Monday, December 22, 2014

Free Domonic Brown?

There are two points of view, and I'm glad it is not my job to pick one to adhere to. We are, as usual, talking about Domonic Brown, who continues to torch Triple-A pitching and seems intent on making it incredibly difficult for the Phillies to keep him in the minor leagues. In seven games since he was activated from the disabled list, the 23-year-old right fielder is 10-for-26 with two home runs, one double, six strikeouts and three walks. For those of you who are not Rain Man, that equates to a .385 batting average, .452 on base percentage, and 1.105 OPS. Including five games at Class A Clearwater, where he spent a rehab stint while working his way back from hand surgery, Brown has the following line: .378/.442/.689, 1.131 OPS, 4 HR, 10 RBI, 11 RS, 9 SO, 5 BB in 52 plate appearances. There are plenty of arguments for keeping Brown in the minors. But with each day that passes, the counter-arguments seem to get stronger. Here's a look at them: The argument: He still has more developing to do The counter-argument: Of course he does. But at some point, a player's development will only continue once he reaches the majors. Chase Utley broke into the majors at the age of 24. In his first 439 plate appearances, spaced between 2003 and 2004, he hit .257/.313/.436 with 15 home runs and a .749 OPS. In 2005, he hit .291/.376/.540 with 28 home runs and a .915 OPS. Brown has only played 35 games at Triple-A in his career. But in those 35 games, Brown is hitting .353/.403/.579 with a .982 OPS, seven home runs, 27 RBI, 22 runs, 11 walks and 29 strikeouts in 149 plate appearances. Here's the thing about top-shelf talent. Whether you are talking about baseball or basketball or academics, it needs to constantly be challenged. You don't play tennis against somebody who is worse than you, and you don't play baseball against pitchers who are career minor leaguers. When Brown talked to the media a couple of weeks ago before his first game at Lehigh Valley, he treated reporters to a brief moment of candor. Somebody asked him if he was anxious to get back to the big leagues. His answer was something to the effect of, I'm focused on Lehigh Valley, if I get off to a real hot start then I might get a little bit antsy, but I'm focused on Lehigh Valley. I'm paraphrasing, but the sentiment is accurate. Well, Brown is off to a hot start. If you asked him today, he'd probably drop the "antsy" part and say what he is supposed to say. But the fact remains, top-shelf talent gets antsy. It takes fire to refine. Sure, Brown still is not a polished base-runner or defender. But a lot of that requires muscle memory and instincts, which he will not develop until he is playing every day against major league competition. Look at how Utley has improved as a base-runner, or Ryan Howard as a defender. The argument: The Phillies have the best record in the National League. There is no rush. The counter-argument: That's why now is the perfect time to slide Brown into the line-up. They don't need him to be The Franchise. They don't even need him to play at a replacement-player level. Anything they get out of him is a bonus. There is zero pressure. Sure, we in the media will do our best to put pressure on him. But, as Charlie Manuel likes to say, that's all part of it. The Phillies will win a lot of games just on the strength of their pitching. The only known variable right now is that Brown has tools that will play at the big league level. He put a home run into the second deck at Citizens Bank Park last year. He flashed his impressive arm strength. That stuff isn't going to go away. The big question is whether he can employ those tools consistently. What better time to start the discovery process than now, when he will be playing for a first-place team with the best rotation in the majors? Isn't it a better situation than later in the season, when the stakes are higher? Or next year, when he could need to be a significant contributor? The argument: Brown could be a liability. The counter-argument: Through 34 games, Phillies right fielders have posted a .731 OPS, ranked 10th in the National League. Their left fielders have posted a .677 OPS, which ranks 13th. Again, the Phillies are in a position where they won't be asking Brown to be a world-beater. If he is merely adequate, they break even. If he struggles, the situation won't be much different than the one they've endured through the first month-plus of the season. The argument: It is too early to give up on Ben Francisco or/and Raul Ibanez. The counter-argument: Promoting Brown would not mean giving up on Ibanez or Francisco. In fact, it would give Manuel great flexibility when it comes to filling out his line-up card each day. The Phillies will want to use Brown as a regular right fielder. But Francisco or John Mayberry Jr. can give him a day or two off each week against a left-handed starter. They can also spell Ibanez in left field. Mayberry can also play center and first base. In 2007, 11 different players recorded at least 300 plate appearances. Four of those were outfielders. Three of those outfielders finished with at least 500 plate appearances. Against Righties 1. Jimmy Rollins (LH) 2. Shane Victorino (LH) 3. Placido Polanco (RH) 4. Ryan Howard (LH) 5. Raul Ibanez (LH) 6. Domonic Brown (LH) 7. Carlos Ruiz (RH) 8. Pete Orr (LH) On the bench, the Phillies would have two right-handed outfield bats in Francisco and Mayberry for late-game situations, along with Wilson Valdez. And they'd still have a lefty bat in Ross Gload. Against lefties, they could throw this line-up out there. . . 1. Jimmy Rollins (RH) 2. Shane Victorino (RH) 3. Placido Polanco (RH) 4. Ryan Howard (LH) 5. Ben Francisco (RH) 6. Raul Ibanez (LH) 7. Carlos Ruiz (RH) 8. Wilson Valdez (RH) . . .And still have left-handed bats in Gload, Brown and Orr on the bench, plus Mayberry. Or they could throw this line-up out there. . . 1. Jimmy Rollins (RH) 2. Shane Victorino (RH) 3. Placido Polanco (RH) 4. Ryan Howard (LH) 5. Ben Francisco (RH) 6. Domonic Brown (LH) 7. Carlos Ruiz (RH) 8. Wilson Valdez (RH) . . .and still have Mayberry, Gload, Ibanez. In conclusion. . . The best time to promote Brown might be when Utley returns from the disabled list, assuming that happens within the next couple of weeks. Talk about removing pressure from Brown: all the focus will be on Utley and how he plays with his knee condition. That likely require the Phillies to offer Michael Martinez back to the Nationals, and send Pete Orr to the minors. That would give them a bench of Francisco, Mayberry, Schneider, Valdez and Gload, plus lots of veteran depth in the minors (Kevin Fransden, Ronnie Belliard, Orr, etc.). They could also elect to keep six relievers instead of seven, which would enable them to hang on to another infielder, since Utley might need a regular break. It would give Brown another week or two at Triple-A, and Francisco another week or two of playing regularly. Of all the arguments against promoting Brown, going without an extra infielder might be the strongest case. But there is a good chance the Phillies decide that the upside of getting their top prospect into the big leagues outweighs the upside of hanging on to an extra utility man.

