Visalia, California —— Technically, Gio Brusa is back in San Jose, repeating at High-A this summer after spending a full season in the California League a year ago.
The reality, though, is a little different: an outfielder since before the start of high school, the San Francisco Giants prospect is no longer that. Repeat or not, 2018 marks his first season as a first baseman — with no guarantee from the organization he’ll ever go back to the outfield. The Giants saw an opportunity with the switch-hitting power prospect from the University of the Pacific, and beginning with instructs last fall, they pushed him into the deep end to learn the position. Brusa, one of the more good-natured guys you’ll find around the Cal League, is all for it. He’s embraced his newfound role at first even as he struggles to pick up the nuances of the position. And in an ironic twist, so much defensive focus this season has allowed his more projectable offensive attributes to come alive in this ‘repeat’ season. Still a switch hitter with legitimate over-the-fence pop from both sides, Gio Brusa is as physically imposing as he’s ever been, and may yet turn himself into a power threat with decent skills at his new position.
I caught up with Brusa two weeks ago in Visalia to talk about that move to first base, how his identity changed with it, and where his power profile may go from here. Below, in his own words, is San Francisco Giants outfield (er, first base) prospect Gio Brusa…
Gio Brusa on transitioning to first base, feeling at home there:
“I guess I’m still an outfielder, but I have not played there this year. I was told outfield is still an option but this year it’s just been first base, and a little bit of DH here and there. I think the thinking behind that is they really want me to get the experience as fast as possible, and make me versatile, give me some options and paths forward. You think about the other infielders, they’ve been playing their positions for years, and I’m over here literally learning how to play first base, like, right now. I think my freshman year of high school was the last time I played even a little bit of first base. So, I went to instructional league this past year, and worked my butt off at it there, and then much of the same at spring training, and now still to this day, working my butt off at it here.”
“I think I can be a good first baseman one day. Looking back at where I started to where I am now, I’ve made real strides there. I’ve made a few plays that I think were pretty darn good. I’ve surprised myself over there sometimes, like, ‘how did I do that?’ But I think to really be good at it, I need to be consistent, I need to really own that position, and the only way to get there is to put in the time. I’ve been really fortunate that the Giants have given me the time to do so here, too. But eventually, yeah, I think I could be good there.”
“Originally, my identity remained as an outfielder. I was just so used to it, so used to saying it, like, ‘oh, no, I’m actually an outfielder.’ Now I’m not an outfielder, I’m a first baseman. But really it’ll have to come down to the work, and the experience, because you can take a million ground balls if you want, but if it’s not game-like, or in a game situation, what are you really doing? Mentally putting myself in game-like situations, even in practice, is what has really started to give me the comfort and confidence over there. Now, it’s starting to be part of my identity. It’s like, ‘I own this area. This is my spot. Anything hit over here, I’m going to get.’”
“I was absolutely nervous at first. You know, you want to feel like you’re good at something, and especially as a pro, nobody wants to look bad. But you really have to take the ego out of it. I used to tell myself every single day that it was OK, because I was getting better. Even if I messed something up, I’d tell myself I got better because I messed it up, and I learned from it. Now, honestly, I’m loving first base. I think it’s a blast. You’re in on every play. You’re so close to all the action. You’re closer to all the fans, too. Outfield is so much more chill. Mentally, you can take a little bit of a breather out there every now and then, whereas at first base, you’d better be locked in. I definitely find after games that I’m more mentally tired at first base than I used to feel in the outfield, but it’s fun. It has me competing.”
Gio Brusa on swing improvements that have brought him more power:
“I had a really good offseason working on my swing, and fine-tuning some things. But also, having that emphasis at first base has given me something else to focus on a little bit, to where I think that has freed my mind at the plate. I don’t have time to overthink my at-bats now, I have to lock in at first base. The other thing, last year was my first full season. There were a lot of things being thrown at me, stuff I’d never gone through before. Now this being my second time around, I have a better routine, and I better understand that there are going to be those rough patches, I just need to better handle them mentally.”
“I’ve really put an emphasis on trying to shrink my strike zone. Last year was just… you know, I’ve always been a free swinger. That’s always been a part of me. But lately, I’ve been trying to hone in on that a little bit, and our hitting coordinators this year have been really big on not just attacking the strike zone, but specifically attacking our hot zones. Being able to hone in on that before games has helped me a lot.”
Gio Brusa is well thought of among San Francisco Giants teammates, too, and considering it’s his second time in San Jose — along with Heath Quinn and Jalen Miller — the trio of close friends have started to gel as leaders for the High-A club. Those guys spoke about Brusa’s first base adjustment, his leadership qualities, and the continued development of his power stroke.
Heath Quinn on Brusa’s transition to first base:
“It’s definitely a little weird seeing him over there, but I think he’s doing pretty well. Being an outfielder his whole life and then all of a sudden he’s playing first base, man, that’s gotta be tough. I’d probably be doing the same stuff he’s doing. But he works hard at it every day, and sure enough he’s starting to get better at it every day. I think it’s just a matter of time until the hard work pays off for him. The work ethic has never been a question, that’s something that’s always been there for him.”
Heath Quinn on Jalen Miller, Gio Brusa, and the trio’s bond:
“We’re all obviously cheering for each other. I mean, yeah, we’re here and we are trying to move up, but we all genuinely like each other and we like playing with each other, so when we’re all here, I know we all want to win for each other. We’re really close too, the three of us, so it makes it easy for us to root for each other and kind of have each other’s backs. Us three are pretty close. Gio’s one of my best friends, and Jalen is my roommate, so we are definitely close and tight with each other. I really pull for those guys. I want to win with those guys.”
Jalen Miller, on Gio Brusa’s first base move, power stroke, and experience:
“He’s one of the most positive people you’ll ever meet, and I think that’s had a direct impact on his success this year. He was another instructs guy last fall, and there was some work for him to put in at the plate, but really, it was to play first base. He’s going through that this year, which is really something hard to pick up.”
“Yes, I do believe he will be a good defensive first baseman. He had problems early in the year with throwing, and he came to me quite a bit about it. That throw from first base, it’s a different throw than what he’d been doing in the outfield. But he worked really hard at it, and got better. So I think first base will come to him, just by virtue of his work ethic. And I tell him all the time not to be too hard on himself. I’ve been playing infield since I was five. He just started it at 23, in pro ball. It’s like, dude, it’s going to come slowly, and the organization understands that, too.”
“But you know, me, him, and Heath, all three of us, when we saw all three of us were coming back here to start this year, we all knew we were going to need to produce. And Gio, he’s gotten so strong. He can take balls that I’m out in front of, pitches that I’ll pop up or something, and he can use just his hands when he’s off-balance and hit them out. And he does that from both sides of the plate. It’s crazy.”
Bryce Johnson on learning from Gio Brusa:
“I ask Gio all the time what kind of pitches he sees up here, what sort of sequencing he’s been getting, what he remembers about certain pitchers. Most of the guys here, he knows what they throw, and how they try to set him up from both sides of the plate, so I really lean on him. He and I will hit in the cage together a lot and talk about our games plans, stuff like that. He’s really smart. He’s been a big help.
For more on San Francisco Giants 1B/OF Gio Brusa…
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