The offense is slowly recovering from the 2011 meltdown, and the Phillies could suffer another regression if the wrong policies take hold. The Phillies are embroiled in unstable alignments that could easily explode into full-blown disaster. An ideological assault from the undereducated talk box, from Philadelphians who, because the results are not instantaneous, are not willing to continue the progress that started in 2010. Those forces are eroding even the most well-versed Phillies’ fans’ faith in a 25-year old. Nearly 40 years after a horrible start for Mike Schmidt and nearly ten after the horrible start for Chase Utley, all Phillies’ fans’ ability to cheer for a winner are cheapened by the front office bringing in two of 2012′s worst players in Major League Baseball to compete for an outfield position: Delmon Young and Joe Mather. Astonishingly, even the very right to suit up on the active 25-man roster is being challenged.
That is the context for one of the Opening Day outfield spots, and as stark as it is, the choice is just as clear.
The boxed and quoted text above comes in part from the 2012 New York Times endorsement of President Barack Obama. But the rest of it, the parts about Schmidt, Utley, Young, and Mather? That’s from our collective hearts and minds at Phillies Nation.
Before we wrote this and put it together, we went back and forth. Can a blog do this? Has any other blog done this? Did everyone on staff agree? We had one conscientious objector: our CEO Brian Michael. While we don’t want to disrupt the engine that drives our traffic and our TV show, we saw this as an opportunity to convince not only Brian but also the fans that may feel like Brian does.
So, for the first time ever, we are making an official endorsement: we are endorsing Domonic Brown to be the Philadelphia Phillies everyday right fielder.
Brown has made it very difficult to ignore his bat this Spring. With increased patience and a shorter stroke that announcers Gary Matthews and Tom McCarthy are attributing to working with Wally Joyner, Brown has posted a .350/.519/.850 triple-slash line with 3 HR, 10 runs, and six walks in nine games. The early returns say Brown is an improved player. The early returns are also from an incredibly unstable, small sample size, much like his career numbers that compare surprisingly and are mostly better than the numbers Schmidt and Utley put up at the same points in their early careers.
He is the Best Player For the Job – Right Now
Brown’s competition is likely limited to John Mayberry, Darin Ruf, a returning D. Young, and a few outside contenders like Mather and Jermaine Mitchell. Ruf can be removed from the competition for right field because, quite frankly, he is still very green in left field. That leaves Brown to compete with Mayberry and D. Young for right field.
Mayberry is now 29 years old and was not only not able to capitalize on the strides he made in 2011 but took several steps back, seeing his K% increase, his OBP take a 40 point hit, and his slugging drop by nearly 100 points. Mayberry has value in platoon situations but should not be used at the expense of a player who may have the ability to develop into something more, a group that includes Brown and D. Young.
D. Young is now 27 years old and was once a top prospect. He has had every opportunity, and then some, to play at the Major League level and has not delivered as advertised. Areas where D. Young once excelled in the Minors are now absolute liabilities, with worst-in-baseball quality defense in the easier of the two corner outfield positions (left) and base running that went from a quiet strength to a non-existent feature of his game. Young has already had five seasons with more MLB PA than Brown has had in his career (492).
Brown’s early 10.4% BB rate is twice as good as Young’s and higher than Mayberry’s. Brown strikes out less than Mayberry and only slightly more than Young, but has more power per ISO. Brown has one less steal in 1232 PA less than Young over the last three seasons.
He is the Best Player For the Job – For the Future
While Brown is only two years younger than Young, there is greater reason to believe Brown’s trajectory will be one that moves up as opposed to the one Young is on, which, all off the field issues aside, is one that is headed down and fast. Here’s a non-cherry picked sample of both regular and advanced metrics for Young and their linear trends:
Notice how the slopes of the lines all go down?
And what is the end game for the best case scenario for Young? He’s a free agent after the season ends, anyways. Dom Brown isn’t even arbitration eligible until 2015.
As for Mayberry, there are a few scenarios, even before Young was signed, that he may not even make the team yet alone be a part of their future plans.
The Phillies Need Him to Develop
The Phils have put themselves in quite the predicament: they refused to trade Brown for Roy Halladay or Cliff Lee. They weren’t really able to trade him while he was injured. Now, with his value at its lowest, they best they could net was assumed to be Alfonso Soriano?
If the Phillies determine that Brown just isn’t a good fit, they need to play him to find out. They need to let him play to see if he truly fits into their plans or not. And playing Dom Brown is an absolute win/win: the Phillies will either have an every day player on their roster under their control until 2018 or they can still trade him for an aging veteran with a bloated contract. Teams will always take chances on players like Brown – former top prospects with a lot of tools, until they are about 28 or 29. See Young, Delmon. Then they become John Mayberry.
But there is an even greater reason for the Phillies needing him to develop: the super-thin 2014 outfield free agent crop, headlined by an injury-plagued Jacoby Ellsbury, an injury-plagued Shin Shoo Choo, and Hunter Pence. The price tags will not match the production for those players.
Because he is both the best option for the 2013 and the future, and the Phillies need him to develop, here are a few reasons why he will succeed.
He Finally Has Reasonable Expectations
Remember the first time you saw Jason Heyward play? How about Mike Trout at age 19 or Bryce Harper at 18? Brown is now 25, only 0.6 years older than the average age that players made their Major League debut from from 2005-2009. When Brown smashed a double in his first at-bat and electrified Citizen’s Bank Park with his arm and base running, he was 22 years old, 2.4 years younger than that average age. Brown no longer has rookie eligibility but he no longer has the expectations of a top prospect. He is more confident and he has two goals: play hard and be fundamentally sound.
Part of the let down should be pinned on us: the media and the fans. Admittedly, it has been a long while since the Phillies have had a prospect of any significance. To find someone as rated as highly as Brown by both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus being called up to the Phillies, you would have to go all the way back to Scott Rolen. Brown’s tools were flashy and exciting and they were seemingly immediate. We, as the media and fans, should have taken a pause and realized the insignificance of the sample size, for both the positive and negative.
He is Finally Healthy
Brown battled hamstring issues in 2012 while recovering from a broken hammate bone suffered in 2011. It shouldn’t be seen as a coincidence that Brown is suddenly finding the power he once had in the minors: a combination of stronger legs and better wrists is reason enough to believe that Brown will find the power that allowed him to hit 20 HRs in the Minors in 2010, yet alone a change in approach.
Because He is 25 and Time is On His Side
Brandon Phillips is one of the premier second basemen in baseball. Phillips bounced up and down and spent parts of four seasons in Triple-A until finally, at age 25 in 2006, he became an everyday Major Leaguer and later an All-Star. Phillips was the #7 prospect in baseball in 2003 and didn’t even get a fair shake at a shot until 2006. All-Stars last year, Mike Napoli was not a Major League regular until age 28 while Mark Trumbo was well regarded but was not a regular until age 25. Brown is still very young and still has plenty of time to make an impact.
On behalf of Phillies Nation, I hope you will read and debate what is our first ever official endorsement of a player during a Spring Training battle. We invite you to discuss in the comment section below.