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Don't rush to pick up Domonic Brown

7/28/2010

Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Shane Victorino was placed on the disabled list Wednesday. That is obviously a big story in itself, but since everyone loves the rookies, the pending call-up of top prospect Domonic Brown might be viewed as a bigger deal.

I would caution those people. Victorino is, after all, the No. 21 outfielder on ESPN's Player Rater. I don't view Brown as a top-50 outfielder the final two months.

Victorino apparently suffered a left oblique strain early in Tuesday's win over the Arizona Diamondbacks, though he didn't appear to grimace in pain or show other signs he was hurt until catching a routine fly ball in the seventh inning. I was at Citizens Bank Park; I certainly didn't see him get hurt!

After the game, the center fielder downplayed the injury. Half a day later, he was being given a few official weeks off. What a shame; Victorino had singled twice, stolen a base and scored a run by that point. He was on pace for 24 home runs, 86 RBIs and 33 stolen bases, his best season.

For perspective on those numbers, consider Alex Rios of the Chicago White Sox and Chris Young of the Arizona Diamondbacks are the only players in baseball with a combination of more home runs and stolen bases. Of the 33 hitters with 15 or more stolen bases, only nine have 10 or more home runs. Victorino has already reached his career high in home runs, though it should be noted his batting average, down to .250, was down more than 40 points off his 2008 and 2009 final marks.

The Phillies don't seem particularly worried that this injury will be a long-term problem, which accounts for the reason I wouldn't run out and grab Brown in ESPN standard (10-team) mixed leagues. It's quite possible Brown, the team's top prospect who is putting up terrific minor league numbers, will get two weeks of regular playing time, then get demoted again, only to return for occasional starts and pinch-hitting duty in September. This could happen no matter how well he hits. There's just no room when all three Phillies outfielders are healthy, and none is in jeopardy of being benched.

For the next fortnight, expect the Phillies to use Jayson Werth -- the chances are seriously slim he gets traded now -- in center field and Brown in right field. With Ben Francisco essentially in a left field platoon with Raul Ibanez, it's possible the lefty-hitting Brown plays regularly. He was, after all, batting .318 at Triple-A Lehigh Valley against southpaws. Overall, Brown was hitting .346 for the Iron Pigs with five home runs in 28 games and a .951 OPS. He had stolen five bases in six attempts. In 65 games for Double-A Reading, Brown hit .318 with a .993 OPS and 15 home runs plus 12 stolen bases.

I really have few concerns about Brown's ability to adapt to the major leagues. I've written and spoken in the recent past that I like him better than Florida Marlins rookie Mike Stanton, for example, focusing on Brown's ability to hit for average and steal bases. Stanton probably has more natural power, but he's the one I'm worried might hit .240, not Brown.

The only problem here is opportunity. It's feasible Victorino misses 15 days, and that's it. Brown's situation would have been far different if Werth were to be traded by Saturday's deadline, because it would signal full-time opportunity for two months. I'd like to add Brown's production for the next two weeks just like anyone else, but knowing it could abruptly end before mid-August is an issue. Fantasy owners have to see the difference between two weeks of at-bats and eight.

As of this writing, Brown is owned in 0.7 percent of ESPN standard leagues, though I expect a natural spike in the next 24 hours. Assuming some learning curve against improved pitching -- the Diamondbacks, Washington Nationals, Marlins, New York Mets and Los Angeles Dodgers are on the slate for the next two weeks -- it's difficult to recommend Brown for 10-team leagues. Those in keeper leagues, as well as NL-only formats and deeper mixed leagues, should have already pounced on him, based on his status as a top prospect. Then again, if your 10-team league keeps five players each, it's tough to call Brown a top-50 overall keeper right now. His future is bright, but not every rookie emerges right away.