The Phillies were reluctant to part with outfield prospect Domonic Brown in a deal for Roy Halladay at the trade deadline last year, and wound up getting Cliff Lee instead without having to part with Brown. (Of course, they eventually wound up with Halladay too, but that's a different story.)
Given the way Brown's offensive production has exploded this season, it's easy to see why the team was so hesitant to part with him. The 22-year-old outfielder hit .318 with 15 homers, 12 steals and a .993 OPS in 65 games at Double-A before being promoted recently. He hasn't missed a beat at Triple-A, hitting .364 with four homers in his first 15 games there.
Obviously he was one of the key players I wanted to see in person Sunday in the Futures Game; I wanted to see how much he had developed since I saw him extensively during the 2009 Arizona Fall League. At that time, his tools, athleticism and raw ability were obvious, yet so was the fact at times he looked a little awkward and uncoordinated both at the plate and in the field, partially because Brown wasn't a full-time baseball player until he turned pro in 2006. It wasn't difficult to project him eventually turning those tools into better baseball skills and smoothing out the rough edges in his game in order to become an impact player. It was just a question of when. Let me put it this way: This wasn't a Reggie Abercrombie/Charlton Jimerson type, a talent with immense tools who just wouldn't be able to hit.
So what has changed since last season? Well, the first thing is just growing into his body, continuing to fill out his lanky 6-foot-5 frame, as Keith Law alluded to in his Futures Game recap. Brown has told me in the past that he is trying to gain pounds and strength yet not get too big and lose his speed. He even discussed his regimen of waking up early in the morning after a night game just to eat a meal before going back to bed, in order to help him maintain his weight. Well, whatever he has been doing is working.
While observing the game, Keith and I also agreed that he has much better body control, and a lot of the awkwardness is no longer evident. He stays back better while hitting in order to get more consistent leverage in his swing. Before, he used to drift forward a little too much, which made it more difficult for him to hit off-speed pitches. But as I mentioned in an AFL blog, that was a correctable issue, and he has made good strides in that regard. I also think he's a little more upright with his stance, which is helping him get a little more juice in his stroke. There's good bat speed, his bat stays in the zone longer and he turns on mistake pitches. Brown has the pitch recognition and plate discipline to allow him to hit for average, as well. I still think his swing gets a little too big at times, but again, there has been improvement there, too.
As a base stealer, Brown is still developing; he has 14 steals this season with just a 66 percent success rate, after going 23-for-33 last season. He's succeeding just on raw speed at this point, and still needs to learn the nuances of reading pitches and getting good jumps. Even though he's a big guy, Brown can be a consistent 20-steal threat in the big leagues with a little more refinement. Put that with his batting average/power combo and he becomes an enticing package for fantasy owners.
At the beginning of the season, I thought Brown was another year away in his development, but one thing I have learned in the development of "toolsy" players is that great athletes such as Brown, who originally planned on going to the University of Miami on a football scholarship before signing with the Phillies, can progress and mature very quickly. That's what has happened here. He's progressing more quickly than many scouts expected.
Brown departed the Futures Game early due to minor tightness in his right hamstring, but all indications are that it was just a precautionary measure, and he is expected to be right back in the lineup when his Triple-A club resumes play Thursday. A month ago, I wouldn't have pegged Brown for anything more than a September call-up, especially with general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. publicly stating the club was not going to promote Brown unless they were going to play him every day. But the kid's continued performance has made things interesting. Any kind of injury to one of the Phillies outfielders obviously would open up space, but Brown would be an upgrade to Raul Ibanez right now if given the shot, especially with Ibanez continuing to slug under .400 at age 38. There also have been reports the club is willing to at least listen to offers on free agent-to-be Jayson Werth if they can get someone (or multiple players) who could help them this season. That also would open up a spot for Brown. We'll just have to see how things play out over the next few weeks.
But suffice to say the difference in the Domonic Brown of 2010 versus the 2009 version is noticeable and significant, and he's ready to make an impact now if given the opportunity.
More quick notes from the Futures Game
• One of the reasons the Atlanta Braves' Mike Minor has been able to have success out of the gate and rack up strikeouts in his first pro season has been increased velocity. As an amateur and at the Arizona Fall League last year, Minor was a 90-92 mph guy. He's now dialing it up to 94 mph legitimately. Combine that with his polish and advanced command for a player with little pro experience, and you have a player who has moved up the organizational chain quickly. He's already at Triple-A, and has 124 strikeouts in 99 2/3 innings this season. It's not quite the Mike Leake fast track, but it's close.
• I've been hyping Angels prospect Mike Trout since seeing him in the Arizona Rookie League last year, where he far outclassed the teammate taken one spot ahead of him in the draft, Randal Grichuk. Well, Sunday's Futures Game performance, in many respects, was his "coming-out" party as one of the best prospects in the game. He's the complete package, folks. Dynasty leaguers, buy now if you still can.
• I tip my hat to Keith Law, who has refused to bail on the Royals' Eric Hosmer when a lot of others did so because of his injury problems. I loved Hosmer's swing, and he's a better athlete than I first thought. He probably needs to be on more fantasy owners' radar screens.
• It's not just the heavy sink that the Baltimore Orioles' Zach Britton gets on the ball that makes him effective, it's that he's also able to bring mid-90s velocity. Keeping the ball down in the strike zone and in the park is a trait that should serve him well in a tough American League East, and he's another player who needs to rank higher on keeper lists than he does now. If the O's are going to make noise in their division in the next few years, it will be on the strength of their starting rotation, and all of them (Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta, Chris Tillman, Britton) are likely to be underrated in the next couple of years.