During spring training last year, a prospect who was generating a ton of buzz, who was getting people talking about him being poised to break out in 2014, was outfielder Nomar Mazara. You probably know what he's done over the last year and a half.
This year, meanwhile, a guy who was generating attention much like Mazara was last season, who had people thinking he was ready to take a big step forward, was 2012 first round pick Lewis Brinson. Brinson had performed well for Hickory in between stints on the disabled list last year, putting up a .335/.405/.579 line in 186 plate appearances, but then struggled once he was promoted to high-A, going .246/.307/.350 in 199 plate appearances.
Going to the hitter-friendly Cal League this year, big things were expected from Brinson. He started off relatively slowly, however, with a .275/.359/.435 slash line in 17 games, and then ended up on the disabled list again with a hamstring issue.
Since Brinson's return from the d.l. on June 5, however, he has been destroying Cal League pitchers. After going 2 for 4 yesterday with a home run and a walk, Brinson is now hitting .333/.420/.618 in 143 plate appearances since coming off the d.l., with 16 walks and 27 Ks on the season. For the year, Brinson has a .313/.398/.552 slash line for High Desert, and his 950 OPS is fifth in the league. Yes, the Cal League is hitter friendly, and High Desert is a hitter friendly park even for the Cal League, but still...a guy who just turned 21 a couple of months ago putting up those numbers, while also playing center field (and being viewed as a solid defensive center fielder) is something to be excited about.
Perhaps most encouraging is the improvement in Brinson's strikeout rate. In his first shot at full season ball in 2013, Brinson fanned 191 times in 503 plate appearances -- a 38% K rate. When he returned to Hickory in 2014, he lowered his K rate to 24.7%, and maintained that improvement in Myrtle Beach, striking out 25.1% of the team there. This year has shown more improvement, as Brinson has struck out just 20.8% of the time while playing for High Desert, including an 18.8% rate during this recent streak.
Brinson's hit tool and ability to make contact has always been the biggest knock on him -- given his speed, power and glove, he projects to be a potential major league starting centerfielder if he can hit .240. If he can maintain a strikeout rate in the 20% range, he should be able to do that.
Brinson will probably be headed to Frisco before too long, and we'll be in a position to get more firsthand reports on him...but in the meantime, his performance this year indicates he's making strides, and hopefully, he'll be able to build on that once he gets to Frisco.