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Giants' Brown chosen most Advanced
10/27/2011 10:00 AM ET
Observers of Minor League ballgames on the West Coast would be hard-pressed to point to something -- anything -- the 90-win San Jose Giants didn't to do well in 2011.

"The only weakness we had on our club," manager Andy Skeels said, "was maybe the guy making out the lineup."

Ian Gac

Winston-Salem's Ian Gac proves to be the fans' choice for the level's top hitter on the strength of his prodigious bat. Gac slugged 33 homers, tied for second in the Minor Leagues. He was named the Carolina League's Most Valuable Player, leading the circuit with 96 RBIs, 276 total bases and an .893 OPS for the Dash. He also established new career highs with 144 hits and 58 walks.
Of course, Skeels fretted over only the final eight slots on his card. Center fielder Gary Brown was a constant, not once batting below leadoff.

"It was great," a more serious Skeels added, "to be able to pencil him in the lineup everyday."

Brown, awarded the MiLBY for Best Class A Advanced Hitter, enjoyed a complete season offensively, finishing among the Cal League's top three leaders in batting (third, .336), runs (second, 115), hits (first, 188, a franchise record), triples (first, 13), total bases (second, 290) and steals (second, 53). Spending 120 of his 131 games in center, San Francisco's No. 1 prospect wasn't shabby defensively either.

"I don't think there's anything he can't do," Skeels said. "When he gets to the Majors, can he do some of the same things that he did in the Minor Leagues? He'll have that opportunity."

Though it would seem logical for Brown, 23, to begin 2012 in Double-A Richmond, all Giants director of player development Fred Stanley would commit to was, "He'll move through our system quickly."

"It was a productive first season, but I have my work cut out for me here in the AFL," Brown said from Arizona last week, "so it was short-lived."

The 24th overall draftee in 2010 actually began his pro career struggling mightily. Coming off a broken hand that had fully healed but not fully strengthened, Brown went 7-for-44 (.159) at the plate in a dozen games split between the Arizona and Northwest leagues last year. Experimenting with a new wood bat model didn't help.

"Those first few games helped me figure some things out before going into [2011]," the Cal State-Fullerton product said. "I took my lumps."

By April, he was bruising advanced pitching. And one month into this past season, in a May 6 bout with Bakersfield, the eventual Futures Game selection and Cal League Rookie of the Year established single-game career highs in hits (five) and RBIs (six).

"Anytime you havea first-round pick, anytime it's a college kid from great program, you expect them to be ahead of the curve," Skeels said but added, "You're never quite sure what to expect in their first [full] season."

Brown batted .397 and collected 17 extra-base hits and 24 RBIs in 28 games that May before returning to earth. A .202 mark in June -- his lone month of sub-.300 hitting -- knocked his overall average down 53 points.

"He started out like gangbusters," Skeels said, "then the league started to learn him a little."

Beyond resting the bat on his right shoulder pre-pitch -- limiting what he called his pre-pitch "wiggle" -- Brown said he made few tweaks.

"That was the second time around or third we were playing a lot of teams, so [pitchers] were getting a feel for me," Brown said. "I am proud of myself that I came out of that."

After regaining his stroke to the tune of a .343 July, Brown also overcame rumors, some gaining legs in his own clubhouse, that he would be traded in advance of the Majors' non-waiver trade deadline. Teammate Zack Wheeler was sent to the Mets for big leaguer Carlos Beltran on July 27.

"A lot of people were mentioning things on my Twitter, and I just ignored it. Until the day when Zack got traded, he and I were talking earlier that morning. He had mentioned that he had heard something that I was gone," Brown recalled. "It was just until that last moment that I was nervous."

Brown finished the season with a .385 August, including a 5-for-5, two-homer game on Aug. 25. He also wasn't the reason for the Giants' second-round playoff exit: He batted .375 with five doubles in four postseason games.

Still searching for something -- anything -- not resembling a strength? Brown volunteered one: his 74 percent success rate on the basepaths. Brown was caught stealing 19 times, far too many in his own estimation.

"I was disappointed with how many times I got thrown out but, again, it was growth. I went through a funk where I got thrown out on the bases too much, and then I cleaned it up," said Brown, who fixed a hitch in his sliding technique. "So that's what it's all about -- improving. That's all I ever want to try to do and focus on, to continue to get better and not plateau at any point in my career."

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.