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For Phillies, Domonic Brown is Worth Waiting For

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UPDATE: Since posting this article this morning, Philly2Philly has been informed that Domonic Brown has fractured his hamate bone in his right hand. As you might recall this is a similar injury former Phillie Dave Hollins suffered in 1993. The recovery time is said to be 3-6 weeks.

I remember the moment it became clear that a new perspective wasDomonic Brown has potential, but isn't quite there yet. Photo: AP needed for how quickly Domonic Brown could be ready to assume the starting right field job in Philadelphia.

It wasn’t the night he played his first professional game last July, and coolly launched a couple of laser beams to right field, inciting giddiness throughout Philadelphia. Heck, I was pretty excited about that too, but I think we all still knew that the kid wasn’t going to stay up and hit .400 the rest of the season.

It wasn’t when I watched him struggle during the limited plate appearances that he earned as a bench player during the 2010 stretch run. That lack of rhythm was to be expected of a 22 year-old kid who was getting an at-bat every few days.
 

It wasn’t his Dominican League swoon from which Ruben Amaro and company wisely flew him home. Nor was it his 0-for-15 (with 9 strikeouts) start to Spring Training that made me think everyone needed to adjust their expectations for just how quickly Baseball America’s 4th best prospect would ascend to Major League stardom.

Actually, the moment I knew we all needed to regain perspective on just how difficult it is to skip all of the growing pains that baseball delivers on the way to a major league career occurred about three weeks ago.
It was a week before Spring Training began, and I read a quote from a member of the Phillies’ coaching staff who earns his living teaching players how to hit major league pitching.

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Apparently, while watching film of Brown’s 2010 at-bats, Phillies hitting coach Greg Gross stumbled on a flaw in Brown’s swing that only a trained eye could have discovered. It seems, according to Gross, that Brown holds his hands awfully high when in his batting stance. Gross further explained that this position makes it hard for him to get the bat down and through the hitting zone as quickly as he could.

Of course, this analysis didn’t exactly come as a shock to any of us who had actually seen the talented rookie’s stance at the plate. However, what Gross said next proved that it was time to slow down our expectations for Domonic Brown.
Gross went on to explain that he and Brown had talked about the problem and worked on the new mechanics during a brief workout. He then said he was confident that Brown’s swing was corrected.

Unfortunately, the first two weeks of Spring Training have shown that a baseball swing is not like a squeaky front door. It’s not a one-hour project that can be fixed and running smoothly with a simple remedy.

In fact, there are very few skills in the sport of baseball that can be developed or fixed without time and patience. Players can’t be told how to read a fly ball and expected to have the skill sewn up by the end of a practice. They can’t study video of good breaking pitches and not be fooled by them afterward.

Domonic Brown’s ascension through the Phillies’ minor league system was rapid. After a year at the Low-A level, he spent 2008 at Single-A Lakewood. He then registered 383 at-bats at AA Reading in 2009 and 2010, and snuck in 107 AAA at-bats at Lehigh Valley before warming the Phillies bench for most of their 2010 playoff run. At age 23, the talented former football star has shown flashes of brilliance at each of those levels. He just hasn’t had the time to develop his offensive and defensive skills within a progression that is reasonable for most young players.

Remember that Chase Utley debuted with the Phillies at age 24, after three-and-a-half years of minor league development. Ryan Howard didn’t become a regular in the major leagues until the age of 25, and following 7 seasons of college and minor league baseball. Jimmy Rollins joined the Phillies at age 22, but only after spending full seasons at both the AA and AAA levels.

Let’s also keep in mind that none of those Phillies stars were devoting as much effort to another sport as Brown was until the age of 18. Remember that Brown was preparing for a college football career as a Miami Hurricane until the Phillies lured him away with a baseball contract.

What the Phillies (and everyone else) need to remember is that Domonic Brown is an extraordinary talent who is not going to fade away if he spends another year in the minors. He has blown people away during each of the stops in his minor league progression, and will continue to improve with another season of development.

So, rather than expecting him to fill the void left by Jayson Werth’s departure, the Phillies should allow him to get regular playing time at Lehigh Valley during the 2011 season. The place to work on that unique batting stance is at the AAA level, where he can log 400 more at-bats while also honing those raw outfield skills.

Ruben Amaro seems to be taking the correct approach with Brown, which is to say that he has never put the pressure on him to be a starter for the Big Club this season. The fact remains that, if the Phillies’ plan in right field is not good enough, it is Amaro’s job to fix it through personnel moves.

Perhaps Brown will be a late-season call up again in 2011, as the Phillies hopefully pursue another World Series title. He will arrive in Clearwater next season as a 24 year-old with the ability to take over the Phillies’ opening in either right or left field.
And he will still have over a decade of highlight reel baseball ahead of him.

 

Matt Babiarz was born and raised in the Philadelphia area.  He graduated from the University of Alabama, but remained a very close observer of the Philadelphia sports scene.  He recently began covering the Phillies for Philly2Philly.com.   You can also read his work at Bleacherreport.com within the Philadelphia Phillies section. 

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Photo Credit:
Tall Photo: AP
With Shades: AP Matt Slocum

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Matt can be contacted at mattbabz@comcast.net