Giants

Gary Brown never recovered on the field from 2015 DFA: ‘Hurt me to my core’

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AP

Gary Brown never recovered on the field from 2015 DFA: ‘Hurt me to my core’

There was a time when Gary Brown was considered the Giants’ top prospect – their center fielder of the future. Hype was never higher than in 2011, when the fleet-footed 22-year-old set a franchise record with 188 hits in 131 games, earning California League Rookie of the Year honors with the San Jose Giants in his first full minor league campaign.

But six seasons and seven major league at-bats later, Brown’s professional baseball career ended at 28 years old.

“I feel like I let my emotions get the best of me in the years after that (2011 season),” Brown told NBC Sports Bay Area in an exclusive phone interview. “I think I started to believe the hype that everyone started to give to me.”

Brown never matched his magical .336-season in High-A ball with 14 home runs plus 53 stolen bases, and then struggled finding a routine with the rigors of the Pacific Coast League’s travel schedule once he reached Triple-A. Despite three hits in his seven at-bats as a September call-up with the Giants in 2014, Brown was designated for assignment on March 31, 2015.

Brown’s career spiraled playing the draining waiver game. Unsuccessful stints with the Cardinals and Angels sent Brown to the land of the last chance: Independent ball in the Atlantic League.

“It was not fun for me for quite a few years. I wasn’t a very happy person,” Brown said. “After I got DFA'd by the Giants, that really took a toll on me. I never really recovered from that, so I was kind of stuck in the past and things kind of just got away from me. 

“I was kind of heartbroken to be honest. I mean, it hurt me to my core.”

Through tumultuous career turns, the Southern California native never turned on the team that drafted him 24th overall in 2010.

“I'm thankful for the opportunity the Giants gave me. No matter how big or small mine was, I am very thankful” Brown said emphatically. “I definitely wish I could have shown what I feel like my true potential was, but it didn't work out that way. 

“I still root for the Giants. All my friends with the Giants, I'm still pulling for them. They run that organization so well. I have no ill intentions or anything bad to say about the Giants organization.” 

Far removed from his days with the Giants, Brown found new life with the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs in 2016. Brown batted .249 and returned to the team in 2017. He started strong with a .298 batting average in 31 games while having fun for the first time in years, but injuries struck at an inopportune time.

Chronic aches in his hip joints and intense back spasms, in addition to a frustrating lack of interest from MLB teams and the fact he and his wife had twins on the way, spurred Brown to retirement in the middle of the season on July 5.

“Retirement has nothing to do with the lack of competitiveness (of the Atlantic League). It was the distance and the time away, matching the minor league salary,” Brown said. “Going back to that makes it really hard on the family and when you get older it really becomes about what you value more.”

The player he once was is gone, but the person he is has only grown. There’s one piece of advice which goes beyond the diamond that Brown was sure to pass on to the next wave of future top Giants prospects.

“Never stop making adjustments,” Brown said ruefully.

Days away from turning 29 on Sept. 28 and out of baseball for the first time in his life, Brown is certainly making his own.

***

Part 2 of our interview with Gary Brown focusing on where he is now in his life will be released Monday on NBCSportsBayArea.com.

Should Giants be finding more starts for slugging Pablo Sandoval?

Should Giants be finding more starts for slugging Pablo Sandoval?

SAN FRANCISCO -- Pablo Sandoval took fly balls in left field during the spring. He caught a bullpen session. A year after starting at second base, he tried to keep that option open, too. 

The Giants' switch-hitter has embraced versatility over the last year, or tried to, in order to get extra time on the field, but thus far his role has been as traditional as it gets. He has made two starts at third base and one at first, and in both games of this series, he was the designated hitter. Otherwise, Sandoval has 17 appearances off the bench. 

That's the role that was expected as the Giants broke camp, but Sandoval has put his own twist on things: He has been more dangerous than any Giants hitter through a month, making a strong case that he should be more of a fixture for one of the worst lineups in the majors. 

"There's no real good way to do it except give Longo the occasional day off," manager Bruce Bochy said before Wednesday's 4-0 win over the Blue Jays. "The thing that I like about Pablo is he's able to sit and maintain his swing and go up there and give you a good at-bat, so whether it's Belt or Longo taking a day, Pablo will start occasionally. If you're talking on a daily basis, it's just hard to do."

