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June 3, 2013
What You Need to Know
Powering Up in Philly
The Weekend Takeaway
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
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
What to Watch for on Tuesday