Right fielder Domonic Brown was listed on many pre-season prognosticators’ ballots for NL Rookie of the Year for the 2011 season. It was universally agreed upon that he was the Phillies’ number one prospect, a long-coveted offensive weapon that GM Ruben Amaro refused to relinquish, even for the likes of Roy Halladay. For Brown to live up to the hype would be a feat in and of itself. The big problem would be finding consistent playing time in the Majors, as the Phillies went into the season expecting Raul Ibanez and Ben Francisco to play every day at the outfield corners while Brown got consistent at-bats with Triple-A Lehigh Valley.
As the Phillies struggled offensively and Shane Victorino went on the disabled list, rumors began to surface that Brown may make his 2011 debut. Amaro hushed the rumors by insisting that Brown was staying with the Iron Pigs. However, upon insistence from manager Charlie Manuel, Amaro quickly changed his mind and Brown was shipped to Philadelphia to make his season debut on May 21.
Initially, Brown was mostly shielded from left-handed starting pitching. The Phillies faced four left-handed starters from Brown’s promotion to the end of the month, but Brown started against only one (Travis Wood; Brown went 0-for-5). In June, the Phillies faced six lefties, but Brown again started against only one of them (Ted Lilly; Brown went 1-for-4).
More recently, however, as Brown has become acclimated with his environment, Manuel has loosened up, letting Brown start against two lefties in the same series in Toronto against the Blue Jays. Brown faced both Ricky Romero and Jo-Jo Reyes, notching a combined two hits in nine at-bats. Whether he will continue to get starts against southpaws in the future remains to be seen, but it is a vote of confidence that he got the nod in his first two chances in July.
At the dish, Brown has shown considerable progression in a short amount of time. Known for great plate discipline as he blazed through Minor League competition, Brown struck out in nearly 40 percent of his 70 plate appearances with the Phillies last season while only walking in seven percent. While he didn’t look completely lost, he looked rather rough around the edges and that was what prompted Amaro to start the season with Brown at Lehigh Valley.
This year, he looks like the uber prospect we all expected. In over 150 plate appearances, his strikeout rate is down significantly (15 percent) and his walk rate is up (11 percent). The 0.84 walk-to-strikeout ratio is four times better than it was last year. Additionally, he has shown more power (.176 ISO) and has hit right- and left-handers about equally well (.320 and .325 wOBA, respectively). While his defense in right field has been lackluster, his performance at the plate has been encouraging, even if he hasn’t lived up to the Jason Heyward-esque expectations of the pre-season.
With Ibanez looking more toasted than inconsistent, Manuel chose to bench him against Romero and Reyes, starting Francisco in his stead. The Phillies have been linked to right-handed bats in trade rumors, but perhaps the biggest coup of the second half would be turning left field into a productive position while Brown flourishes in right field. As illustrated here, the corner outfield spots have been a problem to this point for the Phillies; fixing that will inevitably involve faith in Brown, regardless of which right-handed hitters the Phillies could acquire.