Lewis Brinson – The Enigma

Lewis Brinson is an athlete.  Not just a “regular” athlete.  I am talking about the kind of elite athlete an organization just drools over and hopes to develop effectively.  As far as tools go, Brinson has them.  As far as baseball ability goes, well that is what we are going to look at.
To be fair in this evaluation I think we should start looking at this from a scout’s perspective and leave the numbers out of it to begin with.  To say Lewis Brinson is more of a high risk, high reward than normal prospects would be an appropriate statement.  The comps that are out there are Adam Jones and Mike Cameron. While the more I do this, the more I dislike comps. I would say that those comps give you an insight into the upside potential Brinson.  Think of an elite defender in center with plus speed, plus arm and the 20-30 HR potential.  Before the season Jason Parks over at Baseball Prospectus (By the way, if you have don’t already subscribe to that site,  it is simply terrific) ranked Brinson as the number 6th prospect in the organization.

All of that being said Brinson is the reason the word potential ever came into being in the scouting lexicon.  He was picked 29th overall in 2012 by the Rangers.  He performed very well in Rookie Ball showing more advanced baseball skills than talent evaluators previously thought he possessed.  He has been praised for his work ethic and makeup as well.  By all accounts, Lewis Brinson is a good kid.

I got the unique chance of seeing Brinson twice in Hickory this year.  Let’s start with the defensive side.  I got to see him make a diving catch on a ball that I think he took one false step back on (forgivable since it was a sinking line drive hit directly at him).  However, he closed on the ball with speed and explosiveness you don’t see much in baseball.  It was a joy to watch.  On routine fly balls he took good routes and showed a smoothness that is rarely seen.  If his offense will play then his defense will be very good to elite.

Offensively is where Brinson needs some work.   From seeing him, his load is still a little long.  He tends to create a straight front arm which can leave him exposed to even just a decent fastball inside.  Once a hitter senses this then they usually try to cheat a little which then leaves them exposed to breaking balls away.  I saw all of this during the two games I watched Hickory.  However, despite what is going with his load, his hands are not bad.  He makes them slower with his current hitting mechanics.

His lower half was solid though.  He stays on good balance and drives his hips through relatively well. You can almost see him having a battle in his hands between what I’m sure the excellent minor league instruction he is getting in the Rangers organization is telling him to do and the bad habits he has gotten into in HS.  Really quickly, he is 19.

This is where the only part of makeup I really care about comes in (Off the field I only care about two things for a player, is he doing anything illegal and does he work hard).  Does he work?  Like I said before it seems that he does.  It seems that he really likes the game and really likes his teammates.  He was the best athlete on the field each night I saw Hickory and it was not that close.

Now to the numbers to see if what my eyes were lying to me or telling me the truth (as an aside I believe that scouting and sabermetrics complement each other not oppose each other. However that is a topic for another day).  My eyes were telling me this is a kid that has a pretty big hole in his swing that can create another hole if he compensates for it.  His numbers bear that out.

In 2013 Brinson’s K% was 37.97%.  I pulled data from 2003 to present and for all qualified hitters in the top 100 in OPS no one had a worse K Rate. The total sample for this query was 1100 seasons worth of player data.  However for Brinson we must only look at 126 of those.  Why?  Well, this was Brinson’s age 19 season and there have been only 126 age 19 or younger seasons in our overall sample so that is the most appropriate population to look at.  Age relative to league is a very big thing for prospects.  The average age in the South Atlantic League this year was 21.7. There is a big developmental difference between a 19 year old and a player that is almost 22.

The next step was simple; find positives about this offensive performance.   Usually when you see a player with a very high K % you want to look at his power. Basically, does he help mitigate his very high K% with a lot of power?   Brinson had the 24th best ISO at .190 in our population.  If wOBA is your thing, Brinson finished 63rd out of 126 which just on the borderline of top 50%.  Lastly, his walk rate was 33rd out of 126.  So while you hate his high K% he did at least perform fairly well offensively in comparison to his peers.  After all, according to an old scouting adage, you hit your way up the ladder.

The issue with Brinson is that what he is doing is unprecedented in the last 11 years in the South Atlantic League (I only pulled 11 years of data).  The only person close to Brinson in K% is Joey Gallo and Gallo posted an ISO of .365 and wOBA .418. Brinson’s slash line was .237/.322/.427.  Also, I did not adjust for home parks which actually would have made Brinson’s line look a little weaker because Hickory is known as a hitter’s park.

As I said in the Alfaro piece I really don’t like comps anymore and once again Brinson does not really fit any particular player because no one has struck out this much.  If you want a couple players that you really hope he develops into (absolutely best case scenario) then look at maybe a Carlos Gomez (in addition to the aforementioned Mike Cameron and Adam Jones).  However, remember up until 2012 Gomez was a very weak offensive player.

Gomez was also good enough to reach the majors at 21 which Brinson will not do. If Brinson reaches the majors you hope he basically breaks even offensively with a little pop because just on his defense and baserunning he could be a 2-3 win player.  If he does more than break even then you have yourself an All Star player. The problem is whether his propensity to strike out will curtail his chances of reaching the majors in the first place.

So what do you do with Brinson in 2014?  There are two trains of thought here. You have him repeat the league and tell him to work on cutting his K% down.  To me, there is a non statistical based issue with that.  Would it hurt his psyche to now be a level behind all of the other Hickory kids (Gallo, Alfaro, Williams, possibly Guzman…I think Mazara stays in Hickory)?  The second train of thought is that you push him.   You hope that he steps up to the improved competition in Myrtle Beach.  You hope he can put up at least the same numbers or better there while still projecting as a plus plus defensive outfielder.   There is a lot of hope on that train though.

Personally, I would keep Brinson in Hickory but have a very quick promotion trigger and tell him that.  I think he can cut down on his swing a bit, still retain most of his power while also cutting down on strikeouts.  That would be the goal at least.  He is just another in the long line of very projectable, good young baseball players who seem to really enjoy playing the game.

In conclusion Brinson is the type of player that is high risk, high reward.  If he puts it all together you are looking at an all star CF in every facet of the game.  However, that is a big “if”.  Either way it will be really fun to watch him attempt, and hopefully succeed, to put it all together.  I don’t know if he will ever be Mike Cameron or Carlos Gomez but he could be a helluva Lewis Brinson.  

Michael Cave is a Staff Writer for ShutDownInning. You can reach him at Michael.Cave@shutdowninning.com or on Twitter @MichaelCave15.
Michael Cave

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