The SF Giants just seem to hit on prospects who came from small schools in the Farhan Zaidi-Michael Holmes era. Is outfield prospect Vaun Brown the next in line?
SF Giants outfield prospect Vaun Brown keeps surging upwards
In 2019, the Giants took a $100,000 dart throw on a West Alabama reliever in the 18th round and he has been one of the most dominant, if not the most dominant, relief prospect in the Giants farm system ever since Minor League baseball returned in 2021. Oh, if you don't know him, it's Cole Waites. In 2020, the Giants took a right-handed pitcher from Division II Le Moyne with their final pick of the draft and gave him a $25,000 bonus as a money-saving pick only to become their second-best pitching prospect as of Around The Foghorn's Top 30 Prospects June update in Ryan Murphy. In 2021, the Giants once again dipped into the Division II talent pool by drafting their first hitter in the draft after selecting nine straight pitchers, taking a shot at a redshirt senior outfielder from Florida Southern Water Moccasins. Look, I have zero idea what a moccasin is so I made a quick search and it's actually a shoe with a Native American flair. That or a viper.
Fascinating team name aside, the name Vaun Brown did not ring any bells in the Giants community except for one person, and that's former SF Giants first baseman Lance Niekro. Niekro happens to be the head coach at Florida Southern so when you think of it, the Giants drafting Brown made some sense in terms of how they managed to find the outfielder. Good friend and former ATF colleague Marc Delucchi noted that Niekro lauded Brown's improvements in all facets of his game during the COVID break that resulted in him getting drafted. In his final season for Florida Southern, Brown posted a 1.254 OPS with 13 bombs, nine stolen bases, a 9.23% walk rate, and a 20% strikeout rate. But a 23-year-old redshirt senior from a Division II school should not be a potential big-time prospect once he stepped foot in a professional setting, right? About that...
After getting his feet wet in the Arizona Rookie League last year with a casual 1.100 OPS, Brown has been dominating with a .342 batting average, 1.043 OPS, 12 doubles, five triples, 13 homers, 23 stolen bases while only being caught three times, a 9.8% walk rate, and a 25.8% strikeout rate. Get this: in all of Minor League baseball, there are only two prospects with more than 10 home runs and 20 stolen bases this season. It's Esteury Ruiz of the San Diego Padres and Vaun Brown.
The redshirt senior from a Division II school has been one of the best prospects this season from a numbers perspective. Fantasy baseball players should adore this man's production. However, how does he actually look like in the field?
On the field, he looks like an absolute unit. When I watched the camera pan to Brown as he celebrated with his teammates at home plate when he hit a walk-off home run against Lake Elsinore, it was noticeable that he is built different. To quote Drax of the Guardians of the Galaxy, Brown "is not a dude.. This is a man... a handsome... muscular man..." His level of physicality might only be matched by Giants manager Gabe Kapler and you might imagine that a guy who looks like eats and drinks only protein shakes might be stiff with all the muscle that he has in his frame. However, for Brown, that's clearly not the case.
For a guy as physically built as Brown, his batting stance is, well, let's say that I can compare it to my batting stance when I play ball and stick games. Brown has a handsy, compact stroke that leaves him susceptible to pitches over the outer part of the plate and even though he has all the physicality in the world, the energy transfer is not highly efficient with him focusing more on making contact rather than going all-in on power. That approach, however, fits Brown's overall game focused on physicality and speed where he posts plus home to first times and is a savvy base-stealer, both of which are highly impressive for a guy his size. That speed also is a fit on the other side of the ball as he is a solid fit in center field although his fringy arm strength is his weakest tool so left field might be his final home. That, and because he is teammates with Grant McCray so he's mostly playing in the corner outfield when McCray is playing defense.
If you want the tool grades, I would grade Brown as a 40-hit, 45-power, 60-speed, 45-arm, 50-field prospect.
Brown's performance this season comes with plenty of caveats but the biggest of which is the age versus the average. He is a 24-year-old playing with opponents (and teammates) who are at least three years younger so it naturally raises the question of whether him stomping Low-A is him being good or him being just too old for the kids. There is also the question of a 24-year-old being three years older than the average competition having a 25.8% strikeout rate. As mentioned earlier, his high strikeout rate is predicated on him swinging through good breaking balls so his general hit tool is a question mark. Brown could eventually settle to a hitter who can impact the game with his power and speed but if he wants to better tap on his power, he has to adjust his swing mechanics, particularly by stabilizing his front leg better to create a stronger lever, to better utilize his handsy swing and generate even more power.
Just as what most has said for the past month it seems like, Vaun Brown is too good for Low-A competition. Something just clicked for him since his senior season that has carried over and turned a virtually nobody to a definite somebody. And the Giants have done it once again, identifying a talent from seemingly nowhere and turned out to be someone legit. I don't know which is more incredible, their ability to find top 30 talent out of nowhere or their inability to draft a legitimately good first-round player. But that's a story for another day (or another couple of weeks as I'll talk about this in detail). However, this should not take away the fact that Brown worked his butt off to get to this point which is a testament to his dedication to the game and it is bearing plenty of fruit. Even though he might reach the Majors at age-27, the sky is the limit for Vaun Brown.