Brett Auerbach is undersized, undrafted and started off with two seasons in junior college before playing two more years at Alabama. And the underrated Giants prospect couldn't care less.
It's hard to get a negative word out of Auerbach. He plays with passion and a smile across his face, reminiscent of a player straight out of The Sandlot. There's nowhere else he'd rather be. For how optimistic his mindset is, he also never forgets.
"I remember there were these scouting reports that came out when I was in junior college and this guy said that I had no power and I can't even hit the ball over the outfielders' heads and all this stuff," Auerbach said in a phone conversation with NBC Sports Bay Area. "Now you look up and I've got 15 home runs already, so it's just like, 'Dude, I really don't care what you think about me. I know me and the people around me know me, so whatever you have to say, dude, I really don't care.' "
Just like any other prospect who wasn't seen as a sure-fire first-round pick last year, Auerbach of course was disappointed to find out the 2020 MLB Draft would only be five rounds due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He hoped the draft would be 10 or 15 rounds, but that was out of his hands. In his eyes, he actually was in a win-win situation.
Auerbach still had a year of eligibility left. His dream and goal was to get drafted. But if that didn't happen, he could go back to what he calls a "sick-ass school" and play in the SEC again, only helping his draft stock. The process after the draft is where things really became crazy for him.
Following the 2020 draft, there was a dead period where teams couldn't talk to players. The moment the phone lines could open, Auerbach found himself square in free agency at 21 years old.
"I think it was a Sunday, and I'll never forget this -- I'm out on the West Coast, I'm home for the offseason and they could start reaching out at 9 a.m. Eastern Time, so 6 a.m. on the West Coast. I'm sleeping and I didn't turn my phone off and as soon as 6 a.m. hit I had like 30 phone calls from a bunch of different teams.
San Francisco Giants
"Normally you're just talking to the area scouts. But, no. During this free-agent frenzy, I was talking to area scouts, cross-checkers, directors of player development. I even talked to some GMs. It was crazy, man. Like nothing I had ever experienced."
The Giants actually spoke with Auerbach during the draft. He said he loved everything about them, and he and his agent narrowed it down to five or six teams they felt did things the right way and would give him a fair chance.
"With the Giants, it just came down to all the conversations I had with all the guys," Auerbach said. "Also, the financial aspect of it and just the way they take care of it, just the way they take care of their minor league guys. They're really trying to improve the life of guys in the minor leagues.
"Those were the two biggest factors for me. And then it doesn't hurt that they're a West Coast team."
When Auerbach was a freshman at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, he only played second base. Then as a sophomore, he solely sat behind the dish as a catcher. It was when he arrived at Alabama that he truly became a utility man. He added third base and caught as a junior, before grabbing an outfielder's glove the summer going into his senior year while playing in the Cape Cod League.
"I remember my head coach from Bama texted me when I was in the Cape and he was like, 'What are you doing out in the outfield? What's going on?' " Auerbach said. "The game before I had made this sick-ass play where I robbed a home run going up against the fence, so I sent him the video of me robbing a home run and he was just like, 'Wow!'
"The next year, I get back to Bama and he put me in center field."
Auerbach played 13 games at third base, five as a catcher, four in center field, one at second base and one in right field his final year at Alabama before the season was cut short. He hit .388 with eight doubles, three home runs, a 1.148 OPS and stole 12 bases in 17 games. On a weekend series, he'd play center field Friday, catch Saturday and move to the hot corner Sunday. He says he has been training to play any position he's asked to since high school, and couldn't imagine it being any other way.
In his first year in the minors, Auerbach now has played six positions this season, as well as serving as the DH four times. Outside of pitching, the only positions he hasn't played are shortstop and first base.
His power surge is really what stands out as the big surprise, though. He hit one homer as a freshman, two his sophomore season, one as a junior and three as a senior in college. Listed at 5-foot-9 and 185 pounds, Auerbach isn't exactly built like your prototypical power hitter.
Though his hit tool clearly always has stood out, Auerbach took advantage of every moment he could last year with the minor league season canceled and went outside the box. He met a man named Chris Welch, who not only works with baseball players but some of the top golfers as well. With his pants rolled high, ability to play any position and his hustle at 100, Auerbach looks every bit like an old-school player. He can also see how baseball is adapting to technology and decided to do the same, willing to be open-minded in order to find the best swing possible.
"He's a biomechanist. He essentially takes your swing and engineers it, basically," Auerbach said. "I put all these cameras on me and you get to see how fast you're rotating and all this stuff. It takes the feeling out of it, so you have some actual objective measurements where you can be like, 'Oh, I need to use my lower half better.' I think that really helped.
"It was all there playing at Alabama. It was just like, 'How do I use this efficiently? How am I going to get in sync better?' I think that helped me a lot. I guess it's working out this year, so far."
It sure is. Auerbach hit .342 with two homers, two triples, 11 doubles, a .970 OPS and stole 12 bases in 34 games for the San Jose Giants in Low-A to start his minor league career. He then was promoted to High-A, joining the Eugene Emeralds. That's where his power really took off. Through 47 games with Eugene, Auerbach has 13 home runs, a .528 slugging percentage and an .856 OPS while also stealing another 16 bases.
Between the two levels, Auerbach now is batting .288 with 15 homers and a .904 OPS, plus 28 steals in 81 games.
No home run compares to the craziness of Aug. 21.
After hitting a leadoff homer the night before to dead center field, Auerbach again came to the plate to start off the bottom of the first inning for the Emeralds and hammered a deep shot to center field on the second pitch he saw, this time nailing an orange Giants sign. The ball ricocheted off the wall, Auerbach flew across the bases, center fielder Victor Labrada took a tumble and that's when Auerbach couldn't believe what he saw.
His third base coach was waiving him home.
"Out of the box I knew maybe it had a shot to get over his head," Auerbach remembered. "I knew I didn't get all of it, so I knew it probably wasn't gonna get out. I saw it hit the wall and was like, 'Oh, yeah! Easy stand-up triple. Let's go!' And then I was getting close to third and our third base coach was waving me and I was like, 'Something must have happened out there.'
"I ended up scoring, but I was so gassed coming into the dugout I almost ate it going down the stairs."
Everything about the inside the park homer was 100 percent Auerbach: Power, speed, hustle and humility.
"Whatever you're gonna see, I'm giving all that I've got that day," Auerbach said when asked to describe his playing style. "We play this game every day and you're not going to be feeling your best every day. But if you can show up and somehow find that extra five percent, 10 percent each day -- I think it really helps you.
"You just push yourself every day to show up and give all you have on that day. I think if someone comes to the park and they've never seen me play, whatever they see results wise, they're gonna see I'm giving it all I have that day."
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As he attached cameras all over himself to improve his swing with the help of a biomechanist last year, the biggest lesson he learned was just how much he loves this game. Baseball is monotonous. Players can get lost in the rhythm of the everyday flow with coming to the field on a daily basis. But losing it for a year goes to show you that it can be taken away at any moment. Instead of making statistical goals ahead of this season, Auerbach instead focused his energy on staying in the present and trusting the development of his ultimate goal: Making it to the majors.
"For me, I try and be as positive as I can," Auerbach said. "I know there's people who are really behind me and they support me, and I'm trying to prove them right. At the end of the day, I'm here and I've made it this far, so why can't I do other cool stuff, ya know? Why can't I make it to the big leagues? Why can't I do some cool stuff, too?"
Give him a bat and a glove and let him go. Brett Auerbach is a baseball player in every sense of the word. He never forgets, and he always has the answer for you right there on the field.