With all of the hype surrounding Domonic Brown, it would be easy for the 22 year old to believe all - or at least a good portion - of what he's hearing. It would also be easy for him to expect that he'll start at Triple-A and be just one step away from the Phillies lineup in 2010. Instead, the good-natured Brown is taking it all in stride and knows that there other people in baseball that know more about the game than he does. Brown has come to respect the Phillies and in particular, the decision makers who hold his career in their hands.
Because of that, Brown didn't balk when he was told that he'll probably be back at Double-A Reading to start the season. Brown had 162 plate appearances at Double-A last season and hit .279 with three home runs for the R-Phils and there are some who believe that's enough for the Phillies top prospect.
"The big thing right now is not just to develop Domonic Brown, but to develop him to be an impact player and sometimes that slows that process down," stressed assistant GM Chuck Lamar. "It's part of the juggling act. When does Ruben [GM Ruben Amaro Jr.] make the decision; do I try to sign Jayson Werth, do I trade Ibanez, when is Domonic ready and that's an instinctive call, but that decision becomes easier if Domonic continues to develop and can fill one of those spots."
While Amaro will use instincts to help determine when Brown would be ready to move to Triple-A, Brown, of course, has his own instincts. The tough part is often getting a player to trust the instincts of the front office people and not put too much emphasis on his own thoughts about where he belongs. It wasn't all too long ago that Ryan Howard had his instincts slightly ahead of where the Phillies were thinking that he belonged, which actually led him to request a trade out of the organization. Not so with Brown.
"I don't think there's any question. He's a level-headed kid and he knows that he wants to become a good major league player," explained Lamar. "But with that said, we have to remind him, 'young man, you're coming into major league camp and you're getting close and you may think that I don't need to listen to the instructors. I'm going good right now and I'm close to the medal and I don't want to change anything' and that's just not the right way to go about your business. He knows we want him to get there, but we want him to get there when he's ready."
The fact that Brown is so level-headed and knows how to take instruction from coaches and veteran players around him will do a lot to put him in position to continue to develop and move closer to the majors. His path is following very closely along that of former Phillies prospect Michael Taylor, who was just ahead of Brown in levels through last season. While Brown went from Clearwater to Reading, Taylor jumped from Reading to Lehigh Valley during the season. Taylor had 200 more plate appearances at the Double-A level than Brown has at this point before he made the jump. When you consider that both had about the same number of plate appearances at Clearwater before moving up to Double-A ball, it's likely that Brown will play a good chunk of the season at Double-A.
One thing that could change how long Brown stays at Reading would be Amaro's assessment of the major league outfield. As Lamar mentioned, Werth's contract is up at the end of the season and the Phillies will have a decision to make on whether to re-sign him. If they make the decision to not re-sign Werth, Brown may move a little quicker to give him more experience at the Triple-A level and put him in a position to make the big league club out of camp in 2011. If the Phillies do re-sign Werth, there won't be a rush to move Brown any faster than they did Taylor. Also factoring into the equation is how Raul Ibanez plays this season. The 38 year old Ibanez has a deal through 2011, but could be moved if the Phillies wanted to make room for Brown and also keep Werth in the fold.
Of course, much of Brown's movement will depend on him. He's going to have to show the Phillies that he warrants being moved to the next level, no matter how many Double-A plate appearances he has. There is no magic number that the Phillies have in mind and only Brown's performance will truly determine when he is ready to move up a rung to play at Lehigh Valley. With no other outfield prospects blocking him, Brown is basically on his own timetable and his performance will be the biggest factor in when the Phillies move him and will also be a factor in how they view their current outfield configuration in Philadelphia.
Barring some sort of tragic collapse or injury, Brown is going to be a major league player. The Phillies don't need to rush him, since their starting outfield right now is strong enough at the major league level, so they'll give him the time to develop in the minors. Clearly, the Phillies philosophy on Brown is to bring him to the majors not just when he is ready to handle the move, but when he is ready to handle the move with some sense of ease. As Lamar stated, they don't just want to bring Brown to the majors for the sake of having him in Philadelphia, they want to bring him to the majors when he is ready to be good, right out of the box. If that means a slightly longer stay in the minors, or at any particular level in the minors, than may seem necessary, the Phillies are prepared to wait.
Remember, that at one point, the plan was for the Phillies to fit Michael Taylor into the 2011 outfield after Werth's contract expired and then add Brown to the 2012 edition of the team when Ibanez plays out his contract. With the trade of Taylor, things may need to shift a little, but that doesn't mean that Brown's pace to the majors has to pick up to fit into a new schedule. If he isn't ready - truly ready - for the majors until 2012, the Phillies will be satisfied to wait it out. And hopefully, Brown will be just as patient.
Domonic Brown's career stats
|Minor League Totals||331||1429||1250||200||360||59||17||28||164||72||27||154||237||.288||.368||.430|