Domonic Brown’s RBI double in his first MLB at-bat.
Last night was almost like a holiday for Phillies fans. Instead of presents, signified by the appearance of the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus, Phillies fans were witness to the debut of one of the most hyped prospects to come through the Phillies’ farm system since Ryan Howard. Domonic Brown was at once the gift and the nearly mythic being sent to deliver it to the Phillies. Brown did not disappoint in his first MLB game, going 2-3 with 2 RBI and 2 runs scored. Is this a sign of things to come from the phenom? Anyone sporting red and white pinstripes certainly hopes so.
Brown’s presence in the lineup comes at the loss of Shane Victorino to a left abdominal strain. This injury could be the most helpful injury of the season for the Phillies (if there is such a thing), not because I don’t like Victorino and am glad to see him replaced, but because of what it added both directly and indirectly to the Phillies. Directly, it brought Brown to the majors and allows the #1 rated prospect (as of June 29, so Stephen Strasburg and Buster Posey are not included, as they were in the majors at that point) in all of baseball, according to Keith Law at ESPN , to show what he can do against major league pitching. Brown has been killing minor league pitching to the tune of this stat line: 20 HR, 68 RBI, .327 BA, 17 SB in 93 games split between Reading (AA) and Lehigh Valley (AAA). If you translate his numbers at Lehigh Valley (.346 BA and .951 OPS) using the Minor League Equivalency calculator at Minor League Splits, Brown would have been hitting .308 with an .827 OPS. Those numbers, as Baer mentions in his post, are enough to make us forget Victorino. They are also good enough to make us forget Raul Ibanez (who in fairness has been raking since the All-Star break). (A quick note of thanks to Bill Baer at Crashburn Alley, an excellent Phillies blog, for introducing me to the MLE calculator).
Indirectly, the injury stopped the subtraction of Jayson Werth from the Phillies’ lineup. Werth had been on the trading block for the last several weeks due to his impending free agent status. The Phillies originally were looking for prospects to stock the farm system in return for the right-handed slugger, but had backed off this demand and were willing to take a “#4 starter or better” in return for the only potent right-handed bat in the entire lineup. This is just ridiculous. If Ruben Amaro wanted to be criticized even more than he already is, he would have traded Jayson Werth for a player like Carlos Silva (remember him?). Victorino’s injury stopped the Phillies from taking less than fair market value for Werth. The Phillies are clearly built to win now and Werth helps them achieve that goal. He is breaking out of his slump, batting .370 with a .500 on-base percentage, and an OPS of 1.087 since the All-Star break. While he has only hit 1 home run in that time, you cannot argue with his production in other areas.
The original plan of trading Werth and replacing him with Brown, a plan clearly looking towards 2011 rather than trying to win this year, was faulty at best. In a head-to-head comparison (using Brown’s minor league numbers extrapolated to the MLB level), Brown compares favorably to Werth, but I wouldn’t necessarily want him to directly replace Werth if the goal is to win the World Series this season. Victorino’s injury stopped this from happening and will provide Brown with an extended audition at the major league level, as the Philadelphia Inquirer reported today that Charlie Manuel thinks Victorino might not be at full strength for three weeks. After those three weeks, the big question will be what the Phillies do once Victorino returns. I think the Phillies might be best served using Brown in a platoon with both Victorino and Ibanez going forward (assuming they keep him in the majors after the Flyin’ Hawaiian is ready to return). The Phillies are unlikely to do this, unless Brown continues to pound the ball the way he did in the minors and during his debut last night. They will likely send him back to AAA to get regular at-bats, something that would probably not happen at the major league level unless the Phillies followed my suggestion. With the International League season ending in early September, and Lehigh Valley out of playoff contention, Brown would likely be recalled in September to help the Phils down the stretch. I say, why not keep the kid up and let him play?