Inside the Phillies: Phillies' Domonic Brown: Still developing or flawed finished product?

back intriple A with Lehigh Valley, could be trade bait in July. DAVID M WARREN / Staff Photographer
back intriple A with Lehigh Valley, could be trade bait in July. DAVID M WARREN / Staff Photographer (Domonic Brown,)
Posted: April 15, 2012

If this season is anything like Ruben Amaro Jr.'s first three as Phillies general manager, there is going to come a time in July when he starts looking for help from another organization.

You may not like the fact that the Phillies have failed to win a World Series since Amaro succeeded Hall of Famer Pat Gillick as the team's GM, but that does not change the reality that the current GM has significantly strengthened the team at the trade deadline every year since he took control.

The two questions this July, as they seem to be at every trade deadline, will be whether Amaro has enough payroll flexibility and enough minor-league talent to make the kind of blockbuster moves that brought Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, and Hunter Pence to town.

Team president David Montgomery will have to answer the payroll question. Whether there is enough minor-league talent could depend on how other organizations view one man: Domonic Brown.

When Amaro's infatuation with acquiring elite pitchers began in 2009, Brown's first name was being spelled differently - Dominic - and his status was "untouchable." He was only 21 years old and he was tearing up minor-league pitching on what would be a quick ascent - in hindsight, too quick - to the big leagues.

"He's a future all-star," a scout told The Inquirer when the Toronto Blue Jays were looking at Brown in single-A Clearwater before the 2009 trade deadline.

Now, Brown is 24. He has endured two difficult big-league stints, a variety of nagging injuries, and a position change from right to left field. He is considered a defensive liability and you won't hear many scouts describing him as "a future all-star" these days.

In fact, this damning comment came from one scout in spring training: "I don't think you could get anything more than a middle reliever for him."

Amaro insisted last summer that Brown's name was still on the untouchable list when he acquired Pence from the Houston Astros, but it's difficult to believe that was the case. Even if it was true, it cannot be true any longer. If the Phillies need help at the deadline this summer, Brown will be available, albeit probably not for a middle reliever.

"I think that's a little harsh," a National League scout said. "That scout has probably seen him play quite a bit and has not liked the way he has played at all.

"For me personally, he's worth more than that. I'm not ready to give up on a guy with those kinds of tools. I've seen him play very good and not so good."

What makes Brown less valuable to other organizations now is his age. At 21, his defensive flaws could be looked upon as a part of the game he needs to work on. At 24, scouts begin to wonder if he is a flawed finished product.

"This guy was the number-one prospect in the organization two years ago and he's clearly not that now," the NL scout said. "That's the case for a number of reasons: a lack of performance, the injuries, and how he was used when he was in the big leagues last year. All those things lessened his value.

"It's more difficult now to project on Domonic. It's a lot easier to project on somebody at 21 than it is at 24. At 21, you can still dream that a guy is not done getting better. At 24, you start to think, 'Maybe this guy has a little room for improvement,' but it's more difficult to project. Maybe you're looking at a finished product - and, at that point, the value goes down."

It's impossible, of course, to say exactly what Brown would bring in a deadline trade here in the middle of April. If he lights up the International League, where he has fewer than 450 career plate appearances, the value will rise again. If he struggles at triple-A Lehigh Valley, he probably will not have the value it takes to be the minor-league centerpiece in a blockbuster trade for a player such as Pence, Oswalt, Lee, or Roy Halladay.

"The jury is still out," the NL scout said. "He could be a quality player, an average player, a platoon guy, or a four-A guy. It's still too early to tell on this guy."

The organization that has always valued Brown the most is the one that should still value him the most.

If it's true that his trade value is in decline, then it's also true that the Phillies should be more patient than ever in the development of Brown. When injuries necessitated a move in 2010, the Phillies promoted Brown even though he had only 107 at-bats at the triple-A level.

And when the offense sputtered early in 2011, the Phillies again turned to Brown, even though he still had little seasoning above the double-A level.

Now, Brown is back in triple A, learning to play left field without the added pressure of having to produce at the plate for the big-league team. All scouts agree that his value is not what it once was when he was rapidly moving up the Phillies' minor-league ladder as well as the Baseball America rankings.

But Domonic Brown still has immense value to the Phillies because they need a young player like him to develop into a big-leaguer they can count on.


Inside the Phillies: The Word on Domonic Brown

Here are some comments made about Phillies outfield prospect Domonic Brown over the last four seasons:

"He's a future All-Star."

- A scout watching Brown at single-A Clearwater in late July 2009.

"He's ready to play in the big leagues right now."

- A National League scout watching Brown at triple-A Lehigh Valley in July 2010.

"There's still a question whether he's ready to come and play on a regular basis. The circumstances changed and I changed my mind. It's pretty simple, really."

 - Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., after promoting Brown to the major leagues in May 2011.

"I think in some ways he is holding his own. 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 can be more relaxed at triple A than here."

 - Phillies manager Charlie Manuel, in late July 2011.

"Let me just say this about all the rumors that were out there: 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."

 - Amaro, after acquiring Hunter Pence from Houston and sending Brown to Lehigh Valley in July 2011.

"I don't think you could get any more than a middle reliever for him."

 - A scout at spring training 2012.

"The jury is still out. He could be a quality player, an average player, a platoon guy, or a four-A guy. It's still too early to tell on this guy."

 - A National League scout, on Friday.

- Bob Brookover


Contact Bob Brookover at bbrookover@phillynews.com or on Twitter @brookob.

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