Inside the Phillies: Don't write off Brown for Phillies' right-field job

Domonic Brown had 94 at-bats in organized ball after being called up by the Phillies in July.
Domonic Brown had 94 at-bats in organized ball after being called up by the Phillies in July.
Posted: January 30, 2011

On July 28, Domonic Brown came to bat at Citizens Bank Park for the first time, and the sold-out crowd welcomed him with a standing ovation before the top prospect had done anything. Then he doubled high off the wall on the third pitch he saw in the majors.

After the game, inside the Phillies' clubhouse, his teammates gushed. On the table in the middle of the room were copies of the most recent edition of Baseball America, with Brown on the cover, anointed the best prospect in baseball.

"I think he can hit in the middle of the order," manager Charlie Manuel said in the minutes following Brown's debut. "It's just a matter of time."

Inexplicably, in the 186 days since then, Phillies executives, fans, talking heads, and writers (yours truly not excluded) have tried to knock Brown down a peg. It is this groupthink that has prevailed throughout the off-season: Brown isn't ready to be the everyday rightfielder.

And it's wrong. What, exactly, is this notion based on? After a spectacular minor-league season, Brown had 62 at-bats in the majors. Many were as a bench player, a role to which he was unaccustomed. He also suffered a strained right quadriceps that limited him in September.

He stuck around on the bench for the postseason and had three at-bats. Then he went to the Dominican Republic for winter ball. Brown left after nine disappointing games, hitting 2 for 29.

So 94 at-bats in 47 games from July 28 on prompted these declarations from some: He holds his bat too high, he can't hit lefthanded pitching, and he is not sharp enough defensively to play in the outfield.

Remember when Domonic Brown was the top prospect, the can't-miss hitter, the only guy the Phillies refused to include in their three trades for ace pitchers? For sure, Brown is a raw talent. But he has mastered the minor-league level; it's best if the seasoning comes in the majors as Jayson Werth's replacement.

Many of the critics take their cues from the man disseminating the information, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. But remember, Amaro has his own machinations - and he is entitled to them. Follow the progression of Amaro's comments on Brown.

Aug. 21: The Phillies had a few chances to send Brown back to triple A for regular playing time. But they did not. "It gives us the chance to have the best club out there," Amaro said.

Oct. 25: A few days after the season ended, when it was widely accepted that Brown was a lock to make the 2011 team, Amaro dissuaded reporters from the notion. "We have not given the job to Domonic Brown," he said.

Dec. 6: At the winter meetings, Amaro first floated the idea of Brown's beginning in the minors. "In a perfect world, we don't need Domonic to make our club, unless he shows us in spring training that he's ready to take that next step."

It was then that Amaro seriously talked of a platoon led by Ben Francisco, with Ross Gload and John Mayberry Jr. as possible options. Not to knock Francisco, but he would be a good fourth outfielder should Brown win the starting job, slotting in either left or right field against tough lefthanded pitchers.

A GM is charged with the task of managing expectations. No doubt he's done this with Brown in the off-season. Amaro knows what message he is sending.

So does Manuel.

"I'm not ready to send him to the minor leagues yet," the manager said in December.

Manuel plans to play Brown early and often in Grapefruit League games. Atlanta had a similar situation last spring with wunderkind Jason Heyward. He had 59 at-bats during the spring (fourth most on the Braves) and played his way into the opening-day lineup, eventually finishing second in rookie of the year voting.

Brown will have that same opportunity. Yes, he bats lefthanded and so do Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Raul Ibanez. But Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino are switch-hitters; Placido Polanco and Carlos Ruiz hit from the right side. Utley actually hit better against lefties in 2010 and has an identical .894 OPS against both sides for his career. There is enough balance.

The Phillies do not know what they have in Brown, but they have an idea. So don't act surprised if the rookie is starting in right field come April 1 at Citizens Bank Park.


Contact staff writer Matt Gelb

at 215-854-2928 or mgelb@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @magelb.

 

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