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Minor League Baseball: Brown is Squirrels’ center of attention




RICHMOND—The Richmond Flying Squirrels have been the San Francisco Giants’ Double-A affiliate since 2010.

But the organization has yet to feature a player expected to put spectators in the seats—until this season.

Gary Brown, the Giants’ No. 1 overall prospect according to Baseball America, will begin this season in Richmond.

The Flying Squirrels open their season Thursday with a trip to New Britain.

When they return next Thursday for a seven-game homestand, fans will get their first chance to see the dynamic center fielder up close.

“A lot of these people are going to get to know who Gary Brown is and they’re going to see it real fast,” said Richmond catcher Tommy Joseph, a teammate of Brown’s at Single-A San Jose last season. “He’s not a guy that just sits back. He’s a game-changer. He’s a guy fans love to watch.”

Brown, 23, prefers to allow others to gush over his abilities.

He doesn’t talk about specific expectations or goals he has set for the season, because “I was brought up to put up or shut up.”

He said his ranking in the Giants’ system doesn’t add pressure for him to perform immediately.

“Like I’ve been telling everyone, the expectations put on me are other people’s opinions, so it’s cool,” Brown said. “But I’ve got my own expectations and things I want to do.”

The Cal State Fullerton product was the Giants’ first-round draft choice in 2010.

He said he wants to work on bunting and stealing bases in Richmond, and he has no timetable for a trip to the majors.

But if the start of his career is any indication, Brown could be on the fast track to the Giants.

He led the California League with a franchise record 188 hits in 2011.

He batted .336 with 14 home runs, 80 RBIs and 53 stolen bases.

Brown led the league in batting average and steals. He was tied for second in home runs and was third in RBIs.

“I only saw him in spring training, but from his numbers it looks like he combines a lot of speed with power,” Flying Squirrels manager Dave Machemer said of his leadoff hitter. “So he’s got that special knack of being able to hit the ball out of the park and get on base and score a run.”

Brown was drafted by the Giants the same year the organization chose Colonial Forge High School graduate Jarrett Parker in the second round.

It may have seemed odd that the Giants drafted two center fielders in the first two rounds.

But Brown said he and Parker worked well together in San Jose last season. Parker played right field, and the two became close friends.

Parker offered Brown his car while in Virginia.

“That was a lot of fun. I really like Jarrett,” Brown said of the former University of Virginia standout. “We covered a lot of ground together. I feel like there were a lot of hits we did a good job of taking away.”

But now that they’re apart, Brown and Parker could thrive even more.

Joseph said they’re “unbelievable talents.”

He said Parker may have a stronger arm, but Brown’s throwing strength is an underrated part of his game.

Joseph added that Parker is an “exciting player that Richmond will be excited to have here, too.”

But for now, fans will have to settle for the thrills Brown can provide.

“He’s a five-tool player,” Joseph said. “He can do it all. When he gets on base, stuff starts happening. And when he hits in the gap, you don’t know if it’s going to be a double, triple or if he’s going to run all the way home.”

Taft Coghill Jr.: 540/374-5526