Tuesday, June 04, 2013

What Can Dom Brown Do For You?

I think that one landed in Jenkintown
Domonic Brown is very good at hitting baseballs.

This is something that a lot of people agreed on, starting with when the Phillies took him with the 20th overall pick a few years back. It persisted as he climbed the minor league ladder, with old school scouty  types drooling over his physical tools and analytics nerds looking at his projections and getting the vapors.

And then, of course, the Phillies decided to screw him up, because that's what they do. They brought their most promising young player up to the majors in order to use him as depth, which is a nice way of "sitting him on the bench". That, incidentally, is not what you do with budding young stars; you get them playing time so they can continue to get better. But no, Brown got a few at-bats, and did some pinch running, and sat.

The next few years were more of the same: up, down, injured, in the lineup, out of the lineup. The team never committed to him, running various Nixes and Mayberrys and Martinezes and other outfielders out there rather than do the one thing a developing player needs to do in order to improve: play regularly. In the meantime, the fans soured on him - they'd been promised superman, a match for Giancarlo Stanton in Miami and Jason Heyward in Atlanta and Bryce Harper in Washington, and instead they'd gotten an apparent match for Fernando Martinez in Flushing. The once-limitless promise seemed gone. The "he needs a change of scenery" trade rumors swirled, and the arbitration clock ticked away.

Suddenly, though, something funny happened. They let him play, even when he got off to a slow start. Maybe it was because nobody else in the outfield was hitting. Maybe it was because new guy Delmon Young started the season on the DL. It doesn't matter - they did it. And that, combined with what looks to be some productive work with a new hitting coach this spring, turned Brown into a monster. He's leading the NL in home runs, and, with Chase Utley out, Ryan Howard declining and Michael Young remaining Michael Young, he's pretty much the Phillies' only power option (unless you count Erik Kratz).

Of course, he's not the only player the Phils have done this to. Ryan Howard was kept down on the farm for at least a year and a half after he looked ready. Chase Utley spent far more time in the minors than a polished college product looked to need. You get the idea. It's how they do business1.

Which is a shame, because it costs the team wins, and it costs the team money, and it costs the players the opportunity to reach their full potential as pros. But it's how they do things, and as fans we can only be thankful that it didn't wreck Brown completely.

1I heard Jim Bowden blathering on ESPN recently about how Brown's resurgence was a triumph for the scouty types because all the keyboard-hugging nerds had given up on him. Memo to Mr. Bowden - the nerds gave up on him because old-school scouty-type GM Ruben Amaro Jr jerked him around so badly it looked like he'd never get a chance to play. There is no real scout/stat debate here - everyone agreed the Phillies were jerking Brown around - just one cranky guy looking to drum up fake controversy where none exists.
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