Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro, amid all of his wheeling and dealing over the years, had one hard and fast rule: hands off Domonic Brown. Amaro traded for Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Hunter Pence, completely depleting his team’s farm system but for one player. Brown was rated the #4 overall prospect by Baseball America entering the 2011 season, but the outfielder suffered a hamate fracture in his right hand early in spring training. When he finally returned, his power was gone — the lefty hit just five home runs in 209 plate appearances at the Major League level between May 21 and July 29. Brown was demoted to the Minors at the end of July but his fortune did not improve.
Brown began the 2012 season in the Minors as Amaro wanted his outfielder to get regular playing time, rather than irregular and unpredictable playing time in an outfield that at the time included Pence and Shane Victorino. Brown was finally given his shot at the end of July, but did not impress in the final two months of the season, hitting just .235 with five home runs. Amaro, once thought to be wise to hold on to Brown, now looked foolish for failing to maximize the value of his once top prospect while others, such as Travis d’Arnaud and Jonathan Singleton, thrived in other organizations.
ESPN’s Keith Law suggested that it takes 12-18 months for a player to recover his power after suffering a hamate bone injury. The end of the 2012 season marked 18 months, effectively meaning that Brown’s failure at the plate going forward could not be blamed on his injury any longer. The spring competition for two corner outfield jobs marked Brown’s final chance, at least in the Phillies organization. If he could not beat John Mayberry Jr., Laynce Nix, and Darin Ruf for one of two outfield vacancies, he could not beat anybody.
Brown, thus far, has been up to the task and is viewed as the early favorite to earn an everyday spot in the outfield. In 33 spring at-bats, Brown is hitting .424 with a team-high three home runs. He has also walked more times than he has struck out (six to five), displaying his trademark eagle eye at the plate. His 13 runs scored leads all spring training participants while his six walks ranks fourth. Perhaps most impressively, his defense has looked cleaner. He is still no Gold Glover out there, but an off-season of work and a clean bill of health appear to have given Brown ample time to improve his biggest weakness.
Delmon Young is expected to take over right field on an everyday basis when he returns from an ankle injury, but Brown could man right field in his absence. He would then shift over to left upon Young’s return. Brown’s other competitors aren’t faring so well this spring. Ruf is hitting .200 and has looked completely lost in the outfield. Mayberry is hitting .250. Nix is hitting .111. The stars seem to be, at long last, in alignment for Brown, the victim of so much adversity early in his Major League career. And there may be no one happier about this development than Amaro.