With each passing day, the case of Domonic Brown becomes more tantalizing, confusing and sometimes, infuriating.
And before this goes any further, please allow this statement regarding Mr. Brown to be submitted for the record.
I like Domonic Brown.
Brown has star potential. All the tools are there. In his brief time with the Phillies, Brown has shown a good ability to work counts into his favor. Unlike most of the players on the team, he is not afraid to hit with two strikes. Brown has a cannon for an arm, can run like a gazelle, and possesses enough power to be a true middle-of-the-lineup type of player.
Somewhere inside that wiry frame, a Darryl Strawberry is just aching to break free.
Unfortunately, those tools can sometimes blind us to the reality of the negatives, those things that are truly holding him back from greatness.
While it is an admittedly small sample size, Brown has not put up numbers during his brief time in the Majors that would force Ruben Amaro Jr. to keep him on the big club. In 210 plate appearances last year, Brown hit .245/.333/.391, with an OPS+ of only 97, and just five home runs and 19 RBIs.
However, players grow into their power. Seeing more big league hitters could help with that, and Brown has had a terrific first two Grapefruit League contests so far at the plate.
The worry about Brown has never really been about his offense. It is his defense that keeps the Phillies brass up at night.
In Sunday’s Grapefruit League game against the Yankees, Brown made the kind of defensive miscue that infuriates big league managers and GMs. He dropped a simple fly ball to left field, a routine play that every Major League player should make. This was not the first time Brown has dropped a fly ball, misplayed a grounder hit to him, or taken a bad route to a ball hit near him.
He is a scary guy to watch play in the field.
Now the Brown apologists would tell you that those kinds of miscues are no big deal, especially when you consider the offensive potential that lies within. Most also believe that Brown will eventually become a solid defender, given more time to acclimate himself to right field. He has the speed and the arm to be at least an average outfielder, if not an above average one.
The Brown apologists would also tell you that the Phils have had to endure the defensive inadequacies of Raul Ibanez for the last three years and Pat Burrell for nine years before that. They would argue that the Phils managed just fine with two slow-footed defenders, and in that, they are partially correct.
The only balls Ibanez or Burrell ever had a chance to get to were the ones hit right at them. Anything in the gaps or down the line were a sure double or triple. Undoubtedly, lots of runs have been scored at the expense of the defense in left field over the last decade.
The one big thing the Brown apologists don’t seem to understand is that at least Ibanez and Burrell made the routine play virtually every time. And while that doesn’t sound sexy, for a team that predicates itself on its pitching staff and defense, every botched routine play is incredibly damaging.
When a pitcher sees a routine fly ball hit to the outfield, they assume that ball is going to be caught. And when it isn’t, it can be a morale-crushing circumstance for the entire team. Suddenly, a fourth out is required to get back to the dugout.
Brown apologists are also oftentimes the ones who talk about run prevention and not giving away at bats. They know the truth, that outs are the most important thing in baseball, and that good teams cannot afford to give away those precious outs and expect to win.
So why is it no big deal when Brown is giving them away?
Sometimes a narrative is very hard to un-spin. For the Brown apologists, they’re sticking to their narrative, and it’s a bit disingenuous. At what point do you stop looking past the obvious shortcomings of a player and cease making excuses for him?
Why were Ibanez’ and Burrell’s defensive ability such a negative, but Brown’s is not? Perhaps if Brown had shown the ability at the Major League level to be a truly dangerous power hitter, with a bat that other teams would fear, I could understand.
But he’s not that guy, at least not yet. He’s still a work in progress. Glossing over his shortcomings, making excuses for them, and ridiculing Amaro for his supposed hatred of Brown, does no one any good.
Have the Phillies badly mishandled the start of Brown’s career? Absolutely. And I truly do think Brown is going to have a solid career, whether it’s in Philadelphia or somewhere else.
But don’t allow your love of Dom’s potential and tools to blind you to what’s happening in the here and now. Dom Brown still has a ways to go before he can be counted on to be the starting left fielder for a World Series contender.
This isn’t 1989 or 1996. The Phils aren’t running Shane Rawley and Jeff Juden out there every fifth day anymore. They’re playing for keeps and there’s no time play guys that have trouble catching routine fly balls.
It’s still early in spring training and there’s still time for Brown to get better. The hope is that he can continue to hit well and improve his defense and earn a spot on the team flight to Philadelphia in a few weeks.
But if he’s not, a full season of AAA baseball (which he’s never had, by the way) wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.
Here’s hoping the kid is a quick study and makes life real hard on the decision makers in the front office. Until then, please stop apologizing for Domonic Brown. He’s a fully growned-up man.