When Brown arrived in Philadelphia, Baseball America considered him the top prospect in the minor leagues, and the strong assumption was that he'd replace Jayson Werth as the team's rightfielder in 2011.
Here we are in the second week of the 2011 season, and you barely hear Brown's name mentioned these days. He's out of sight in Clearwater, Fla., inching closer to the start of a rehab assignment that is certainly not guaranteed to lead him back to the big leagues.
"Obviously he didn't really get an opportunity to play enough [in spring training] for us to make the right assessment as to whether we think he's ready to play in the big leagues on a regular basis or even on a part-time basis," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "Really, for me, it's about him getting playing time and watching him progress, making sure he's doing the little things: the baserunning, the outfield play, consistent contact when he's at the plate."
As exhilarating as it must have been for Brown to make his big-league debut after dominating at double-A Reading and triple-A Lehigh Valley last season, the experience itself did not build the confidence of the Phillies faithful who had fallen in love with Werth's power bat and strong defensive play in right field for a team that went to consecutive World Series and then posted the best regular-season record in baseball a year ago.
By the end of his first big-league season, Brown had hit .210 with a .257 on-base percentage and had struck out 24 times in 62 at-bats. It's not fair to judge those numbers because from Aug. 12 until the end of the season he made just 28 plate appearances and started only four games.
More anxiety about Brown being the rightfielder arose when he went 2 for 29 in the Dominican winter league, and then started 0 for 15 in spring training after the Phillies lowered the position of his hands in his batting stance. The latest chapter in his baseball life ended when he suffered the hand injury after raising his hands again and getting his first Grapefruit League hit March 5.
The reason that injury could eventually be beneficial is that it lifted a building burden on the talented 23-year-old rookie. Now, he can resume his climb to the big leagues while Ben Francisco tries to prove he's an everyday rightfielder.
"We just have to keep watching him and seeing how he continues to develop," Amaro said. "Clearly, this is a guy we feel has a tremendous amount of talent, and he's going to help us in the big leagues at some point this year. Right now, we're more concerned about getting him healthy and getting him playing time. Shoot, when you think about it, he hasn't been on the field consistently since last July or August. We have to get him up and playing, so we can get him going so he can continue his development."
It would not be at all surprising if Brown's rehab ends with his returning to Lehigh Valley for more seasoning. Amaro said during the winter meetings that in "a perfect world, we don't need Domonic to make our club unless he shows us in spring training he's ready to take that next step."
Francisco, of course, will also have some say about what happens to Brown. Francisco hit .320 with two home runs in his first week as the rightfielder, and, if that continues, people will forget about Werth and Brown.
"We haven't really thought about all that," Amaro said. "Right now, we're trying to get Domonic healthy and we'll see how Benny does as kind of the everyday rightfielder, which obviously he has performed very well."
Brown no doubt wants to make an immediate return to the big leagues, but it really would not be the worst thing in the world if he ended up in Lehigh Valley for a few months and worked on his game without the pressure of being in the big leagues.
"I think he's handled it really, really well," Amaro said. "He stayed upbeat. It can be demoralizing for a guy because he had an opportunity to be in the big leagues, and he was going to get every opportunity to do that. As I told him, 'Hey, you're going to get your chance again, so just get ready to play.' "
Maybe next year, after Raul Ibanez has likely left as a free agent, will be Brown's year to become an everyday player in the big leagues. There's also the possibility that if the Phillies really need a key player at the trade deadline, they could use either Francisco or Brown in a deal. If both are playing well at two different levels, their value will only increase.
"I'd love to have that situation arise," Amaro said. "The more options we have at the big-league level, the better. We'll continue to assess how things go. I know Domonic wants to play in the big leagues. I know that's his goal. We want him to be a productive player in the big leagues and . . . just like my dad always told me, 'When it's time for a guy to play in the big leagues, he'll be in the big leagues.' "
Contact staff writer Bob Brookover at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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