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June 3, 2013

What You Need to Know

Powering Up in Philly

by Daniel Rathman

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The Weekend Takeaway
Another day, another home run for Domonic Brown. That’s what it seems like anyway, as the Phillies’ left fielder has now done yardwork eight times in his team’s last nine games, including three big flies over the weekend.

Brown, who went 3-for-3 on Sunday and finished a double short of the year’s second big-league cycle, raised his long-ball tally to 16, good for the National League lead. The 25-year-old smacked only 12 homers over his first three tours of The Show, two in 2010 and five each in 2011 and 2012, but after enduring a wrist injury and a long period of one-step-forward, two-steps-back development, he appears to have officially arrived.

The Brown who is now tearing up the league is the one that Phillies fans thought was on the horizon when he ranked as the top prospect in the team’s farm system and the fourth-best minor-leaguer in all of baseball. Only Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, and Jesus Montero appeared more promising during spring training in 2011 than Brown, and the likes of Manny Machado, Matt Moore, and Jean Segura were below him on the prospect totem pole. If his recent surge is any indication, the praise heaped upon Philadelphia’s 20th-round pick in the 2006 draft back then may soon prove warranted.

Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Daily News penned a feature on Brown on Friday, in which general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. admitted that the team’s insistence on tinkering with the Georgia native’s swing “maybe [was to] the detriment of his development.” Whether the adjustments, or the shuttling between Philadelphia and Triple-A Lehigh Valley, in fact stunted Brown’s progress is a matter for the Phillies to address and learn from. What matters when it comes to Brown is that he finally appears to be on the doorstep of stardom.

The lefty-swinging slugger’s efforts on Sunday, which paved the way for a 7-5 Phillies win, were in one way a continuation of his torrid May and in another a sign that further improvements may soon come. Last month, Brown managed to drill 12 home runs without drawing a walk, a feat that no major-leaguer had accomplished since at least 1916. Sixteen homers are nice; the .306 on-base percentage with which Brown entered the month of June… not so much.

But on Sunday, in addition to collecting three hits, Brown drew his first unintentional walk since April 30 (he nabbed an intentional one from Francisco Rodriguez in Saturday’s game), and, in doing so, raised his on-base percentage to a more palatable .321. The base on balls came in a six-pitch plate appearance versus lefty Tom Gorzelanny, from which the Brooks Baseball PITCHf/x plot appears below.

Over the course of his young career, Brown has seldom seen a breaking ball that he hasn’t liked. And while it’s difficult to fault him for pouncing on hangers, the 50-plus-percent swing rates on those below the zone are a sign of poor pitch recognition, iffy plate discipline, or both. Gorzelanny’s payoff pitch was a slider just off the down-and-away corner—a well-located offering, even though it was ball four, because history indicated that there was a better-than-even chance of Brown deeming it too close to take. We’ll never know whether Brown was frozen by the slider, which came after three consecutive fastballs, or legitimately judged it to be a ball, but in either case, taking the pitch earned him a long-awaited free pass to first.

Brown, who—it’s easy to forget—has only about a season and a third of major-league plate appearances under his belt, still gives too many of his trips to the box away with undisciplined swings. For the most part, when Brown makes contact with the first pitch, he does damage; a 10-for-29 line with two doubles and four homers will attest to that. But the outfielder is just 18-for-86 (.209/.216/.384) with one walk and 25 strikeouts when opposing pitchers jump ahead 0-1, 7-for-60 (.117/.129/.183) when they earn a 1-2 edge, and 11-for-68 (.162/.162/.235) with 24 strikeouts in plate appearances that end on a pitch delivered with the hurler ahead in the count.

Finding ways to work the count, or at least to work out of pitcher-friendly counts, will be the next step in Brown’s development—the one that may ultimately determine whether he becomes a power-oriented regular or a well-rounded star. The latter was the ceiling that evaluators, including Kevin Goldstein, projected for Brown during his prospect days. With his wrist fully healed and his job secure, Brown has delivered on the power element and sprinkled in a handful of steals. All that’s left now is for his eyes to catch up to his bat.

Matchup of the Day
Injuries to Adam Eaton, Jason Kubel, and Cody Ross, and the departures via trade of Chris Young and Justin Upton, opened the door for Gerardo Parra to contribute to the Diamondbacks this season, even after general manager Kevin Towers crowded the outfield by adding Ross in free agency and resisting trade interest in Kubel. The door was open—and, one-third of the way through the season, Parra has raced through it without looking back.

The 26-year-old carries a .311/.377/.475 triple-slash line into tonight’s series opener at Busch Stadium. His dynamic production at the plate, coupled with excellent defense, has brought 2.4 WARP to the D’backs, making Parra a significant component of their 32-24 start. Along the way Parra, who has seen time at all three outfield spots, the majority of which has come in center or right, has established himself as the leadoff man in manager Kirk Gibson’s batting order, and he’s likely to bat in the one-hole versus Cardinals right-hander Lance Lynn.

Parra and Lynn have matched wits six times over two games, thrice on May 7, 2012, and thrice more on April 3 of this year, and the outfielder has generally prevailed. Parra is 3-for-6, and all three of his knocks have gone for extra bases, including two triples and a home run. He went 2-for-3 in their most recent meeting with a three-bagger and a big fly, and Lynn may need to rely more on his soft stuff to reverse his fortunes when Parra is in the box.