Perhaps the Giants need to find a way, though. 

Sandoval's homer Wednesday, his second in two games in Toronto, left the bat at 112 mph (he later had an out at 111 mph). It was the hardest-hit ball of the season by a Giant, and by the end of the day Sandoval had a .333 average and 1.027 OPS. He would easily lead the team in OPS if he qualified, and he currently leads the Giants in doubles (7) despite starting just five games. 

The problem is that Sandoval can't really be anything but an emergency option at any position but first and third. First baseman Brandon Belt is the team's best hitter overall and locked into the lineup, although perhaps the Giants will give him more time in left to clear some playing time. The staff has shown no inclination to give Sandoval more time at third, where Evan Longoria has a .655 OPS and three homers. 

Sandoval enjoyed two days as a starter in Toronto, picking up four hits. But it'll be back to the pinch-hitting role when the Giants return home Friday, and it's a role nobody is doing better right now. Sandoval leads the National League with six pinch-hits, five of which have been doubles. He has scored three runs and driven in two as a pinch-hitter, repeatedly kickstarting late-game rallies. 

[RELATED: Belt not a fan of robot umpires despite frustrations]

"A lot of Pablo's hits are coming off the bench, too, so that works," Bochy said. "It's nice to have a batter sitting on the bench and when you need a big hit, he's ready to go. A lot of those at-bats come with men on base and later in the game, and I've got a pretty nice weapon there."

Giants prospect Heliot Ramos reflects on recent hot streak with San Jose

Giants prospect Heliot Ramos reflects on recent hot streak with San Jose

Everything felt right. There wasn’t anything off with his swing, he wasn’t pressing mentally, and yet, he only had one hit in his first 17 at-bats. 

All it took was a home run on April 9 to get Heliot Ramos, the Giants’ No. 2 prospect, back on track. Since then, he's hitting .349 (15-for-43) with five home runs.

“I knew that I was doing everything right,” Ramos said on Tuesday’s Inside The San Jose Giants Podcast. “In my mind, everything was right. My confidence was good. My swing was good. I just needed the ball to get down. I just keep on swinging.” 

As he kept swinging, hits started to show up in the scorebook. What has been just as important, however, has been him not swinging. 

Ramos registered just 35 walks last season as a member of the Augusta GreenJackets and finished his first full season in the minor leagues with a lowly .313 on-base percentage. He worked all offseason tracking pitches longer and laying off breaking balls in the dirt while playing Winter Ball, and it has paid off big time. 

Through 18 games in High-A with the San Jose Giants, Ramos already has 14 walks and his on-base percentage is over 100 points higher than last season (.418).

“I can see the ball well right now,” Ramos said. “I feel good. I’ve been feeling good. I learned a lot from last year. I hope this is something that can keep going good for me.” 

Not only has Ramos shown improved patience at the plate, but the center fielder is also driving the ball all over the yard. He’s batting .262 with a .991 OPS, and 11 of his 16 hits have gone for extra bases. Despite being the fifth-youngest player in the California League at 19 years old, he’s second in home runs (5), fifth in slugging percentage (.574), fifth in on-base percentage, fourth in walks, and third in OPS. 

San Jose was supposed to be a preview of what’s to come for years in San Francisco this season with the duo of Ramos and top prospect Joey Bart. A fractured hand for Bart has derailed those plans, but it hasn’t slowed down the younger of the two. 

Ramos no longer has the protection of Bart hitting right behind him. The teenager is seeing more off-speed pitches and is now the primary threat offensively to opposing teams. And yet, he’s flourished at the plate. 

[RELATED: Heliot Ramos' advancement 'really encouraging to see']

Since Bart broke his hand on April 15, Ramos has gone 8-for-26 (.308) with two home runs, two doubles, three RBI, and four runs scored. He’s growing every game as a player, both mentally and in the box score, and it could all be thanks to a disappointing season where he hit .245 with 136 strikeouts in 124 games last year. 

“Stay positive,” Ramos said when asked what he learned from last season. “That was the main thing I learned. Stay positive and never give up. Keep working hard and everything’s going to be okay.”