I remember the longest home run I’ve ever seen live in person. It was in 2010, in Clearwater, Florida, during a Philadelphia Phillies vs. New York Yankees spring training game. I was living down there at the time, but my dad had come down to visit so we decided to kick off our baseball season. Although a diehard Yanks fan, I never really went to the Clearwater games because there are no overhangs at Brighthouse Field and you pretty much die under the Florida sun. Living > baseball. Upset that going to the game with my dad meant mitigated beer consumption, I was just hoping for something sweet to happen; spring training games are so far from exciting. Fortunately, it did.
I remember having no idea who Domonic Brown was. Why did he spell his name with an ‘O’? What was with all the necklaces? He sauntered to the plate with a wad of an illegal substance in his mouth. Down the third-base stands, Phillies fans cheered for who they thought was their future. They were rewarded for their enthusiasm. On the first pitch, Brown launched a streamed fastball high, deep, and well beyond the big black board — the “hitter’s eye” — that sits well beyond the center field fence. I mean, this thing was a freaking bomb. I used to attend Yankee games where Tino Martinez would blast holes in the right field upper-deck, but this thing dwarfed those. A yard-monster if I’ve ever seen one. And no, I haven’t seen one similar since. Like, that thing traveled 480 feet, minimum, and left the yard in three seconds.
You’d have thought a star was born, but it wasn’t. Now, though, it could be.
That home run’s been lost in a sea of Domonic Brown disappointment. Never having been in Charlie Manuel or the front office’s favor, Brown’s outlook ebbed and flowed between bust and star every day since his debut at 22 years old. Every year he climbed in Baseball America’s prospect rankings: #48 pre-2009; #15 pre-2010; #4 pre-2011. He was constantly moving between minor league levels, but always hit. He has a career .296/.373/.461 slash in the minors, but something didn’t line up; he always struggled in the Show.
With the Phillies in 2010 Brown hit .210, .245 in 2011, and .235 in 2012. The consequences of those batting averages? He never got everyday playing time. The Phillies were competitive and he was an underachieving prospect.
In 2013, Brown’s finally getting his shot. Unfortunately, that similar pattern’s arisen.
Brown’s hitting .266 with four homers, which is indeed alright, but let’s see if he will keep it up, decline, or finally fulfill his promise. Remember, he’s still only 25.
Looking at the numbers, there aren’t many differences in Brown’s game. His 17.1% strikeout rate is on track with his career average, he’s walking as much as he always has, and his contact rates on pitches both in and out of the zone (according to FanGraph’s PITCHf/x) are per usual — 85.8% and 68.3% respectively.
There are factors that hint at progression while some hint at decline (like usual). Brown’s solid 26% line-drive rate portends that his .288 BAbip, and therefore average, could see a small spike, but his unsustainable 10.3% HR/FB rate hints at a decrease in power. Concomitantly with his increase in line-drives, Brown’s popping up less — he has an 11% IF/FB.
There was a nice piece by FanGraphs’ Eno Harris that highlights Brown’s hand adjustments and follow-through that assures that his improvement isn’t incidental or fluky, but Brown’s numbers do hint at a slight decline in power and increase in average. His homers are pretty, but 10 homers in 456 minor league at-bats from 2011-2012 conveys average power.
Perhaps the most influential factor in Brown’s prospective production is his opportunity. For once, he’s getting steady playing time. Despite Delmon Young’s return, Brown should see everyday innings in the outfield as Laynce Nix finds the pine. The Philadelphia lineup isn’t what many thought it would be, though, and Chase Utley could be traded if the team doesn’t improve, so Brown’s upside might be capped via his environment.
You’re probably already seeing something close to the real Domonic Brown: roster-able, yet unexciting. Maybe there’s a reason everyone in the Philly organization was so hesitant.
Side note: this week, Cliff Lee insinuated that Philly needs to start hitting. I anxiously await what he says once he sees the joint butcher-ism that Young and Brown are about to display in the outfield. Fielding or hitting, Cliff?
Follow fantasy analyst and awesome guy Nick Tom on Twitter @NickTomFB