As the plot above, from Parra’s hitter profile, shows, Parra is an excellent in-the-zone fastball hitter, with the ability to cover both corners, the knees, and the letters.  Lynn has witnessed that skill firsthand, serving up a triple on this up-and-in heater and a homer on this sinker near the outside edge. On the other hand, Lynn is also aware of the weakness in Parra’s fastball approach—an awareness that he demonstrated in the lone head-to-head strikeout between them by pounding Parra with pitches on the outside black and beyond. Parra has shown a willingness to chase eye-level hard stuff and expand the outer boundary, and even though he is walking more and striking out less this year than in the past, he is actually swinging more often at pitches outside of the strike zone.

The more salient hole in Parra’s approach, though, is his trouble with spin. Parra has never been anything more than a mistake hitter when it comes to curveballs and sliders, struggling with anything below the belt, and he continues to hack at slop, offering at more than 70 percent of the breaking balls thrown below the knees or in the dirt. If Lynn works Parra into a two-strike situation, expect him to utilize his curveball more than he has in their past encounters, and more than he typically does when ahead in the count. 

What to Watch for on Monday

  • After two weeks of healing, Andy Pettitte’s strained trapezius muscle has recovered, and the Yankees will activate the lefty in time to welcome the Indians to the Bronx this evening. Pettitte, who turns 41 on June 15, will face a stiff challenge in his return from the disabled list—taking on a Cleveland lineup that leads the league in both runs scored (101) and OPS (798) against left-handed pitching—but he limited Terry Francona’s team to a run on five hits and three walks over seven innings on April 9. Justin Masterson, who twirled a four-hit shutout versus the Yankees on May 13 at Progressive Field, gets the ball for the visitors (7:05 p.m. ET).
  • The Rockies, who rank 22nd in the league with a Coors Field-inflated 4.44 rotation ERA, are perpetually in search of reliable starting pitchers, and Tyler Chatwood has recently given them one. Acquired from the Angels in exchange for catcher Chris Iannetta in November 2011, Chatwood has allowed no more than two runs in each of his past four starts, a stint over which he has lowered his ERA from 6.00 to 2.12. The 23-year-old righty fanned a career-high 10 batters in his last outing, a six-inning, two-run effort versus the Astros. He’ll aim for similar results in game one of three at Great American Ball Park, where the Reds will counter with Bronson Arroyo (7:10 p.m. ET).
     
  • Three teams have played the Astros at least seven times this season. The Athletics and Tigers have taken care of business—going 9-0 and 6-1, respectively—but the Angels, who at 3-6 have lost more games to the Astros this season than any team in the league, have not. The six-game gap in performance against the Astros accounts for much of the 8 ½-game standings margin between the A’s and Angels, and the Halos will get one more chance to avoid a four-game sweep at the hands of Bo Porter’s club in tonight’s series finale. Joe Blanton—who tasted victory for the first time this season on May 23, before dropping right back into the “L” column in his most recent outing—will lock horns with Erik Bedard, who is winless on the year, even though has kept opponents to two or fewer runs in each of his last four starts (10:05 p.m. ET).
     
  • At long last, with Matt Kemp on the disabled list and Carl Crawford ailing, the Dodgers have succumbed to temptation and promoted Yasiel Puig from Double-A Chattanooga. The 22-year-old Puig logged a .313/.383/.599 triple-slash line for the Lookouts, appearing ready for the challenges that await him in The Show. Assuming that the right-handed Cuban slugger will be in Don Mattingly’s starting lineup, he’ll take his first big-league hacks against Padres lefty Eric Stults (10:10 p.m. ET).

What to Watch for on Tuesday
Zachary Levine will be filling in on the WYNTK tomorrow, but in the meantime, here are a few notes looking ahead to Tuesday’s games. 

  • How does a rehabbing player convince his club that he’s ready to come off the disabled list? Well, collecting multiple hits in three straight games, and then topping that stretch with a two-homer effort, is a rather infallible strategy. And that’s precisely what Jayson Werth did over his past four contests for High-A Potomac, leading manager Davey Johnson and general manager Mike Rizzo to reinsert him into a Nationals lineup that badly needs a boost. After dropping the last two games of their three-game set in Atlanta, four of their last five, and 10 of their last 15, the 28-29 Nats are below .500 for the first time since April 24, when they were 10-11. Werth will try to get the dormant offense, which is now without Bryce Harper, going in the game-one matchup with Mets righty Jeremy Hefner (7:05 p.m. ET).
     
  • If you’re not on the West Coast, you may need to stay up late to watch the night’s best duel, which could come in the middle match between the White Sox and Mariners at Safeco Field. Jake Peavy, eager to bounce back from the six-run hurting put on him by Travis Wood and the crosstown Cubs, gets the ball for the visitors. Felix Hernandez, who tossed eight innings of one-run ball at Petco Park in his last start and has no bouncing back to do, tackles the assignment for the home team (10:10 p.m. ET).
     
  • Melky Cabrera received his World Series ring from Giants manager Bruce Bochy during San Francisco’s visit to Toronto, but tonight, he’ll face the AT&T Park fans for the first time since his season-ending, 50-game suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs. Cabrera, who inked a two-year, $16 million deal with the Blue Jays, amassed a .332 TAv over 113 games for the Giants, and is off to a comparatively slow, .259 TAv start in Toronto. He’ll try to back Josh Johnson, who missed more than a month with inflammation in his triceps, while doing battle with former teammate Tim Lincecum in the opener (10:15 p.m. ET).

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

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