FORT MYERS, Fla. – On the day before Father’s Day, leave it to a dedicated mother to put everything in perspective.
Debra Brown, the mom of elite outfield prospect Kep Brown from Mount Pleasant, S.C., had just watched her son complete three days of play at the Perfect Game National Showcase held this year at beautiful JetBlue Park, and was leaving the event feeling fully satisfied.
“This has been great for him,” Debra said Saturday afternoon from JetBlue. “It’s always good when he has a good showing, but I think he mostly enjoys playing with the other players who are in similar situations as he is in their careers.”
The 14th annual PG National Showcase is on the downhill side of its five-day run, with two new sets of prospects – more than 320 will have taken part by its conclusion Monday afternoon – arriving Friday and Saturday to take the event to the finish line.
Kep Brown, a 6-foot-5, 210-pound, right-handed hitting outfielder who in the fall will begin his senior year at Wando High School in Mount Pleasant, was part of the first group of about 150 participants that were here Thursday through Saturday.
He came into the showcase as the nation’s No. 24-ranked overall prospect, the No. 6-ranked outfield prospect and the No. 2-ranked overall prospect in the state of South Carolina. The five outfielders ranked ahead of him – Dazmon Cameron (McDonough, Ga.), Jahmai Jones (Roswell, Ga.), Ryan Johnson (College Station, Texas), Josh Naylor (Ontario, Can.) and Kyle Dean (San Diego, Calif.) – are also here.
Friday night’s workout session got the showcase off to a good start for Brown, who was attending his ninth Perfect Game event but only his second showcase. He ran a personal-best 6.69-second 60-yard dash and recorded another personal-best with an 87 miles-per-hour throw from the outfield.
He also enjoyed a noteworthy batting practice session that prompted a PG scout to note that Brown “showed well in the batter’s box … with good balance in his swing, driving the ball with loft to left and left-center field.” He saved his best for game-action, however, when he doubled high off the wall of Fenway South’s Green Monster off of hard-throwing Texan Stephen Kolek.
“I couldn’t have pictured it going any better,” Brown said after taking his last at-bat at the PG National Saturday morning. “The way I played, the way my team played, the way the workouts went – a lot of my friends did real well. It was a great experience; I’m not going to lie, it was awesome.”
Kep’s father, Howard Brown, liked what he saw from his son. Kep has never backed away from a challenge, always wanting to perform on the biggest platform.
“He has always desired to step up, play up and play at a higher level of skill sets,” Howard said Saturday. “The kids that are here present that opportunity for him and with him; he’s a good team leader and he likes to help everybody raise and improve their games. That’s very important to see those leadership skills come out – it’s not just about you, it’s about lifting the team.”
Brown was born and raised in Mount Pleasant which, as he points out, is about a 10 minute drive from downtown Charleston. It’s a city of about 75,000 souls with one large high school, Wando High School, where Brown will be a senior in the fall. Wando HS has an enrollment of about 3,800, making it the largest enrollment school in South Carolina.
“Everybody knows everybody, which is pretty surprising for such a big town,” Brown said. “The community supports the high school, we know everybody and we help each other out as much as possible and it’s a great place to grow up.”
Youth baseball continues to grow in popularity with each passing year in Mount Pleasant, according to Brown, and he said he tries to help out with the youngsters as much as possible. “They’re going to produce some (top) players over the next couple of years, I can promise you that.”
Brown started playing baseball when he was 4 years old, and like all good athletes at an early age stayed well-rounded by also playing football and basketball. By the time he was a freshman in high school he made the decision that baseball was the sport he wanted to pursue and his career took off from there.
Oh, there is golf.
“Golf is probably my second love now; I love it. It’s just like baseball with a stationary ball,” he said. “But my love for baseball grows every year and that’s my favorite sport by far.”
His summer ball career began in 2012 playing for the legendary coach John Rhodes and the South Carolina-based Diamond Devils Baseball organization and continued that association through the summer of 2013. He has since signed up to play with the Atlanta Blue Jays this summer and will, in fact, live in the Atlanta area most of the summer.
“There is nothing wrong with the Diamond Devils – great program, great coaches, great kids,” he said emphatically, adding that he owes Rhodes a great deal of credit for his development. “I just felt for myself I needed something new – a new experience, a new place to play every day and meet new people. The friendships you make now are the ones that last a lifetime, and that was an important factor, as well.”
Friendships, old and new, are important to Brown, and that’s another reason he enjoyed the PG National Showcase so much. While he has great friends back in Mount Pleasant, these are his “baseball friends” and many come from all across the country. These are deep-rooted friendships that have grown out of a love of competition, the type that makes everybody better.
“I know this goes for a lot of kids, but you struggle when you face, maybe, not up to par competition,” Brown said. “When you get here, you’re having a blast, you’re having fun, and everybody’s good so you have to play good, too. We push each other to do our best and that’s really an important part of it, too.
“… I’ve realized over the years that you can’t just watch players on TV and expect to play like them. I think I can get a lot better and I think I can keep progressing.”
The only other PG showcase Brown attended before the PG National took place in the days right after Christmas here at the JetBlue Park Player Development Complex. The event was the 2013 PG National Underclass Showcase-Main Event, and after hitting several balls over the Green Monster in left field, he was named to both the Top Prospect List and Top Prospect Team.
“It was in (late) December and you’re not playing baseball in the winter, but what I did down there gave me a good feeling about the spring,” Brown said Saturday. “When I got back into high school baseball and we had our (first) practices I had a good feeling the whole time. It was a great experience coming down here in December and I definitely think it helped me play well in the spring.”
Brown committed to the University of South Carolina right around Christmas in 2012, or about halfway through his sophomore year in high school. He has since de-committed from the Gamecocks and remains uncommitted, one of only three prospects ranked in the class of 2015’s top-25 that are uncommitted. It is for that reason he felt it was even more important that he was here the last three days.
“You can’t get any better exposure than this, professionally-wise and collegiately,” Brown said. “I think it’s going to help me out, I hope it does … but whatever happens I’m just going to play baseball and whatever happens off the field happens; where ever I feel comfortable, that’s where I’ll choose.”
He continues to want to play college ball and it’s certain that the only way that won’t happen is if he is selected high enough in the 2015 MLB June Amateur Draft to make that a feasible option. His other goals remain intact, as well.
“I want to win a state title (at Wando), that’s first and foremost, but I can’t wait to get college and play college baseball,” Brown said. “If the draft happens and it goes well for me, we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. There is so much more to look forward to … just life, school – finish that up strong – win a state title and, as I said before, get to college. I’m just going to keep doing my thing and playing hard; that’s really all you can do in the end.”
The Perfect Game National Showcase experience ended for Kep Brown Saturday afternoon. The memories won’t soon fade.
“What we like about Perfect Game is the professionalism of everybody here: the players, the parents, the coaches, advisors, scouts,” Howard Brown said. “It’s a profession and everybody has been acting accordingly. Kep has got to play with some fabulous ballplayers in a great facility and we just hope he can continue to do that.”
And, once again, leave it to Mom to put everything in perspective.
“At this point (the prospects are) all looking forward to (their careers) after high school, so I just think he’s enjoyed being with all these kids that share the same level of skill, interest, desire (and) drive,” Debra Brown concluded. “Perfect Game does a great job of putting it all together.”