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The Phillies have shown patience with Domonic Brown and it appears to be paying off. The 25-year old outfielder is having the kind of spring that the Phillies have expected out of him for the past few seasons and while neither Charlie Manuel or Ruben Amaro Jr. have made it official, Brown would certainly appear to have locked up a job in the Phillies starting lineup.
If you check out message boards and even Facebook and Twitter, you'll find some folks who still believe that Brown is going to be a bust. Truth is that none of us know for sure exactly what he'll be when the history of his career is written. The best prediction right now, is somewhere between a bust and a Hall of Famer. There was one item I saw on an online discussion that intrigued me though. A friend posted on Facebook asking what's going to happen when Domonic Brown starts the season in a 3-for-26 funk and listed it as a certainty to happen. Turns out, he wasn't being as negative as you might think; he was asking more about how the fans - and Brown - would react if that's the way Brown's season started. Another friend chimed in that "It's happened before with this guy, so it must happen again. No one ever gets better at this game. No one."
Submitted for your perusal is a chart listing some players through approximately the same stages in their careers. Take a guess, who's who.
Player A is Domonic Brown. Player B is none other than Mike Schmidt. No, nobody is predicting a Hall of Fame career for Brown, but nobody predicted one for Schmidt either after his first 145 games in the majors. Schmidt went on to become one of the most prolific home run hitters in the game, but he certainly had his own struggles with the Philadelphia fans, but they came later in his career, not after his rather dismal start to a major league career. And, why is there such angst over Brown when his numbers are at least comparable to Schmidt's. The truth is that Mike Schmidt put it all together after those first 145 games and was just about a year younger than Brown, so there's reason to think that Brown could find a groove and produce much better than he has in the past. In 1974, you could have predicted more failure for Schmidt and uttered the words "It's happened before with this guy, so it must happen again."
Player C is Chase Utley. Yes, Utley's numbers have been much more dismal over the past few seasons, but the fact remains that he has averaged 20 home runs per season and is now a career .288 hitter. Again, there's a player who showed improvement and was actually a little older than Brown when he started his climb to being a much better player. You can certainly make an argument that Utley's numbers would be more impressive if not for injuries and deteriorating knees over the past couple of seasons. Brown has had his own struggles with injuries, but none of them are of the type that will create long-term concern, so if he stays healthy, he might put up the numbers that Utley would have likely had if not for thje injuries later in his career.
Player D broke in slowly, playing in just 114 games over his first three seasons, so to keep things on a closer comparison, we factored in the first 30 games of this player's fourth season, which was 1994. Any ideas? It's former Phillie Jim Thome, who made his major league debut at age 21 in September of 1991. Since he hadn't had his 24th birthday yet when his first 30 games of the '94 season were played, he was technically still 23, so that's the age we used for the comparison. Again, very similar numbers and nothing that would have predicted the type of career that Thome wound up having. He went on to hit another 598 home runs after his first 144 games and has a career line of .276/.402/.554 through last season.
You might be a little intrigued by Player E. Nowhere near the home runs or RBI, but look at the average and on-base percentage. Improve on those numbers? Well, he never did improve on those numbers and truth be told, those numbers were a little more than half of the games that he would play in the majors. Over the rest of his career, Player E would play in 142 games with a line of .218/.277/.293, even though he finished seventh in Rookie of the Year balloting in 1984. Stumped? It's none other than Jeff Stone. We threw him in to be fair and to illustrate a point. Stuff happens. Stone never did become the type of player that it was thought he would be even though his career got off to a strong start.
Bottom line is that only the Baseball Gods know what's going to happen with Domonic Brown. We can go by past performances, roll out stats, analyze his new swing and get input from other major leaguers, but we just don't know. One thing is sure though; many times, patience pays off. Will Brown start the regular season 3-for-26? Don't know. Odds are though that at some point this season, he'll go into a slump, just like many players do at some point in the season. In the past, the Phillies panicked and started reworking Brown's swing and he went right along with it, changing his approach and even his mechanics at the plate literally from one at-bat to the next.
Getting back to that Facebook discussion. I ventured a guess at the kind of numbers that we might see this season from Domonic Brown. For what it's worth - and remember, we don't know - let's figure on 18 home runs and a .275 average for Brown. And let's note that it would be more surprising if he finishes under those numbers than if he finishes above them.
|Screen captures from 2010 (left) and 2013 (right) showing the difference in Domonic Brown's stance.|