To hear Trevor Brown tell it, there’s nothing like being in the big leagues. “That’s the big club, that’s the one that everybody’s watching, that’s the one that really counts,” he told me on Sunday. “It’s like when I was growing up, exactly what you picture it being or hope it is, is what it is really.”
After a September call up in 2015, Brown found himself backing up Buster Posey in 2016, and that year-plus gave him all kinds of great memories. The most obvious was his first major league start, catching Mike Leake in a day game against the Diamondbacks, where he took a look around and it really dawned on him:
“I remember getting behind home plate, squatting down, looking out at [Leake], and just seeing AT&T Park really, for the first time, from home plate. I just remember looking around and having that I Finally Made It feeling.”
There was the homer he hit over the Green Monster at Fenway, which he’d dreamed about doing as a child. There was getting to play against Trevor Bauer and Mike Montgomery, both high school teammates.
And, of course, there was this:
Not too many Giants can say their first major league home run broke up a Dodger no hitter in the eighth inning, and it’s a heck of a feather in his cap. Brown’s next two hits came in a game at Coors Field and were also homers, and he was lucky enough to have family in the stands for both games, which just made them all the more memorable.
But it wasn’t the bat that got Brown up to the big leagues; it was the glove. “Catching came pretty easily for me,” he said, and it’s a good thing, because when he got to the majors, he had a lot less experience catching than you might think.
The Giants took Brown in the 10th round of the 2012 draft out of UCLA as a catcher, but while he was in college, he played multiple positions, and in 2013, his first full year in the minors, he was mostly a second baseman. Brown’s skinny for a catcher even now — he’s always under the body fat percentage the Giants want him at — but at the time he was 25 pounds lighter, and the Giants were worried that a full catcher’s workload on his frame would put too much stress on his body, so they had him play second to get him at bats while he worked on bulking up.
So when Brown got called up to the big leagues in 2015, he had played fewer than 200 games at catcher since graduating from high school. But he had done everything he could to prepare himself in AAA by leaning on the veterans there, like Guillermo Quiroz, who Brown split time with in 2014 and 2015. And he learned fast; when Jake Peavy and Matt Cain made rehab starts in Sacramento in mid-2015, they were impressed with Brown’s receiving skills, saying he was comparable to the then-major league backups, Hector Sanchez and Andrew Susac.
But the veteran who had the biggest impact on him was, of course, Buster Posey. When he was in the dugout in the majors, Brown would watch Posey intently and try to call the game the same way he did. “When I was wrong, I’d be like, okay, I wonder what he was thinking, what was in his head, why he was doing this, because we had the same scouting report.”
It wasn’t just pitch calling, either. Especially after Brown learned the position in such a short time, just being around Buster Posey was a graduate level class in catching. “Catching was fairly new for me,” Brown said. “I had done it, but I hadn’t studied it like that.”
“It was just watching him try to control the game. I tried to not necessarily copy him, but I wanted to mimic him as much as I could with pitch calling and how he handled himself in the game, and I thought that’s what was gonna keep me there the longest.”
Now he’s back in Sacramento, trying to get back to the majors. He’s hitting much better than he did in a lost 2017 (a lost 2017: an organizational trend), and while the overall numbers aren’t superstar level — though they are much improved since coming off a month-and-a-half long stint on the DL — they still clearly show his high contact, gap-to-gap approach. His defense is as strong as ever, and if he gets that opportunity to return to San Francisco, his defense will be why.
Way back in 2014, Brown’s call up to Fresno was a bit out of nowhere, caused by the domino effect of injuries in the big leagues. His success there on both sides of the ball put him on the map, which he attributes to two things. The first is that he worked well with Fresno hitting coach Andy Skeels, who he says always gave him the kind of immediate feedback that helped him grow as a hitter. The second was his attitude.
“I think I was so young and my mindset is I have this opportunity to do something here ... and so I just went out and said, ‘Well, screw it. There’s nothing for me to lose. I’m either gonna go back to where I was or I can maybe do something great here.’”
And if he’s going to get back to the majors, maybe that’s what he needs to do again. “I think it might be a good learning lesson for me to take that attitude that I had, take that kid attitude that this is an opportunity to try to do something,” he said. “I wouldn’t play, I wouldn’t continue to keep playing if I didn’t think I could play there or I should play there.”