Domonic Brown - In Philly To Stay?
Domonic Brown wanted to become a wide receiver at the University of Miami. After all, his 6 foot 5 inch 220 pound frame could have been used as prototypical wideout in a training or instructional video. However, Brown couldn't realize his dream and never entered University of Miami because of his poor test scores. As a result, the Philadelphia Phillies were able to draft him in the 20th round in 2006. He got $200,000 to sign with the Phils. Now he looks like he could be an outstanding value as a potential star outfielder for the high profile ball club.
I was able to see a great number of Brown's games in the 2009 Arizona Fall League. In short, I was not impressed. Since that appearance he has increased the quality of his at-bats specifically and his overall game in general. He is becoming the type of player the Phillies profiled at the time Brown was drafted. I've changed my outlook since those days in the fall, but I'm still not totally sold. He is still very much a work in progress.
The press clippings and scouting reports that preceded Domonic Brown to the Arizona Fall League were glowing. He was a "can't miss" prospect with the ability to improve any major league club. Those same reports spoke of Brown as having outstanding "game-changing" power and speed. Scouts looked forward to seeing Domonic Brown hit with the same anticipation as they had for Michael Stanton and Jason Heyward. But Brown had a bad fall. Doubts began to creep into the conversation late in the fall campaign whenever his name was mentioned concerning the elite players on the brink of major league stardom. However, the Phillies personnel remained steadfast in their belief in his potential.
To put it mildly, I was not impressed with what I saw in either Brown's defense or his offense last fall. Over a span of 30 games in the Fall League, Brown struggled to a .229 batting average over 118 at-bats. I was shocked at how lackadaisically he played. He showed little, if any fire. There was no sense of urgency to his game. He was going through the motions. He struck out 27 times and walked only 10 times. As a power hitter, Brown hit two home runs and drove in 18. Overall his line looked like this: .229/.290/.390 yielding an OPS of .680. Maybe he didn't want to be there. Maybe he was tired. And maybe he didn't realize that lots of scouts were in the stands watching him go through the motions. To be perfectly honest, Buster Posey showed the same disinterest and "tired bat" in his Fall League season and look what he has done since being called up by the Giants. However, those two cases were very rare among a group of highly energized, motivated players on the brink of starting their major league careers.
In writing this piece, I had to remember that when I saw Domonic Brown he had just turned 22 years old in September. What could be expected of such a young player? His less than exciting Fall League performance was surprising because the AFL is a hitter's league.
What do we know about Domonic Brown? First off, it's important to know that Brown hits and throws left-handed. That fits nicely in Philly. He plays center field and he has enough speed to eventually play it well. Many scouts indicate he is a high caliber outfielder with major league ability. I feel his defense needs lots of work, work that he will continue to get regardless of where he plays.
Physically, scouts have compared Brown to Darryl Strawberry and Dave Winfield, two awesome former players. The comparison ends with physical presence. I don't believe Domonic Brown has quite the hitting potential as either of the two. But Brown could become a very capable three-tool player; he should hit for power, he should run well and he should be able to throw runners out from the outfield with a good, solid and accurate throwing arm. But comparing him to the sweet-swinging Strawberry and the Hall of Famer Winfield is way too premature. Yes, Brown is improving every day, but I'm not buying just yet. My mind is open. I can be convinced. He'll have to show it with consistency in one of the best hitting parks in baseball. If he can't hit in Philly, where will he hit?
I believe that playing in that hitting-friendly Philadelphia ballpark Brown will eventually hit at least 25 home runs. He has the type of swing that could be tailor made for Citizens Bank Park. He extends his long arms well at the plate. When he makes contact, the ball really travels. His bat has that certain "sound" when the ball hits the barrel. However, it is poor pitch recognition and swinging too freely that get Domonic in trouble at the plate. His lack of plate discipline leads to a heavy strikeout total. An occasional long and undisciplined swing doesn't always help matters. More patience, meaning more selectivity and better pitch recognition should be on the horizon. When he makes those adjustments, his average will increase and he should be a fairly reliable .275 hitter in the major leagues. If he fails to select pitches properly, he could hover as a .250 hitter and pitchers will exploit his aggressiveness and lack of pitch recognition. If he cuts down on that loopy swing and stops trying to hit every pitch out of the park he will settle in as a major force at the plate. That will come with age, experience and a little more meat and muscle on his bones. He has growth potential and he should fill out in the next couple of years. Free swinging will only delay his progress. It's possible that Domonic Brown could become Adam Lind. He could have awesome power but have difficulty with tough lefties and swing at balls out of the strike zone. Time will tell. Let's not forget that Adam Lind had an awesome '09 campaign and he's beginning to pick up the pace this season. I do see some of that inconsistency and streakiness with Brown.
