Buster Brown: Domonic Brown looked like a future All-Star. Will he ever be one?

Bob Levey

Is Domonic Brown the Phillies right fielder of the future or just another failed top prospect who couldn't handle the jump to the Majors? Cormican and Catz discuss it here.

Cormican: Domonic Brown was a 20th Round Draft pick of the Phillies in 2006 out of Florida. He had a strong commitment to go to the University of Miami and play wide receiver for their vaunted football program. Apparently the Phillies waved more money at Brown than Hurricanes boosters did and he decided to pursue a baseball career with the Phillies. Brown is emblematic of recent Phillies draft strategy, in that he was seen as a raw, but highly athletic player with a ceiling of MLB All-Star and a floor of A-ball washout.

As a Minor Leaguer Brown came out of the chute strong with solid triple slashes at every level, a solid ISO at each level and good plate discipline. People may remember Jeff Stone who came up for the Phillies in 1984 as a much heralded prospect with speed to spare. Stone was an uber-athletic, raw player who tore through the minors. Much is made of how raw Stone was, but his BB rates were pretty solid in the minors (5.3% in Low A, 10.1% in A, 5.5% in High-A and 7.6% in Reading). No exceptionally high walk rates, but he didn't have a Sebastian Valle allergy to taking pitches. His K rate was also roughly similar to Brown's. Another similarity perhaps to Brown is that, in spite of plenty of speed and athleticism, Stone was a god-awful player defensively. Is it possible Brown is suffering from the same problems Jeff Stone encountered and was unable to adjust to?

Joecatz: The Comparison to Stone is an interesting one. One glaring difference. Stone IMMEDIATELY made the adjustment to the Major leagues, putting up a .362/.394/.465 line in 51 games after a mid season call up. Aside from an injury stretch after the All-Star Break he pretty much played full-time in 1984. He also stole 27 bases. The league and injuries caught up to him in 1985.

With Brown it's different. Small samples taken into consideration, He's been consistent at the Major league level. So consistent, in fact, that his small sample lines in 2011 and 2012 are virtually identical. He's been a .240/.320/.390 guy. He hasn't gotten WORSE, but he hasn't gotten better either. So its easy for us to believe that there will be progress if he gets the chance to prove himself. I mean we're talking about a guy with a career .296/.373/461 minor league slash who destroyed AAA pitching in 2010 (.346/.390/.561) on his way to being the #4 preseason prospect prior to 2011! Bum rap! He got screwed! We never gave him the chance! The team destroyed his psyche! How did we let Ibanez play over him????

Well, take 2010 out, and isolate the basics over the last two seasons (where he had again, roughly a .240/.320/.390 split at the major league level in 420 PA) and you'll see some interesting minor league numbers. Since 2011, at AAA Brown has produced a .276/.344/.407 line in 413 PA. In 413 minor league PA he walked 45 times and struck out 75. in 420 ML PA same period? 46 BB 69K's. Doubles? 21 in the majors, 19 at AAA. 6 triples at Lehigh, 3 in the majors, with 8 HR at Lehigh and 10 in Philly.

Since 2011, Dom Brown hasn't gone down to AAA and done any better.

I don't see a guy whose been tearing it up that has to be given his due. I see a guy whose gotten considerably worse offensively the past two seasons no matter where he played. For whatever reason, hasn't reached the potential that may or may not ever be there. Look, I want to see the guy succeed, but no one talks about this, maybe because they don't wanna see it. It's easy to bitch about how bad the organization has screwed with the kid. Easy to talk about the injuries as a factor, but the fact is he's been average at every level for the past two seasons, and has actually regressed offensively.

What we don't know is WHY. Is it the Hamate fracture and subsequent surgery? Is he a "head case"? Does he need a change of scenery? Did they screw with his swing so much that he forgot how to hold a bat, let alone swing it? Is he too selective? Who knows? But that's two years of solid similar data at AAA and the major leagues. This isn't adjustment. It's something else.

Look, it's incredibly difficult to give a top prospect the opportunity to be the opening day starter when he's on the disabled list to start the season. Bad luck, bad off season conditioning, maybe he's just the type of guy who can't stay healthy. It happens. But it's not like the guy went down to AAA and forced himself into a position to be playing every day when he was healthy. It may just be time to accept that Brown may never be more than a .700 to .750 OPS guy with average defensive abilities and a rocket arm. I really hope I'm wrong.

Cormican: Of course Stone took off that first year with a .413 BABiP, which even for The Flash would probably be pretty unsustainable. While Downtown Dom Brown has done it with a .269 BABiP. Say we give Brown a more "normal" BABiP of .320 or .330. That would make him something closer to .260 hitter with a .330-.340 OBP. So maybe Brown isn't Jeff Stone, though there are a few similarities.

Maybe he's Brandon Wood, the failed Angels third base prospect who struggled with a bad BABiP after first making the Majors for an extended period at 23. Like Brown he went through the minors with solid walk rates and ISO's at each level, got bounced around a bit by management after his initial struggles and suddenly wasn't the same player he used to be even in the Minors. His K rate skyrocketed, his Walk rate became half of what it was and his ISO all but disappeared. Once he struggled, he started getting moved around defensively. At this point the pedals are off the bloom. Even changes of scenery to Pittsburgh and Colorado haven't helped Wood shake the issues that have derailed his career.

