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February 14, 2013

Prospect Profile

Domonic Brown

by Hudson Belinsky

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When I was a junior in high school, I took a job working concessions for the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs. If my parents asked, it was a just a half-hour trip from my home in northwest New Jersey to Coca Cola Park in Allentown, Pennsylvania, but a GPS would tell you that, with traffic, the trip would take just over an hour. I didn’t take the job for the money; when all was said and done, I probably spent the entirety of my earnings on gas, speeding tickets, and McChickens. I took the job because I liked the feeling of going to the ballpark every day.

I was a vendor, tasked with selling soda and candy, and persuading fans to spend their money as I walked up and down the aisles, shouting all sorts of nonsense. During my first summer with the Iron Pigs, a prospect arrived, fresh off a strong start at Double-A Reading. I hadn’t looked at the game through a scouting lens, but I could tell that this kid was special. In his short time with the Iron Pigs, I had seen him do it all; he scored game-winning runs, he sprayed the ball all over the field, he hit home runs, he stole bases, he rocketed-out runners attempting to tag from third base. He was chiseled and tall. If anyone was born to play baseball, surely it was this 22-year-old: Domonic Brown.

That was almost three years ago, and Domonic Brown has not yet become a superstar. Instead, he owns a career .236/.315/.388 triple-slash line over 492 major-league plate appearances. I haven’t done the math, but I expect that those numbers are significantly better than those of your average 20th-round draft pick. Brown was once a raw, toolsy outfielder, headed to the University of Miami to become a wide receiver. A significantly-overslot, $200,000 bonus convinced him to leave the gridiron and focus on baseball.

At first, the key for Brown was gaining experience. In 2007, he had a strong year with Short-Season Williamsport, and he followed that up with a solid effort for Low-A Lakewood. The numbers weren’t dreamy, but the tools were. In 2009, his stock really started to rise, as his power started to play in games; despite playing in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League, he hit .303 and mashed 11 homers in 66 contests, and he didn’t slow down after a promotion to Double-A. By that point, Brown was a consensus top-50 prospect.

Then came 2010, the year that 17-year-old Hudson salivated over Brown, and, unfortunately for Phillies fans, perhaps the year that will define Brown’s career.

Then just 22, Brown exploded in Double-A. Over 271 plate appearances, he posted a .318/.391/.602 triple-slash line, showing off his power (15 home runs, 15 doubles) and speed (12 stolen bases). Philadelphia promoted him to Triple-A, and his numbers were even better. Over 118 plate appearances, he posted a .346/.390/.561 triple-slash line, which quickly earned him a trip to the majors.

Scouts’ opinions were just as impressive as the numbers. “You know, two years ago, when I saw him in Double-A, before they called him [up] to the big leagues that year, I mean, I would have said, ‘Gosh this guy might be Darryl Strawberry’,” one seasoned evaluator said.

The Phillies brought Brown to the big leagues in July of 2010, after Shane Victorino was placed on the disabled list. In his debut, Brown went 2-for-3 with two RBI. (He even had the RBI skill!) Over the next couple of weeks, the youngster struggled, and while he remained with the Phillies even after Victorino’s return, he earned just four starts over the rest of the season. Given the lack of playing time, Philadelphia likely thought that Brown would benefit just from being around a team in the midst of a pennant race.

Prior to the 2011 season, Brown had surgery on his right wrist during spring training. He didn’t debut for the Phillies until May, and after he opened his season with a very strong, two-week stretch, opposing pitchers adjusted to him. His average plummeted, and he was batting just .214 at the end of June. Brown responded with an excellent July, posting a .296/.398/.366 triple-slash line over 83 plate appearances, before the Phillies bumped him out of the lineup with a trade for Hunter Pence. That was it for Brown’s season in the major leagues, except for a brief sip of September coffee.

During spring training last year, one scout was bothered by the way Brown presented himself on the field. “He doesn’t play hard, he doesn’t run balls out hard, and, you know, that just infuriates me as a scout,” the scout said of his Grapefruit League effort. Brown got back to the big leagues when the Phillies traded Pence to the Giants in July, but the results were uninspiring.

