SAN FRANCISCO -- Gary Brown's a throwback by excelling at throwing forward.
Brown possesses an excess of speed and hitting aptitude, qualities he shares with many highly regarded prospects. But his defensive skills in center field, including his throwing, separate him from the masses. That's partly why Brown was ranked 48th on MLB.com's 2012 list of the Top 100 Prospects, serving as San Francisco's highest-rated honoree. Fellow outfielder Francisco Peguero was rated 98th.
This year's edition of MLB.com's Top Prospects list has expanded from 50 to 100 players. The annual ranking of baseball's biggest and brightest young talent is assembled by MLB.com's Draft and prospect expert Jonathan Mayo, who compiles input from industry sources, including scouts and scouting directors. It is based on analysis of players' skill sets, upsides, closeness to the Majors and potential immediate impact to their teams. The list, which is one of several prospect rankings on MLB.com's Prospect Watch, only includes players with rookie status in 2012.
Andy Skeels, who managed Brown at Class A Advanced San Jose last year, described the 23-year-old's defense in terms that conjured memories of perhaps the greatest center fielder of all -- Giants legend Willie Mays. It was said that Mays played the outfield as if he were an infielder, hungrily pursuing balls hit in front of him, using the extent of his lateral range and always throwing aggressively.
Brown's throwing makes him a rare practitioner of what has become a lost art. Relatively few Major League outfielders have developed truly impressive throwing arms. Outfielders from previous eras who made perfect pegs to the infield or even the catcher -- Mays, Roberto Clemente, Bobby Bonds, Ellis Valentine, Dave Parker and Larry Walker were among those of this ilk -- seem imaginary.
With Brown, this talent is almost ordinary.
"This guy's a true shutdown center fielder," Skeels said. "One thing that he does better than anybody I've ever seen in center field is charge the ball and get rid of it in a hurry. And it's not just getting it back into the infield. This kid can throw. He throws head-high darts, and right on the bag. He's incredibly accurate. He's a true weapon defensively, and especially throwing the ball. There aren't a whole lot of center fielders who have that ability."
Playing his first full professional season after San Francisco drafted him in the first round (24th overall) of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, Brown batted .336 and captured the California League's Rookie of the Year honors. He led the league with 188 hits and 13 triples while finishing second with 53 stolen bases.
Brown compiled these numbers despite enduring a prolonged midseason slump.
"The one thing that really encouraged me, and I'm sure it encouraged a lot of other people in our organization, is to see him get challenged and get beat -- to make the adjustment coming out of that series of games that we had for about three weeks, and then to just dominate the second half the way he did," Skeels said.
A right-handed batter, Brown finally slowed down during the offseason, as exhaustion and a respiratory infection limited him to 11 games and a .220 batting average for Scottsdale in the Arizona Fall League. He'll be among the 25 non-roster invitees to big league Spring Training camp next month.
Peguero, 23, simply looks like a Major Leaguer. A two-time invitee to Spring Training, Peguero has appeared so polished during batting practice that he was almost indistinguishable from established veterans. The right-handed hitter owns a .312 average in six Minor League seasons and earned the distinction of being selected for the World team in the 2010 XM All-Star Futures Game.
Peguero's aggressiveness, which has been one of his most prominent assets, can also hamper him at times. He has walked only 80 times in 2,106 plate appearances, but when he gets on base, he can be a legitimate threat. Arthroscopic surgery on his left knee limited Peguero to 12 stolen bases last year, but he accumulated 40 thefts in 2010 after totaling 72 from '07-09.
Power is the only asset Peguero hasn't displayed in abundance. He has hit just 27 career home runs, which won't suffice if he's going to occupy a corner-outfield spot for San Francisco. But the Giants believe that Peguero will inevitably gain pop, given the consistent, solid contact he makes.
To allow Peguero to progress gradually, the Giants have taken their time advancing him through their system. His 71-game stint with Double-A Richmond last year marked his first climb past A-level ball. Peguero, who hit a respectable .264 in 24 games with the Gigantes del Cibao in the Dominican Winter League this offseason, will likely begin next season with Triple-A Fresno.
Thus, his climb could end soon.
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.