Over the last month, mostly due to trade talks, several Rangers prospects have gotten their names thrown around on blogs and over the airwaves. There was, of course, catcher Jorge Alfaro, OF Nick Williams and RHP Jake Thompson who went to the Phillies in the Cole Hamels trade. There were those that Texas managed to hold onto, such as Joey Gallo, Nomar Mazara and Chi-Chi Gonzalez. And then there was Lewis Brinson, whose name we didn't really hear much of, which seems sort of peculiar given his 2015 season, and the chance that he may have the highest upside of anyone in this paragraph.
Brinson is a center fielder, and a true center fielder at that. The Rangers drafted him with its first round pick (#29 overall) in a monster 2012 class, ahead of 3B Gallo (#39) and Williams (#93), during a time when Texas loaded up its system on toolsy outfielders. Conflated by international signings like Mazara, Jairo Beras and Ronald Guzman (who has since made the move over to 1B), as well as the experiments with Zach Cone (2011 1st round pick) and Jake Skole (2010 1st round pick), the Rangers have scoured amateur baseball for bang or bust outfield talent over the last half-decade.
Since Lewis Brinson was drafted four years ago, the landscape of the Rangers farm system has changed drastically. Skole washed out and is now hitting baseballs for the Yankees High-A affiliate; Cone is in Double-A with the Rangers but isn't considered a prospect anymore; Williams was part of the Hamels package; Beras (.293/.341/.426) is at low-A and Guzman (.268/.303/.398) at high-A; Nomar Mazara is probably Texas's #1 prospect on Opening Day 2016.
So where does Lewis Brinson fit?
Here's what we know: my man can play center field. Last year FanGraphs' Kiley McDaniel rated Lewis the #6 prospect in the Rangers farm system, noting:
"[Brinson's] an easy plus runner and fielder with some scouts hanging a 70 on both tools and some putting a 60 on his arm as well. When four of the five raw tools are 60 or higher, the upside is enormous..."
A first round pick, and legit top-10 prospect in the organization essentially since he was drafted, the reason he's received so little press -- particularly in relation to many other Rangers prospects -- can only be explained by his lack of a true offensive breakout pre-2015, especially in the shadows of the Rangers more known minor leaguers. Below are Brinson's career strikeout and walk rates in the minor leagues:
2012 (AZ Rookie League): 7.9% BB rate, 27.9% K rate
2013 (Low-A): 9.5% BB rate, 38% K rate
2014 (Low-A): 9.7% BB rate, 24.7% K rate
2014 (High-A): 7.5% BB rate, 25.1% K rate
2015 (High-A): 10.4% BB rate, 21.5% K rate
Unlike Gallo and Mazara and Williams, most notably, Brinson has been a slow mover (which sounds silly given that he's still only 21 and now in Double-A), generally repeating a level each year before a late-summer promotion.
Since the start of 2014 when he repeated at Hickory, Lewis Brinson has steadily matured his approach at the plate. Because of his plus to plus-plus defensive prowess at a premium position, and ability to hit for above average power, we're talking about a guy who only has to hit .240 or .250 to be a solid +3 WAR regular. If he can somehow sustain a 22-25% strikeout rate in the majors, the Rangers are looking at a CF with All-Star upside.
In 2015, Brinson has blown through expectations at the plate. In the hitter-friendly California League, he hit .337/.416/.628 (179 wRC+), and since his promotion to Double-A Frisco, he's batting .400/.381/.675 with 6 extra-base hits in 40 at bats. He may have done the majority of his 2015 damage in a band box at High Desert, but right now there is no mistaking Lewis Brinson as a future major league contributor, someone who could possibly vault into the top-35 to 40 range in next season's top-100 prospects list.
Looking towards the future of Texas's outfield, it's a pretty interesting setup. Leonys Martin doesn't become arbitration-eligible until after this season, meaning the Rangers still own his rights through 2018.
Shin-Soo Choo is still owed a lot of money over a lot of years, and I'd rather not think about that. Last month Ken Rosenthal had a piece about the Rangers possibly trading Choo in the offseason -- where Texas would most likely have to assume a sizable portion of his contract -- so the light at the end of the tunnel could be sooner than we all think.
Josh Hamilton still has two years remaining on his massive 5-year, $125 million contract he signed with Anaheim a couple years ago, but Texas is only on the hook for about $5 million of that between 2016-'17. The Rangers will likely give Josh every opportunity to hold down a regular spot in the outfield while he's healthy and contributing, but we're past the point of including him when talking about the future of the organization. That's saved for the Gallo's, the Mazara's, and now the Brinson's.
The Rangers are a very left-handed lineup, and project to be lefty-heavy. Factoring in the ambitious assumption that Joey Gallo will be the 2016 Opening Day right fielder instead of Shin-Soo Choo, Texas projects to have Prince Fielder, Mitch Moreland, Rougned Odor, Leonys Martin and Gallo as its lefties in 2016, and Fielder, Odor, Martin, Gallo and Mazara in 2017. The emergence of Delino DeShields makes Leonys expendable and the lineup less left-handed -- and the Rangers may look for a trade this winter -- but given his ceiling and relatively cheap arbitration years, the front office might just be better off holding onto him in hopes he turns into Carlos Gomez.
The point is, Lewis Brinson's minor league trajectory puts him in position to make an impact as early as 2017, and right-handed power is a skill the Rangers are sorely lacking at the moment. He doesn't have Joey Gallo's power or arm strength, and he doesn't have Nomar Mazara's plate discipline or ability to make contract, but across the board, Lewis Brinson does everything well. We may not see him for another couple years, but by now he has established himself as a prospect we should all have our eyes on, as he's looking like a no-doubt piece of Texas's future.