Free Domonic Brown?

Domonic Brown is 10-for-26 at triple-A Lehigh Valley since being activated from the DL. (Yong Kim/staff photographer)
Domonic Brown is 10-for-26 at triple-A Lehigh Valley since being activated from the DL. (Yong Kim/staff photographer)

There are two points of view, and I'm glad it is not my job to pick one to adhere to. We are, as usual, talking about Domonic Brown, who continues to torch Triple-A pitching and seems intent on making it incredibly difficult for the Phillies to keep him in the minor leagues. In seven games since he was activated from the disabled list, the 23-year-old right fielder is 10-for-26 with two home runs, one double, six strikeouts and three walks. For those of you who are not Rain Man, that equates to a .385 batting average, .452 on base percentage, and 1.105 OPS. Including five games at Class A Clearwater, where he spent a rehab stint while working his way back from hand surgery, Brown has the following line: .378/.442/.689, 1.131 OPS, 4 HR, 10 RBI, 11 RS, 9 SO, 5 BB in 52 plate appearances.

There are plenty of arguments for keeping Brown in the minors. But with each day that passes, the counter-arguments seem to get stronger.

Here's a look at them:

The argument: He still has more developing to do

The counter-argument: Of course he does. But at some point, a player's development will only continue once he reaches the majors. Chase Utley broke into the majors at the age of 24. In his first 439 plate appearances, spaced between 2003 and 2004, he hit .257/.313/.436 with 15 home runs and a .749 OPS. In 2005, he hit .291/.376/.540 with 28 home runs and a .915 OPS. Brown has only played 35 games at Triple-A in his career. But in those 35 games, Brown is hitting .353/.403/.579 with a .982 OPS, seven home runs, 27 RBI, 22 runs, 11 walks and 29 strikeouts in 149 plate appearances. Here's the thing about top-shelf talent. Whether you are talking about baseball or basketball or academics, it needs to constantly be challenged. You don't play tennis against somebody who is worse than you, and you don't play baseball against pitchers who are career minor leaguers. When Brown talked to the media a couple of weeks ago before his first game at Lehigh Valley, he treated reporters to a brief moment of candor. Somebody asked him if he was anxious to get back to the big leagues. His answer was something to the effect of, I'm focused on Lehigh Valley, if I get off to a real hot start then I might get a little bit antsy, but I'm focused on Lehigh Valley. I'm paraphrasing, but the sentiment is accurate. Well, Brown is off to a hot start. If you asked him today, he'd probably drop the "antsy" part and say what he is supposed to say. But the fact remains, top-shelf talent gets antsy. It takes fire to refine. Sure, Brown still is not a polished base-runner or defender. But a lot of that requires muscle memory and instincts, which he will not develop until he is playing every day against major league competition. Look at how Utley has improved as a base-runner, or Ryan Howard as a defender.

