Rookie Profile: Domonic Brown
With his recent promotion to the majors, this seems like a good time for a look at Phillies outfielder Domonic Brown, a textbook example of how teams try (and sometimes succeed) in turning a raw athlete into a baseball player.
Domonic Brown was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 20th round of the 2006 draft, from high school in Redan, Georgia. On tools alone he could have gone in the first five rounds, but he played a lot of football in high school and was also a pitcher; scouts weren't sure if he'd play football, or if he wanted to pitch or hit if he did choose the diamond. He turned down a football scholarship to the University of Miami and signed with the Phillies for $200,000. Sent to the Gulf Coast League, he hit just .214/.292/.265 in 34 games. He did manage 13 steals and impressed scouts with his athleticism, but his approach at the plate was raw. I didn't put him in the 2007 book but would have given him a Grade C "with higher potential" if I had.
Promoted to the New York-Penn League for 2007, Brown hit .295/.356/.400 with 14 steals, 27 walks, and 49 strikeouts in 285 at-bats. He got into three games for High-A Clearwater as well, going 4-for-9 with a homer and two walks. Scouting reports continued to praise his athleticism. There was some concern about awkward swing mechanics, but his strike zone judgment wasn't bad, and he'd improved his approach since rookie ball. I gave him a Grade C in the 2008 book, writing that he was "risky but with a high ceiling" and that there was hope for his bat.
Moved up to Low-A Lakewood for 2008, Brown continued to make steady progress, hitting .291/.382/.417 with 22 steals, 64 walks, and 72 strikeouts in 444 at-bats. His power production improved slightly, but his strike zone judgment took a huge step forward, his walk rate doubling without a big increase in whiffs. Scouting reports pointed to progress with his swing although it needed to be tweaked to get more power. He also showed off a good throwing arm and increasing polish as a defensive player. Impressed with the improved plate discipline, in the 2009 book I wrote that Brown "looks like he's figured some things out" and that the next step would be "converting more of his physical strength into field power." I gave him a Grade B-.
A broken finger cost Brown a month of playing time in 2009, but he got through it and had a breakout campaign, hitting .303/.386/.517 in 66 contests for Clearwater in the Florida State League, then .279/.346/.456 in 37 games for Double-A Reading. He swiped 23 bases and continued to show good plate discipline, although late in the season (and in the Arizona Fall League) he looked tired and his swing deteriorated. Despite that, I gave him a Grade B+ in the book this year, writing that he's "an absolute Five Tool talent and his Seven Skills are developing quite nicely." He ranked number 11 on my preseason Top 50 hitters list.
In the book this year I recommended that the Phillies start Brown in Double-A to begin '10, promote him to Triple-A in late June if he played well, then put him in line for a September callup. That's exactly what they did, and he's consolidated his '09 breakthrough with an even better '10: .318/.391/.602 at Reading, .346/.390/.561 at Triple-A Lehigh Valley, and now a promotion to the majors since he played even better than anticipated.
Brown still has some work to do: his plate discipline isn't perfect, and he still sometimes loses the smoothness with his swing. But he has made gigantic progress over the last two seasons turning his tools into skills, particularly power development this year. He has everything you look for in a potential star, and while he could probably use additional minor league seasoning (he has just 28 games of Triple-A under his belt), he should be a mainstay of the Phillies lineup for years to come. As with any rookie, he may have some growing pains, but this looks like a successful case of an organization taking a raw athlete and turning him into a strong player.