Brown has been a better hitter than Wood, but because Wood hasn't had the defensive issues Brown has, Wood has roughly similar WAR (aside from a remarkably bad 2010). Wood didn't fail because he has bad luck, he failed because he sucked at recognizing breaking balls and never adjusted at the Major League level. His Defense is good enough that he has kept getting chances, but Brown doesn't have that luxury. Can he adjust to the level?

Joecatz: That's the million dollar question that everyone keeps asking. The BABIP arguement makes a lot of sense, and in those 413 minor league PA's that I mentioned above? Well that was with a .331 and .313 BABIP in 2011 and 2012, respectively. So, IF you normalize to that, yeah, he's a .270/.340/400 guy. At the big league level, that can be as simple as being more selective in certain counts. Waiting for the right pitch, learning how pitchers see you coming into play, swinging at the right pitches, etc... One thing he has to do better is in regards to selectivity early in the count. He's absolutely horrible at first pitch and 1-0 counts when he actually goes after the pitch, for example. It comes back to that. Can he adjust to the level?

There was a great Fangraphs piece last year on that subject. From the article:

His .286 wOBA in Triple-A has fans and scouts absolutely miffed. When asked what caused the precipitous drop-off in production from Domonic Brown, one minor league scout said, "I don’t think anyone knows for sure." Furthermore, Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus, who speaks with scouts every day regarding minor league players, said, "I think I’ve passed 100 on the number of theories I’ve heard."

It goes on to speculate on a million different reasons why he hasn't clicked. As I mentioned before, most players like Brown struggle to make the transition but excel at AAA. That's not the case with Dom. He's been flat for two years, and in some ways I can understand the organization's trepidation with wondering if he'll ever pull it together. I mean, look at a guy like Matt Laporta who just absolutely struggled with the transition over two years. Then look at what he did at AAA last season. Regression, but still better at AAA than at the big league level.

But the more I look at it the more I believe that they are missing the bigger picture. For me, the takeway with Dom Brown, the silver lining if you will is that his AAA numbers and his major league numbers over the past two years have been identical. That means two things. He is what he is, meaning a .700-.750 OPS guy (and lets go ahead and call him a .750 OPS guy if BABIP is normalized), or the potential that was there circa 2010 is still there, and his injuries and the mental games have affected him negatively.

Here's the thing though.

That .750 OPS guy? because he's been doing it CONSISTENTLY at both levels for two years? If all he does is improve his BABIP, That is likely still his FLOOR, not his ceiling. What I'm positing here is that with his age, his skills and his last two seasons riddled with injuries and mental ridiculousness, he's still been a .325 wOBA roughly 100 wRC+ guy. A few other outfielders with those types of numbers averaged over the past three seasons? Cody Ross, Alfonso Soriano, Ryan Ludwick, Austin Jackson, Mark Trumbo, Brett Gardner, Angel Pagan, Chris Young. Cody Ross just signed what, a 3 year $24mm deal?

Dom Brown won't cross the $3mm threshold for three years, unless he absolutely tears it up, in which case your happy to pay him.

Think about that for a second. If you just assume that Dom Brown will NEVER BE ANY BETTER than what he has been the past two seasons, that's the kind of player he is over a full season at the major league level. If he can get just a LITTLE BETTER? Say, .350 116? That's 2012 Curtis Granderson. It's not a huge stretch to get there.

Will that happen? Who knows? Is he ever going to be a 5-7 WAR player? Again, who knows? But at this point you have to find out. You have to give him the opportunity to fail or succeed. I have my own theories, But this is his year to fail, to succeed or to fade into Jeff Stone like obscurity. I still have hope. I still believe in the kid. And the Phillies should too.

Cormican: Perhaps the Phillies can hope he's Miguel Tejada. Tejada was at one time ranked the 6th best prospect in baseball, then spent his first 500 MLB plate appearances compiling a sub-.700 OPS. Tejada then had ~700 PA with a roughly .750 OPS, before he adjusted and put together 8 straight season with an OPS over .800. During those first 1200 PA's Tejada sported a .141 ISO, after that he averaged an ISO roughly at .200. Like Brown, Tejada was not a particularly good defender, but still averaged out to a roughly 3.4 fWAR player after those initial 500 PA's (through his roughly 9 year peak he averaged 4.2 fWAR).

Dom Brown over 500 PAs so far has a .703 OPS, .152 ISO and has averaged -0.8 fWAR (Tejada was -0.7 after 500 PAs). Now before anyone says it, it's unlikely Brown will become Tejada. After all, Tejada sucked at taking Walks, an area where Brown, unlike Tejada, has not struggled. Dare I say Brown could even end up better than Tejada? It's all still on the table for Brown right now. He still has good speed, good power and cannon for an arm. Maybe he never becomes an elite defender, but it is still quite possible that he hits well enough that we don't really care about weird routes and bad breaks.

Joecatz: I don't think its unlikely at all. I think it's a great comparison. And he's going to get the chance to prove whether we're right or wrong somewhere. And if we can see this, hopefully so can the organization. But patience is a virtue, you know, and well.... I don't know how much more patience the organization has with him. He'll get his chance this spring to prove he can be healthy enough to make the opening day roster, and in my opinion that's the only thing that will stop him from being in one of the corners on opening day, because whether they want to see him improve or whether they want to improve his trade value, the only way that'll happen is if he plays at the major league level. It will be up to him to prove on the field and at the plate that he belongs, and at the end of the season, you'll know whether he's Miguel Tejada, or Jeff Stone, or maybe, just maybe, Domonic Brown. Not the guy we've seen the past two years, but the guy we've dreamed about for the past five.

For some reason, I'm betting on the latter.

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