Farm Focus: Brown poised for future leadoff role

August 20, 2011, 2:47 am
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Aug. 19, 2011

Rael Enteen

The Giants of the last few years havent shied away from leaning heavily on their farm system to produce impact players. Never was that more obvious than in 2010, when a heavily homegrown roster led the team to its first world championship in San Francisco history.The rash of injuries to the 2011 squad, however, has done a number to the Giants already depleted system. To start the year, the Giants minor league affiliates didnt boast top talent because all the big names were contributing at the big-league level. Now in August, the top pitching prospect, Zack Wheeler, is gone, shipped to the Mets in exchange for a banged-up slugger. Thomas Neal, another one of the teams more heralded prospects, is a casualty of win-now trades made at the deadline.While the Giants continue to struggle at the plate and deal with a question mark in the No. 5 starter spot and injuries in the bullpen, some of the kids down on the farm may be forced to abandon their slow and steady development path in exchange for a last-minute ticket to the big leagues.Line of the Month: Gary Brown since July 18: .342 AVG, 23 R, 3 HR, 10 RBI, 3 2B, 4 3B, 81 SBCS, 1010 KBBWith the trade that sent Zack Wheeler to the Mets, Gary Brown immediately became the obvious choice as the Giants top prospect. Even before the trade, Browns production with Single-A San Jose had him in the same conversation as the highly-touted Wheeler.Originally drafted by the Oakland A's in the 12th round of the 2007 MLB Draft, Brown opted for a college career at Cal State Fullerton, where he hit .438 in 2010, before being drafted in the first round by the Giants.After being drafted, Brown played in only 12 games in 2010 between the Arizona rookie league and Low-A Salem-Keizer. He hit just .159 in 44 at bats, but started 2011 hot and hasnt let up. His line over the last month is impressive, but its not that off from what hes been doing all season: .319 AVG, .391 OBP, 47 extra-base hits and 46 steals.At just 22, Brown needs more seasoning at higher levels of the minor leagues before getting a call to the Giants. However, the defending champs are in desperate need of a leadoff hitter, where Brown projects to spend the majority of his career.With premium speed and a disciplined plate approach, Brown looks like the long-term answer at the top of the Giants order. Its rare to see such a young player taking that many walks this early in his minor league career. If Brown can carry his nearly-.400 on-base percentage with him to the higher levels, stolen base opportunities should not be hard to find, and with his speed, a 50-to-60 steal season in the big leagues is not out of the question.In the Spotlight: Brandon Crawford wasnt truly in the spotlight until he got a call-up to the Giants in late May. A fourth-round pick in 2008, Crawford was an exciting shortstop possibility for the future, not for now. Following a storybook grand slam in his debut, Crawford struggled at the plate and was eventually sent down to Triple-A Fresno.Considering Crawford never played above Double-A ball until his call to the Giants, his .308 line with the Grizzlies in 14 games since his demotion is very impressive. The defensive whiz out of UCLA and born inMountain View also has one home run and four steals to start his Triple-A career.Depending on the productivity and health of Miguel Tejada and Orlando Cabrera, the Giants could decide that Crawfords plus glove makes up for his offensive deficiencies and give him another shot in the big leagues.Under the Radar: At one time, Max Ramirez was In the Spotlight on some other teams farm systems he appeared in both the 2007 and 2008 All-Star Futures Games. After stints in both the majors and minors with the Braves, Indians, Rangers, Astros and Cubs, the right-handed hitting catcher, 26, found his way to the Giants. With the Giants still having a hard time getting offensive production out of the catcher position since the Buster Posey injury, Ramirezs .333 batting average and .586 slugging percentage with the Grizzlies should stand out. However, the Giants have demonstrated a hesitance to let a new catcher, unfamiliar with the teams All-Star pitching staff, take over. While the relationship between a pitcher and his catcher cannot be underscored, the waiver wire seems void of catching options and the Giants may be forced to re-evaluate their stance if the Chris StewartEli Whiteside platoon continues to struggle at the plate.