One of the all-time success stories in Oakland A’s history is Brandon Moss.
He came to town as a minor league free agent, a busted former top prospect looking for another chance to make good. He found it here, and broke out into a quality slugger who hit 30 homers in 2013 and made the All-Star team the next summer. And then, in the traditional rite of passage for Oakland’s best, he was traded away as his salary rose.
Moss was a boss, on and off the field, and we all loved him. He’s one of the faces of the Island of Misfit Toys, and he was recognized nationally as a legit star.
Could Seth Brown be on a similar path right now?
The big-picture parallels are striking. Brown appeared from even further out of nowhere, as a 19th-round draft pick. He’s the age now (28) that Moss was when he debuted for the A’s in 2012. They’re both lefty sluggers with mighty swings, who are identified as OF/1B on defense. They’re the same height, which is neat. It’s an obvious comp, even if no analogy is perfect.
Getting more specific, at the plate Moss walked a bit more than average, and he struck out at least his fair share but not too much for a slugger. Brown is in the same range. So far this year his BB rate is strong and his K rate is average, but his minor league track record suggests they’ll decline a bit over the long haul, with Moss levels as a reasonable prediction if all goes well.
In terms of power, we can’t compare precisely because Statcast didn’t come around until after Moss was traded away. But Brown owns two of the A’s four highest exit velocities so far this year, and three of the top 13, and his .423 xwOBA ranks third on the club. He can hit it as hard as anybody, and he knows how to elevate it for maximum effect.
He can also hit it hard against anybody. Among Brown’s three homers, which he needed only 10 games to collect, one came against 2020 AL Cy Young runner-up Kenta Maeda. He also nearly went yard against reigning 2020 NL Cy Young winner Trevor Bauer, but it hooked just a couple feet foul on its way into the seats despite being hit harder and farther than the Maeda blast. On Tuesday, his RBI single against two-time All-Star Jose Berrios served as the only run of the game for either team, and the 107 mph dart only stayed in the park because he didn’t quite get under it enough for a three-run dinger.
When comparing with someone like Moss who once hit two homers in the same Wild Card Game, it’s nice to know Brown can roll with the best.
Moss, 2012-14 OAK: .254/.340/.504, 136 wRC+, 25 HR/year, 10.4% BB, 27.7% Ks
If Brown can indeed build on his hot start and resemble Moss at the plate, then his defense could even take him to greater heights than his predecessor. Moss held his own with the glove but was never truly a plus on that side, whereas Brown has already flashed his leather multiple times in two weeks.
Against the Dodgers he robbed a homer with a leaping grab in left field, and on Tuesday against the Twins he ran in to make a nice diving catch in right field. He’s not just keeping his bat in the lineup, he’s making an impact in both outfield corners, and he did so when we briefly saw him in 2019 too so it’s becoming a pattern. His advanced metrics in the outfield are already notably high in 200 career innings.
And then factor in seeing Brown dash home on a wild pitch Wednesday, with not a second to spare from his alert first step to his all-out hustle to his aggressive slide. Statcast suggests his sprint speed is around average, which is good for a slugger and better than being slow.
Put it all together and you’ve got quite a ceiling to dream on. The All-Star bat of Moss, but with a lowkey highlight-reel glove, positive defensive value, and solid speed on the bases.
- Brown, MLB career (122 PAs): .282/.352/.482, 130 wRC+, 9.0% BB, 27.0% Ks
- Brown, LF/RF career (203 innings): +6 DRS, +3 UZR
- Brown, 2021: .300/.382/.633, 188 wRC+, 3 HR, 11.8% BB, 23.5% Ks, 18.2% barrel rate
Of course, we could be getting ahead of ourselves. Moss was excellent for multiple years, and it’s premature to be putting Brown’s name next to his just 34 plate appearances into the season.
But even if Brown does settle in a notch below Moss on offense, the A’s still might have found their new lefty outfielder. From 2017-18 there was Matt Joyce (117 wRC+ in 2017), and from 2019-20 it was Robbie Grossman (127 wRC+ in 2020), but who would take up the mantle in 2021?
They entered the spring with several candidates on the 40-man roster. Now Dustin Fowler is gone, Rule 5 draft pick Ka’ai Tom followed him out, and Skye Bolt moved across the Bay, and meanwhile Luis Barrera and Greg Deichmann are still waiting for the minors to begin so they can debut in Triple-A. At the very least Brown has won that competition, and he looks like a promising bet to offer at least a Joyce or Grossman level of production in the role.
Or it could all be a mirage and he washes out in May. That does happen, even after hot starts. But Brown has been building up to this for a while, between his monster 2019 in Triple-A, and his successful MLB debut stint later that summer, and his No. 18 placement on our Community Prospect List over the offseason, and a full endorsement from the eyeball test in the majors this month.
If he does pan out to any degree, as a 19th-round pick who didn’t make his pro debut in the minors until just shy of his 23rd birthday, then at the very least Brown will join Moss toward the top of the pantheon of all-time A’s unexpected success stories.
P.S. — Nailed it. (Ignore the headline of that article and scroll down to the part labeled “Final Comments”)