Despite perceptions, Phils' Brown still an untouchable, Amaro says

Domonic Brown was optioned to Lehigh Valley to make room for newly-acquired right fielder Hunter Pence. (Ron Cortes/Staff file photo)
Domonic Brown was optioned to Lehigh Valley to make room for newly-acquired right fielder Hunter Pence. (Ron Cortes/Staff file photo)
Posted: July 30, 2011

Domonic Brown is once again the Phillies' top minor-league prospect, but you can rest assured he's in no mood to celebrate that distinction.

Nine weeks after the Phillies promoted Brown to be their starting rightfielder, he is starting over again as a leftfielder at triple-A Lehigh Valley following Friday night's blockbuster trade that brought two-time all-star Hunter Pence to the Phillies.

Had the Phillies not traded pitcher Jarred Cosart and first baseman Jonathan Singleton to the Astros for Pence, it could be argued that Brown would be the third best minor-league prospect in the organization.

A baseball source said Saturday that the Astros thought they could have had Brown, but they were more interested in the 19-year-old Singleton because they project him as a guy who could one day hit 30-plus home runs with a very high on-base percentage.

The perception during this trade-deadline period has been that Brown's stock as a future star has been downgraded by what he did in 54 games at the big-league level this season.

When general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. negotiated trades for Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, and Roy Oswalt, Brown was the one player deemed untouchable. Amaro surrendered top pitching prospect Kyle Drabek for Halladay and a successful big-league pitcher in J.A. Happ for Oswalt, but whenever he was asked about Brown, the answer was always no.

The general manager insisted Saturday that the answer did not change this summer.

"Let me just say this about all the rumors that were out there," Amaro said. "I got 400,000 calls asking me about Domonic Brown and he was not available. Other people can think whatever they want, but he was not available."

If the perception was otherwise, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel was partly to blame. Manuel's campaign for a righthanded bat and fifth hitter in the order started more than a month ago when Brown's batting average tumbled toward the Mendoza Line.

The manager did not attempt to hide that he felt the Phillies needed an upgrade from Brown if they wanted to significantly improve their chances of winning the World Series.

Asked about Brown's development before Friday night's game against Pittsburgh, Manuel responded with brutal honesty.

"I think in some ways he is holding his own," Manuel said. "He hasn't been tearing it up, but at the same time I see the aspect of his hitting when he puts a good swing on the ball and keeps his balance and stuff . . . you see he has a chance to be a real good hitter. But overall I think he needs a whole lot of experience. I think he needs what I call game experience."

Manuel was not thrilled about the idea of Brown's getting that game experience at the big-league level when he has a team built to win a World Series right now.

"I think he can be more relaxed at triple-A than here," Manuel said.

Asked if there were any advantage in Brown's gaining big-league experience, the manager made it sound as if it were a one-sided proposition in the player's favor.

"He gets time in the big leagues, gets more money, more meal money," Manuel said.

Some people in the organization felt Manuel came close to crossing the line a few times with his constant pressure on Amaro to acquire a righthanded bat. Ultimately, everyone agreed that the manager was correct in his evaluation.

Manuel's feelings are understandable. He is 67 and under contract through the 2013 season. It's all about win now for him.

It's also true that the more you watch Brown, the more you realize he is a work in progress. He is a kid who grew up playing football, so he does not have the kind of baseball instincts you see from players who spent their entire youth playing the game.

He does not always look smooth going after the ball in right field and his turns around the bases often appear wider than they need to be. On the plus side, Brown has good plate discipline that figures to get better the more he plays, and if he ends up being a leftfielder there will be less pressure on him defensively.

If Pat Burrell could play an adequate left field at Citizens Bank Park, Brown has the skill to excel at the position.

Brown also has a strong desire to work and learn, according to the Phillies coaching staff.

"He's going to be a very good player," Amaro said.

It's hard to believe that Brown has been in this organization only five years, because so much has happened during that time.

It seems like just yesterday that we were all spelling his name Dominic after he was drafted out of high school five picks behind Eagles wide receiver Riley Cooper.

It's important to remember that he is still only 23 years old. Amaro said it's also important to remember that Domonic Brown is still untouchable.


Contact staff writer Bob Brookover at bbrookover@phillynews.com

or @brookob on Twitter.

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