Since signing with the Phillies in '06, Brown has played in 424 minor league games, not counting the Arizona Fall League. He has 1593 at-bats. In all, he has a composite .296 batting average with a line of .296/.373/.464. That .837 OPS speaks to the potential to get the job done with the bat. He has hit 48 minor league homers. But the pitching is getting better as he climbs to higher levels in his organization. He has improved at every level of play, a quality I look for in a prospect.
Brown was playing at Triple-A Lehigh Valley for the Iron Pigs in the International League when he was called up to the Phillies in July. He had played a total of 26 games there after his promotion from Double-A Reading. It appears that Brown had raised his game to the level of his league. He was hitting a robust .343 in the brief time in Triple-A with a .925 OPS. More importantly, he hit five home runs and was putting the ball in play. The Phillies liked what they saw and they made the call when Shane Victorino got hurt. Center field could ultimately belong to Domonic Brown. It will be up to him to convince his superiors that he belongs. To date, Brown has played mostly against right-handed pitching for the big league club. He is struggling to hit .250 and his long swing is still a problem. He is striking out quite a bit and he hasn't drawn a walk as yet through 9 games. He has yet to steal a base. But it's very, very early in Brown's career. And he's young - very young.
While I always believe minor league numbers are important in evaluating a future player, I think the organizational depth is the most important initial consideration for evaluating the future of high profile prospects. Will he get a chance to play? Where? Triple-A? Major leagues? In the case of the Phillies, Jayson Werth is in his "walk" year and he had been the subject of trade rumors before the deadline to make deals without acquiring waivers. Many people feel Domonic Brown is ready, willing and able to assume Werth's outfield role in right field should the Phillies decide to allow Werth to leave at the end of the season. That's a situation that waits to be played out to a conclusion. Or perhaps he takes over permanently for Victorino as early as the 2011 season. In essence, Brown is in a very good position to become a full-time Philadelphia Phillies outfielder. It's more up to him than the brass. They want him to succeed. They think the world of him. So much so that when Brown's name was mentioned in the trade to Cleveland for Cliff Lee, Domonic Brown was deemed untouchable. The same happened when Doc Halladay went to Toronto. Both Cleveland and Toronto wanted Domonic Brown. So did Philadelphia, enough to keep him with the Phillies.
I indicated earlier in this piece that Brown has three very good tools. I spoke of his raw power. Frankly I rate his power as a 65 on the 40-80 major league scouting evaluation scale. He also has 65 speed on the bases. While he didn't steal much in the Arizona Fall League, he flashed the type of speed that translates to stolen bases. He is quick and smooth on the bases. He has to learn the art of stealing from professional instructors, but he has the raw speed and agility to make things mighty tough on catchers. Finally, I think his arm strength and accuracy from right field approach a 70. He has a strong, accurate arm. That's exactly what's needed in the outfield. However, I don't think his overall defense is good. In fact, I think it's average, at best. I saw poor routes to balls and poor execution of tracking the ball off the hitter's bat. Overall, I project Domonic Brown as a 65- an above average, everyday major league player with pop in his bat and an occasional All Star game on his resume'. He can become better than that with more discipline, the right instruction and hard work. He has to put the ball in play, use his power and his speed and learn to play better defense to become a consistent All Star. In addition, I'd like to see him make every at-bat count. I'd like to see him step up his intensity on each and every play. He has tremendous gifts. Now he has to show the Phillies that he is indeed Darryl Strawberry or Dave Winfield. I hope so. That would be fun to watch. But frankly, while I like Brown's potential, I'm not sure he has "game changing" and "can't miss" tools at the point of his development. But he's young, very young.