jeff
Smith said. "He can go get it in center field; he's got a strong,
accurate arm; and he can beat you with a home run or a bunt. He's
aggressive stealing bases, but you wouldn't know he's faster than 90
percent of guys in this league because of his long, smooth stride."
Jiwan James, Reading (Phillies)
Bats: Both. Age: 23.
Scouts love James' athleticism and wicked bat speed, but a wild hitting
approach (20 walks, 103 strikeouts) have formed a chasm between his
tools and on-field performance this season.
Juan Lagares, Binghamton (Mets)
Bats: Right. Age: 23.
Best Tools Nominations: Best Defensive Outfielder, Best Outfield Arm.
Lagares began his pro career at shortstop before moving to the outfield
full-time in 2009. He hit .349 last year to zoom up prospect lists, but a
decrease in power and good fortune on balls in play this season has
brought him back to earth. Still, Lagares does enough across the board
to profile as at least a big league reserve.
Jake Marisnick, New Hampshire (Blue Jays)
Bats: Right. Age: 21.
The youngest player on this list, Marisnick also has a chance to one day
be the best. He's straddling the Mendoza Line in Double-A now, but
evaluators love his balanced swing and power to all fields and could see
plus production down the line. Throw in plus range, speed and
basestealing acumen and Marisnick is the real deal.
Melky Mesa, Trenton (Yankees)
Bats: Right. Age: 25.
Best Tools Nominations: Best Defensive Outfielder, Best Outfield Arm, Most Exciting Player.
Mesa took a long time to get to this point, spending five years in
short-season ball, but his maturation as a hitter translated into a
career-low strikeout rate (20 percent of plate appearances) and an
August bump to Triple-A. He's a power/speed threat who batted
.277/.344/.464 with 14 homers in 88 games in his repeat of Double-A. EL
managers lauded his range and arm strength, and some scouts think Mesa
could be a big league regular.
Eury Perez, Harrisburg (Nationals)
Bats: Right. Age: 22.
Best Tools Nominations: Fastest Baserunner, Best Defensive Outfielder, Most Exciting Player.
Prior to his promotion to Triple-A, Perez ran
neck-and-neck with Abe Almonte
and Harrisburg second baseman Jeff
for the distinction of fastest player in the EL. He has
virtually zero power projection and only slightly more plate patience,
but he's a spray hitter who knows how to bunt and steal bases in