The argument:
The Phillies have the best record in the National League. There is no rush.

The counter-argument:
That's why now is the perfect time to slide Brown into the line-up. They don't need him to be The Franchise. They don't even need him to play at a replacement-player level. Anything they get out of him is a bonus. There is zero pressure. Sure, we in the media will do our best to put pressure on him. But, as Charlie Manuel likes to say, that's all part of it. The Phillies will win a lot of games just on the strength of their pitching. The only known variable right now is that Brown has tools that will play at the big league level. He put a home run into the second deck at Citizens Bank Park last year. He flashed his impressive arm strength. That stuff isn't going to go away. The big question is whether he can employ those tools consistently. What better time to start the discovery process than now, when he will be playing for a first-place team with the best rotation in the majors? Isn't it a better situation than later in the season, when the stakes are higher? Or next year, when he could need to be a significant contributor?

The argument:
Brown could be a liability.

The counter-argument: Through 34 games, Phillies right fielders have posted a .731 OPS, ranked 10th in the National League. Their left fielders have posted a .677 OPS, which ranks 13th. Again, the Phillies are in a position where they won't be asking Brown to be a world-beater. If he is merely adequate, they break even. If he struggles, the situation won't be much different than the one they've endured through the first month-plus of the season.

The argument:
It is too early to give up on Ben Francisco or/and Raul Ibanez.

The counter-argument: Promoting Brown would not mean giving up on Ibanez or Francisco. In fact, it would give Manuel great flexibility when it comes to filling out his line-up card each day. The Phillies will want to use Brown as a regular right fielder. But Francisco or John Mayberry Jr. can give him a day or two off each week against a left-handed starter. They can also spell Ibanez in left field. Mayberry can also play center and first base. In 2007, 11 different players recorded at least 300 plate appearances. Four of those were outfielders. Three of those outfielders finished with at least 500 plate appearances.

Against Righties

1. Jimmy Rollins (LH)
2. Shane Victorino (LH)
3. Placido Polanco (RH)
4. Ryan Howard (LH)
5. Raul Ibanez (LH)
6. Domonic Brown (LH)
7. Carlos Ruiz (RH)
8. Pete Orr (LH)

On the bench, the Phillies would have two right-handed outfield bats in Francisco and Mayberry for late-game situations, along with Wilson Valdez. And they'd still have a lefty bat in Ross Gload.

Against lefties, they could throw this line-up out there. . .

1. Jimmy Rollins (RH)
2. Shane Victorino (RH)
3. Placido Polanco (RH)
4. Ryan Howard (LH)
5. Ben Francisco (RH)
6. Raul Ibanez (LH)
7. Carlos Ruiz (RH)
8. Wilson Valdez (RH)

. . .And still have left-handed bats in Gload, Brown and Orr on the bench, plus Mayberry.

Or they could throw this line-up out there. . .

1. Jimmy Rollins (RH)
2. Shane Victorino (RH)
3. Placido Polanco (RH)
4. Ryan Howard (LH)
5. Ben Francisco (RH)
6. Domonic Brown (LH)
7. Carlos Ruiz (RH)
8. Wilson Valdez (RH)

. . .and still have Mayberry, Gload, Ibanez.


In conclusion. . .

The best time to promote Brown might be when Utley returns from the disabled list, assuming that happens within the next couple of weeks. Talk about removing pressure from Brown: all the focus will be on Utley and how he plays with his knee condition. That likely require the Phillies to offer Michael Martinez back to the Nationals, and send Pete Orr to the minors. That would give them a bench of Francisco, Mayberry, Schneider, Valdez and Gload, plus lots of veteran depth in the minors (Kevin Fransden, Ronnie Belliard, Orr, etc.). They could also elect to keep six relievers instead of seven, which would enable them to hang on to another infielder, since Utley might need a regular break. It would give Brown another week or two at Triple-A, and Francisco another week or two of playing regularly. Of all the arguments against promoting Brown, going without an extra infielder might be the strongest case. But there is a good chance the Phillies decide that the upside of getting their top prospect into the big leagues outweighs the upside of hanging on to an extra utility man.

 


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