Domonic Brown may finally get his chance

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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.

Ramón Laureano made an absolutely ridiculous play yesterday

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I talked about it in the recaps, but dear lord does Oakland A’s outfielder Ramón Laureano’s play in yesterday’s game against the Blue Jays deserve it’s own post.

Jays first baseman Justin Smoak led off the second with a single Then Teoscar Hernández then came up and hit a long drive to center. In what, in and of itself, would’ve lead the highlight reels yesterday, Laureano ranged back to the wall and reached over to rob Hernández of a homer.

Laureano is known best for his arm, though, and that’s when he unleashed that hose, attempting to double off Smoak at first base all the way from the warning track. The throw was not on target — indeed, it sailed way past first base — but that was itself impressive as all get-out. As A’s pitcher Brett Anderson said after the game, he’s pretty sure the throw went farther than Hernández hit the ball in the first place. The arm strength on display there was simply phenomenal. But it was also lucky.

Lucky because the throw went so far into foul territory that it gave Smoak the courage to break for second base. Laureano was not the only one playing great defense on the play, though: A’s catcher Nick Hundley backed up the play, got Laureano’s errant throw and fired it down to second, nailing Smoak. And heck, Hundley’s throw was nothing to sneeze at either:

That did not go as an outfield assist for Lauerano, obviously, as his bad throw — which would’ve been an error had Smoak managed to advance, we must admit — broke that up. So, in the books it goes as an F7 and then a separate 2-4 putout. Still, it just shows Laueano’s incredible defensive abilities, both with the leather and with that cannon he has for an arm.

An arm that, this play not withstanding, gets him plenty of assists. Indeed, he has has five assists this season already and has 14 assists in just 70 games, which is a lot. To put it in perspective, it usually takes somewhere between 12-18 to lead the league in a full season with 20 being an outlier of sorts, only seen once every five years or so.

So, if you’re gonna hit it to center against the A’s, make sure you hit it all the way out. And if Laureano gets to it, for god’s sake, don’t run on him.