Down in the Aviators' clubhouse, outside of manager Fran Riordan's office, is a dry-erase board that regularly lists the day's starting lineup, the scouting report on the opposing team's pitcher and other pertinent information. On Friday afternoon, that board also included a message written in black ink:"Optional Batting Practice Saturday
Down in the Aviators' clubhouse, outside of manager Fran Riordan's office, is a dry-erase board that regularly lists the day's starting lineup, the scouting report on the opposing team's pitcher and other pertinent information. On Friday afternoon, that board also included a message written in black ink:
"Optional Batting Practice Saturday - Sign Up."
Given that the season is more than three months old and that recent midafternoon temperatures have soared well into triple digits, it's no surprise that the majority of the Aviators' players politely declined the offer, choosing instead to take their hacks in the air-conditioned indoor batting cage.
It's also no surprise that one of the two players who printed their names on the dry-erase board was Seth Brown.
Not because the first baseman is trying to work his way out of a slump - quite the contrary, he extended his hitting streak to six games during the Aviators' 13-9 victory over the Salt Lake Bees on Saturday. What's more, going back to June 23, Brown has hit safely in 14 of the 16 games in which he's had an official at-bat, hitting .353 (24-for-68) with eight doubles, one triple, three home runs, 16 RBI and 18 runs scored.
So why was the 6-foot-1, 225-pound native of Medford, Oregon, standing at home plate at Las Vegas Ballpark on Saturday afternoon, taking swings against Riordan in the searing 103-degree heat some two hours before first pitch? And doing so barely an hour after hitting in the indoor cage? On his 27th birthday, no less?
Because that's precisely how 19th-round draft picks out of little-known Lewis-Clark State College progress up baseball's proverbial ladder, reaching the precipice of the major leagues in their fifth professional season. We'll let Brown explain:
"I came from a really tough college in a military-style program, but it taught me how to earn what you want and that whatever you're willing to put [into something] is what you'll get out of it," Brown said prior to Saturday's game. "When I got drafted, I knew I was going to have to be that type of guy who did the extra work that nobody else wants to do, and who had work harder and put myself through more than most people want to.
"But doing that has really helped me in [my career], and it's something I'm trying to maintain every year, to have that sense of, 'Hey, this guy is going to work as hard as he can for you and put it all on the line every day.' And I take pride in that [and the fact] that everybody knows me as the guy who is going to outwork you rather than the guy who is just naturally gifted."
While Brown might be selling himself a tad short in the natural gift department - after all, on a team that features eight players with double-digit home runs, nobody has more than Brown's 19 - there's certainly no doubting that his strong work ethic has contributed to his rise through the Oakland A's system.
After being selected in the 19th round of the 2015 First-Year Player Draft, Brown went straight to rookie ball and played in 68 games. Then following spring training in 2016, the A's assigned Brown to high Class-A Stockton, where he racked up 249 hits in 262 games over two full seasons, batting .256 with a combined 38 homers and 162 RBI. Those numbers earned Brown a promotion to Double-A Midland, Texas, in 2018, and despite playing in a ballpark and league that tends to favor pitchers over hitters, the left-handed slugger hit a career-best .283 with 14 homers and 90 RBI in 131 games.
Once again impressed with Brown's progress, Oakland elevated him to Triple A this season, and he's been one of the Aviators' most consistent and productive offensive threats. Batting mostly in the middle of the lineup, Brown is hitting .277 and not only leads his team in home runs but ranks in the top five in games played (76, fourth); hits (86, fifth); doubles (22, fourth); triples (5, tied for third); runs (66, third); RBI (60, fourth); and even stolen bases (6, tied for fourth). A natural first baseman, Brown has also played several games in the outfield.
"He's been nothing but impressive since the season started," Riordan said of Brown. "He's hitting for average, he's hitting for power, obviously, and he's doing a good job defensively. He's really getting better every day, and he's as hard a worker and as good a teammate as you're going to find."
Brown actually came out of the gates scalding hot in his first Triple-A season - in fact, he was batting .345 with seven home runs and 19 RBI through his first 14 games, and he finished April with a .319 average, nine homers and 23 RBI in 22 contests. But after the Pacific Coast League's pitchers got a few looks at him, they attacked Brown differently and his numbers took a dip. So like any professional hitter, Brown put in some extra work and made his own adjustments, and the result has been the three-week surge he's currently riding, during which he's raised his batting average from .256 to .277 and his OPS from .848 to .885.
"We see a lot of the same pitchers in our division, and they're not going to do the same thing to you every time if you're doing damage against them," Riordan said. "So to see him make those adjustments after the little rough patch he had has been the most impressive thing so far."
For Brown, those adjustments have been much more difficult in Triple A, where many pitchers have either spent time in the big leagues or are on the verge of getting there.
"It's a big chess game," he said. "These pitchers at this level, they know exactly how to get you out, and what's more is they can command their pitches at any point. So the challenge has been making that transition from facing pitchers who are on the brink of being able to command their pitches to guys [at Triple A] who know exactly how to do it.