There have been flashes in the pan, but Brown hasn’t been able to keep the ball rolling. Here’s what another scout had to say: “He does have a quick stroke. He has hand eye coordination, there’s life off of the barrel, plus raw power. Right now, he’s a high-risk player, but I have him as an every day guy. … But that’s not a very convicted ‘I think he’s gonna be an every day guy.’”

The scout continued: “If he isn’t given a chance—I really thought that Philadelphia had given up on him last year—if he isn’t given a chance to be the guy they really have given up on him.”

Pitchers attacked Brown inside last season, and he failed in his small sample, making 2013 a crossroads for him. Philadelphia brought in Ben Revere and Delmon Young this offseason, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the club give Darin “Double-A-By-26” Ruf a chance to prove that he isn’t a prospect. If Brown fails out of the gate, then the Phillies could conclude that he’s nothing more than a fourth outfielder.

This summer, I’ll return to Lehigh Valley. I won’t be trying to force hot dogs down anyone’s throat, or convincing anyone that Michelob Ultra is a brew they need to try. Instead, I’ll be behind home plate, sitting among charting pitchers and a handful of scouts. If I see Domonic Brown there, his days as a Phillie could be numbered.

Related Content:  Philadelphia Phillies,  Domonic Brown

7 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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Still scratching my head over the feud with the coaching staff over where he holds his hands during his stance. They do look a little high, but I don't see what difference that makes.

More worrisome to me is that he seems to have the exact same strengths and weaknesses as Utley and Howard. Another lefty in that lineup who can't hurt you if you hit your spots... yeesh. Fastball on the hands, back-foot offspeed, nibble outside, repeat.

Feb 14, 2013 07:00 AM
rating: 0

Hindsight being 20/20, if they were never going to give Brown a good, long look while he was still considered a prospect they clearly should have used Brown as a trade chip a couple years ago when he was viewed as a top 10 guy. Though Brown has to be accountable for his mediocre performance thus far, the front office has completely wasted him as an asset either through conversion via a trade or proper handling at the MLB level.

Feb 14, 2013 08:00 AM
rating: 1
BP staff member Hudson Belinsky
BP staff

I think they believed in him and thought he could be better than he was in 2011. He showed positive signs before the Pence trade, but by then his value was way down from where it was when he first got the call in 2011.

Feb 14, 2013 09:20 AM

I just wonder if some of the blame should go to the Phillies. Their track record with developing young position players has not been good for what seems like a long time. The good young outfielders they had in recent years (Werth, Victorino) came from other systems. They did develop Michael Bourn, but traded him away. The only young guy to get a good long look in recent years was Galvis in 2012, and that was because Utley was unable to play. Having said all of this, maybe it's as simple as Brown not being as good as we were all led to believe.

Feb 14, 2013 09:48 AM
rating: -1
BP staff member Hudson Belinsky
BP staff

Re: Brown, it could be a little bit of both. He could very well just not be a very good hitter in terms of making adjustments to quality pitching, or maybe the fact that he's gone back and forth from having to face taxi-squad types to legitimate big leaguers has hindered his development.

I wouldn't say that the team struggles to develop position players. In recent memory they've drafted a lot of toolsy players with major question marks in certain aspects of their game. And they've traded some very good position player prospects away (Gose, Singleton, D. Santana) in attempts to make the big league club better.

Feb 14, 2013 10:27 AM

The real question here for the Phillies is what is this guy? Between PHI and LHV last year, he hit ten HR in 450 PA. He hit four in September (along with a .210 BA), but that could be random, not a sign of anything. He went 4-10 in SB in LHV, leading to the reddest of red lights in PHI - so his speed isn't a notable asset either. Since he's a corner outfielder, he has to display some kind of strength statistically, or he's just a future bench guy.
If I'm the Phillies, I'd much rather stick Darrin Ruf out there every day, just to see what he would do. He's only one year older than Brown.

Feb 14, 2013 13:36 PM
rating: 0

I'm not a Phillies fan, but hasn't Ruben Amaro done his damnedest to sabotage Brown's chances? He was brought up too soon and ever since it doesn't seem like he gets a prolonged chance to play.

Feb 14, 2013 16:59 PM
rating: 1
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