The Criminally Underrated Lewis Brinson

What does Lewis Brinson have to do to get respect? In Baseball America’s 2016 Top 100 Prospect List Brinson ranked 16th, ahead of Dansby Swanson (17) and Gleyber Torres (41) and one spot behind Andrew Benintendi.

It’s well known the talent and ability of a player aren’t the only things which factor into the rankings on the various Top Prospect Lists we see throughout the off-season. It’s not a coincidence four of the top five prospects populating the majority of lists are members of large market East Coast organizations; Benintendi (Red Sox), Swanson (Braves) Yoan Moncada (Red Sox, prior to being traded to the White Sox) and Torres (Yankees).

Heading into 2017, Swanson has moved up to third on BA’s list, with Torres fifth and Benintendi reaching the top spot. Both Swanson and Benintendi reached the majors in 2016 and a handful of guys ahead of them graduated from prospect status, so a rise up the ladder would be expected.

The rise of thirty-six spots for Torres is based on two factors; the organization he plays for and his Arizona Fall League MVP award. (Check the list of previous AFL MVP winners and you’ll see how relevant the award is).

On BA’s recently released list for 2017, Brinson ranks 27th, a DROP of eleven spots. Ahead of him on the list are three outfielders (Victor Robles, Mickey Moniak and Kyle Tucker) who have never played above Class A. To be fair, Brinson also came in at #16 on MLB.com’s 2016 list and came in at #18 this year. He was behind Robles but ahead of both Tucker and Moniak.

We don’t know what goes on with the information gathering needed to put these lists together. It should be pretty clear when arguably the top two resources for minor league coverage differ this much on the same player there’s other stuff going on.

Lewis Brinson

Photo Credit: Ryan Morris

Baseball America’s scouting report does nothing to justify his drop in the rankings so my only guess is maybe they just like the other guys better. There’s no question Brinson struggled last season at Double-A Frisco; a .728 OPS in April was followed by a .644 in May. He was showing signs of coming around in early June before suffering shoulder injury which put him on the DL for three weeks.

After a brief rehab assignment with the Rookie League Rangers, Brinson returned to Frisco and put together a .738 OPS before being traded to the Brewers as part of the package for Jonathan Lucroy. The Brewers assigned Brinson to Triple-A Colorado Springs and the change did him some good as he OPS’d 1.098 over the final nineteen games of the season. Some detractors point to the offensive factor of the PCL especially in Colorado Springs but only 13 of Brinson’s 34 hits went for extra bases so maybe the new uniform played a part in his resurgence.

Brinson is a legitimate five-tool player and he’s been showing positive signs of translating those tools into baseball skills. It’s no secret injuries have been a factor throughout his career but when he’s been on the field there’s no question about his ability to have an impact on the game on both sides of the ball.

Brinson’s potential to hit at the professional level was the most questioned aspect of his game at the time of the 2012 draft. Like most amateur players, Brinson relied on superior skills to dominate his competition but scouts were concerned he’d have trouble with the advanced pitching at the pro level due to his unorthodox set-up and swing. With a wide, open stance and a big leg kick, the extra movement made it difficult for him to make consistent contact anywhere in the zone against all pitch types. The result was a cumulative 265 strikeouts over his first two seasons in 156 games with a .253 average. Brinson has worked hard at this since signing and over the past two seasons has struck out 185 times in 204 games while hitting .301.

Brinson’s raw power was never in doubt; he won the home run derby at the 2011 Under Armour Classic played at Wrigley Field. He has averaged 18 homers over the past four seasons despite missing significant time in each due to injury. Healthy, he projects as a consistent 25 homer guy in the majors and could have a few seasons where he approaches 30.

Brinson is a plus runner despite adding 15 pounds of muscle since being drafted. He’s consistently in the 6.6 range in the sixty which is a 7 grade on the scale. Running on speed alone, he’s averaged 18 stolen bases per season as a pro despite a mediocre 67% success rate. Once he learns some of the nuances of base-stealing and opposing pitcher trends both his stolen base totals and success rates will improve.

Lewis Brinson

Photo Credit: Ryan Morris

Brinson is an elite defender, on speed alone he’d be plus but he has great instincts in centerfield which leads to solid reads and consistently good jumps in all directions.

Brinson has a plus arm, good enough to play right field if needed. His throws carry well and stay online through to the target with a quick, consistent release. He’s totaled 25 assists in his four seasons, which on paper seems low, but it’s likely due to the respect he is shown by aggressive and inexperienced minor league baserunners.

Brinson has all the attributes of a superstar. At the upper end, he’s a .300 hitter with a reasonable on-base percentage and an annual 30-30 threat with Gold Glove defense. On the lower end of the scale, he’s a .250 hitter and will need to increase his walk rate to compensate enough to remain a base running threat. On the other end of the ball, defense is defense; he’s an impact player barring injury.

If Brinson was with the Yankees, Red Sox or Dodgers he’d be in the discussion as the top prospect in the game. Having seen him grow from a skinny 175-pound teenager into a muscular 195-pound man and watching his tools matriculate into major league playing skills I believe he is the top prospect in the game. I fully expect him to be a consistent All-Star caliber player with several years of MVP consideration included. He should be a fixture in the middle of the Brewers lineup for several years.

The Brewers are loaded with outfield prospects throughout the organization and Lewis Brinson is clearly at the head of the class. He should start 2017 at Triple-A, although making the opening day roster isn’t out of the question.

 

About The Author

A former scouting intern with the Seattle Mariners, Chuck has contributed prospect related coverage for Perfect Game, SBNation, Bleacher Report and MLB.com, among others. Chuck holds Arizona Fall League media credentials and works for the Arizona Rookie League as an official scorer.