"Once you face a staff two or three times, they know what you want to do, and they know exactly how to get you out. So having a [sound] approach, being able to stick to it and making those adjustments - even from day to day - is huge."
And if he can continue to figure out how to stay one step ahead of some of the best pitchers on the planet, there's no telling just how far Brown can go. While the A's seem set at first base with Matt Olson - who is actually two years younger than Brown - Riordan believes if his first baseman keeps outperforming his draft position, he'll find his way to the big leagues in due time.
"Performance matters," Riordan said. "You start climbing levels and people start looking less at where you were drafted and more at what you're doing at the higher levels, and he's certainly a guys who falls in that category.
"There are a lot of late-rounders who have become great big-leaguers and a lot of early-round picks who have never made it. Everyone's rooting for him to get an opportunity, and if hard work and talent have anything to do with it, he's going to force [Oakland's] hand."
Hard work like volunteering to take optional batting practice … in the dead of a Las Vegas summer … on your 27th birthday … when you're not even in a slump. That type of dedication might be difficult for many to comprehend, but for Seth Brown, it's all part of an ethos that's never going to change.
"It's a chip on my shoulder as much as anything, to know that I'm not going to let anybody outwork me, and that's the way I want to keep it," he said. "The biggest thing in this game for me is I never want to walk away knowing I could've given more. I don't ever want to leave anything on the table. That's how I try to approach every day."
PAYTON POWERS AVIATORS PAST BEES: Other than a late-inning, pinch-running appearance Friday, outfielder Mark Payton enjoyed an extended All-Star break, as he played the reserve role in the first two games of the Aviators' home series against Salt Lake. On Saturday, Riordan penciled Payton's name in the lineup, and the 27-year-old paid dividends in a big way.
On "Superhero Night," Payton flexed his muscles by crushing three home runs to help Las Vegas rally past the Bees for a 13-9 victory. Sheldon Neuse (3-for-4) and Corban Joseph (2-for-5) also homered for the Aviators (53-40), who bounced back strong after blowing a late-inning lead in Friday's 10-7 loss to the Bees.
Payton's first homer - a deep two-run shot over the right-field wall off Salt Lake starter Jaime Barria (3-2) - came in a four-run second inning and erased a 3-0 lead that the Bees (40-52) established in the first inning. The Illinois native added another two-run shot off Barria in the fifth inning, this one over the center-field wall. Then leading off the ninth, Payton dropped another big fly over the right-field wall, his third of the game and 13th of the season.
In all, 10 of the Aviators' 16 hits went for extra bases, including two doubles each by Neuse and Nick Martini and one by Joseph. With the victory, Las Vegas improved 12-5 in its last 17 games, including 6-1 in its last seven at home.
STILL STREAKING: During his 11-game hitting streak, Payton is 19-for-43 (.442) with five doubles, three triples, four home runs, 10 runs and 11 RBI. Neuse and Eric Campbell (1-for-5, run, RBI) also extended their hitting streaks to seven games Saturday night. During their hot runs, Campbell is 12-for-31 (.387) with three homers, 10 RBI and nine runs, while Neuse is 13-for-32 (.406) with four home runs, 11 RBI and nine runs.
Meanwhile, in six games since July 3, Martini is 15-for-30 (.500) with 10 runs scored, and the outfielder has recorded five straight multi-hit games.
Finally, Joseph has now hit safely in 27 of his last 30 games going back to June 1, during which he's 52-for-110 (.473) with 14 doubles, two triples, five homers, 30 RBI, 32 runs and 16 multi-hit games and just nine strikeouts. He's hit three homers and driven in eight runs during the first three games of the series against the Bees and continues to lead the PCL with a .393 batting average.
GAME NOTES: Everyone in the Las Vegas lineup contributed at least one hit Saturday, with Payton, Neuse, Martini, Joseph and Beau Taylor (2-for-4, 2 runs, 2 RBI) all recording multiple hits. … Aviators right-hander Kyle Finnegan (1-0) earned his first Triple-A victory, relieving starter Tyler Alexander and pitching 1 2/3 scoreless innings while allowing just one hit … Salt Lake's Jared Walsh, whose three-run homer with two outs in the ninth inning Friday sank the Aviators, continued his torrid hitting, going 4-for-5 with two doubles, two runs and two RBI. Wilfredo Tovar also went 4-for-5 for the Bees. … Shortstop Jorge Mateo (illness) sat out his third straight game for Las Vegas. … Saturday's sellout crowd of 9,340 pushed the season attendance at Las Vegas Ballpark over the 450,000 mark. The sellout was the 35th in 48 contests at Las Vegas Ballpark.
ON DECK: The Aviators and Bees conclude their four-game series at Las Vegas Ballpark at 7:05 p.m. Sunday. Las Vegas right-hander James Naile (1-0, 2.57 ERA) makes his second Triple-A start (and first at Las Vegas Ballpark), and he'll oppose fellow righty Matt Ball (0-1, 5.30).
Following Sunday's game, Las Vegas will travel to Tacoma for a four-game series against the Rainiers that starts Monday night.
Catch every Aviators game throughout the season on NBC Sports Radio 920-AM, and follow us on Twitter @AviatorsLV.