The Ducksnorts 2008 Baseball Annual included a section called “Overlooked ex-Padres.” I’d wanted to call attention to four players–Ollie Brown, Mike Ivie, Ruppert Jones, and Bip Roberts–that maybe didn’t get their due in San Diego. The idea was noble, but the execution could have been better.
Since I’ve spent much of the offseason writing player comments for Baseball Prospectus 2015 (#ShamelessPlug), I’m in the mind-set of condensing a man’s contributions to his team into a short paragraph with snappy phrases. In that vein, I thought it might be fun to revisit those players from DS2008 and write capsules for each of their seasons with the Padres.
First on the agenda: Ollie Brown.
Selected as the first pick overall in last year’s expansion draft, Brown–the older brother of Braves prospect Oscar Brown–is expected to be the Padres’ everyday right fielder. Don’t be fooled by his .249/.303/.350 line in sporadic playing time with the Giants over the last four seasons. He led the California League in homers and SLG back in ’64 and is still only 25 years old. Despite being a right-handed hitter, he has struggled thus far against lefties at the highest level, but that could just be a sample size issue. Now freed from having to look over his shoulder at the younger and more exciting Bobby Bonds, Brown should thrive in his new home.
Given his first shot at an everyday role, Brown provided one of San Diego’s few power sources in its inaugural season. Concerns about his susceptibility to southpaws proved unfounded, as he hit .310/.381/.549 and knocked eight of his 20 home runs against them. Although he can get sloppy on defense at times, his strong arm keeps runners honest. Brown tied with Pittsburgh’s Roberto Clemente for second in right fielder assists, and only the Mets’ Rod Gaspar started more double plays from the outfield. If he keeps this up, Brown will go down in history as the second-best Padres right fielder ever to hail from Long Beach Poly High School. (Reports on the hitting prowess of a nine-year-old kid named Anthony Gwynn are unconfirmed at press time.)
The man they call “Downtown” followed his breakout ’69 campaign with an even better performance last year. Brown cut down his strikeouts and nearly doubled his doubles en route to an All-Star caliber season (blame his omission on a slow start and on teammate Clarence Gaston’s unexpected emergence). Once Brown got rolling, he was unstoppable. From May 5 to season’s end, he hit .300/.337/.511. In August and July, while his team went 16-33, he posted a 970 OPS and hit 14 of his 23 homers. Clutch? He was one of the best in baseball with runners in scoring position, hitting a cool .379/.439/.647. Unless something weird happens, Brown–who is just entering his prime–should be a force in San Diego for years to come.
Something weird happened. Namely, Brown stopped driving baseballs. At a time when his skills should have been peaking, he regressed in crucial offensive areas. The batting average was nice, as was the career high in walks, but 25 extra-base hits in 542 plate appearances? Teammate Leron Lee had more in half as many trips to the dish. Brown’s ISO dropped from .197 to .089, which is acceptable for a shortstop but not for a right fielder. The power outage is a mystery, and he’s still young enough to prove that this was merely a blip on the radar. On the other hand, it’s possible that he might never sniff double digits in home runs again.