Two weeks ago, Dom Brown came off the disabled list and was immediately sent on a rush hour drive along the smooth-sailing Northeast Extension to toil in Lehigh Valley against inferior competition. At the time, I wrote that the move was irresponsible at best and punitive or vindictive for crimes unknown at worst.
Then, the situation heated up when Dom went on a 24 hour bender and didn't show up to Lehigh Valley in time. #DOMWATCH began and the internet was fun. We even sought counsel from a Russian mystic. We were all lost, frustrated, and seeking answers. Of course, Dom eventually got tired of his little game and came crawling on back, but we remained perplexed that there was no place for him on a 25-man roster that included Jeff Francoeur and Grady Sizemore III.
The Phillies claimed that Brown belonged in AAA because there were things he needed to work on. I feel comfortable speaking for the Masthead here at The Good Phight in saying that we collectively called BS on that.
Less than a week later, the Phillies demoted struggling starter David Buchanan so that he could regain some confidence and, more importantly, rediscover the changeup that is essential to his ability to get consistent outs in the majors. That move made so much sense to us that we both predicted and advocated for it. We never questioned the Phillies' honesty in saying that move was motivated by an interest in Buchanan's development.
When the Phillies announced following the conclusion of last night's loss to the Pirates that Cody Asche was going down to AAA to learn how to catch fly balls and, mostly, stand around in the corner outfield spots, we were generally optimistic about how that move would affect Asche's future utility on good baseball teams. In fact, I wrote exactly that when Asche reported early to Spring Training to catch fly balls and do some outfielding.
But what does this all have to do with Domonic Brown? Well, we've now got new information, man.
The Phillies have cited player development as their reason for sending players down to AAA three times in the last two weeks. It looks increasingly likely that saying Brown needed to work on his game at AAA wasn't just some flimsy cover for an organizational vendetta against the former top prospect. Maybe, just maybe, the Phillies were actually acting in the best interests of the long term development of one of their (relatively) young players.
In fact, these moves fit in nicely with the Phillies' offseason admission that they were in a rebuilding stage of their organizational cycle. Sticking with Asche over Andres Blanco, Buchanan over Sean O'Sullivan, and Brown over Grady Sizemore III would very likely add some wins to the Phillies 2015 record. That would be a very stereotypical Phillies move of prioritizing minor short-term gains over more substantial long-term success that we have become very adept at identifying and criticizing.
What the Phillies have done with Dom Brown, David Buchanan, and, now, Cody Asche reflects a commitment to rebuilding and future development. They're putting all three players in low-stress situations where they can work on specific aspects of their game that might allow them to reach a higher level of performance down the line. We should applaud the Phillies for all three of these moves as they show a commitment to the rebuild we've all been calling for for the past three years.
Even though it might be that Brown's, Asche's, and Buchanan's ceilings are just-better-than-replacement-level, the Phillies owe it to themselves to maximize player development over any other goal. If David Buchanan turns out to be the next Kyle Kendrick, Cody Asche becomes Greg Dobbs, and Dom Brown becomes a passable starting corner outfielder, this will all be worth it. We certainly won't miss the win or two the Phillies sacrificed in 2015 to achieve that outcome.