Domonic Brown breakout? Let's wait and see
Phillies outfielder Domonic Brown is tearing it up this spring. But what does that really mean?
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That's Brown's sixth homer of the spring, and that power surge has again raised hopes that he's poised to live up to his promise.
The 25-year-old Brown owns a career minor-league slash line of .296/.373/.461 across parts of seven seasons, and as recently as 2011 Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus each named him as the top prospect in the Phillies' system. However, Brown has thus far failed to transition to the highest level. In 492 major-league plate appearances spread across three seasons, Brown has hit a meager .236/.315/.388 with 12 home runs. Yes, the playing time has been erratic, but on a cumulative level the opportunities have been there.
Then along comes the spring of 2013. As noted above, Brown is indeed raking, and thanks to the team's decisions to trade away Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino last season, Brown's path to regular duty looks clear. Also underpinning Brown's spring surge are some mechanical tweaks suggested to him by Wally Joyner (Philadelphia Inquirer). On top of all that, note again that Brown is at an age, 25, that lends itself to improvement.
With all that said, let's remember that spring numbers are put up over a very limited sample of at-bats (or innings pitched or whatever). Let's also remember that spring competition is almost always something less than major-league quality -- you've got farmhands, guys still on the mend from injury, pitchers doing nothing but taking their breaking ball for a walk, major-leaguers not exactly giving maximum effort. You know, spring training.
Over at the superlative Baseball-Reference.com, they have a thumbnail estimate of what level of competition a player has faced during spring play (thanks to the excellent Joe Sheehan for bringing this feature to my attention). In Brown's case, his 2013 Grapefruit League competition grades out as roughly halfway between the Triple-A level and the major-league level. That's good, but it's not the caliber of competition he'll be facing during the regular season. Specifically, while Brown this spring has homered off the impressive likes of Kris Medlen, Hiroki Kuroda and Al Alburquerque, he's also homered off the less impressive likes of Adam Warren, Aaron Loup and Zach Nuding. You get the point.
We've also been here before with Brown. Consider his previous numbers from major-league spring trainings ...
|Domonic Brown's spring-training stats|
While the data sample was smaller, note that Brown also thrived in camp back in 2010 and 2012. So raking in spring is nothing new to Brown. Meager data sample, dubious competition, something he's done before -- all reasons to be skeptical of what we're seeing from Brown right now.
Of course, it's entirely possible that Brown is indeed ready to be a productive major-league regular, or even an All-Star. He absolutely has the skills to be both. But the fact that he's put up impressive numbers in a handful of exhibition games is weak evidence.
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