Yesterday, the Toronto Blue Jays announced the signing of former Philadelphia Phillies starting outfielder Domonic Brown to a minor-league contract.
Brown was taken in the 20th round of the 2006 amateur draft by the Phillies and made his major-league debut on July 28, 2010, against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Citizens Bank Park. In that game, Brown collected two hits in three at bats and drove in two runs.
He had Phillies fans really excited about the future of their team, and for good reason. In 2010, Baseball America ranked Brown the number-one prospect in baseball, ahead of players like eventual American League Most Valuable Player Mike Trout, proven closer Aroldis Chapman, and Kansas City Royals stars Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas.
The following reasoning was given for Brown being the top prospect in the game by Baseball America co-editor-in-chief John Manuel:
The candidates for top prospect at midseason are all outfielders. Angels outfielder Mike Trout has had the best year in the minors and probably has the best tools. One AL pro scout was so impressed with Trout, he compared him physically to Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher in terms of his explosive physicality.
“Trout has the loudest tools in the game outside the major leagues,” the scout said. “He’s physical and strong, he’s an easy 80 runner (on the 20-80 scale), and his speed will hold up. He’s dynamic, the power’s for real, the athleticism . . .”
But, (Domonic) Brown and (Desmond) Jennings are doing it in Triple-A. There’s a real big difference for me between doing it at that level, against those pitchers, and doing it in A-ball, and those guys have real good tools too.
Splitting time between Double-A Reading and Triple-A Leigh High Valley during the 2010 campaign, Brown hit .327 with 20 home runs. In his first 65 games at the Double-A level, Brown had already surpassed his career home run total, and at the halfway point of the season Brown ranked 10th in the minors with a .980 OPS.
For a guy who had clearly defined power in his bat, Brown was also a fairly patient hitter during his minor league career, recording a .373 on-base percentage in 535 career games, and he averaged 4.46 pitches per plate appearance in a brief cup of coffee with the Phillies in 2010.
After experiencing little success in 2011 and 2012, hitting .240 with just 89 hits in 371 at-bats, Brown finally lived up to his potential in 2013 when he broke out at the plate. In 139 games and 496 at-bats, he hit .272 with a 124 OPS+. Brown finished fourth in the National League in home runs with 27, and was selected to his first All-Star Game.
That age-25-season in which he put up a 2.5 WAR and a 3.3 0WAR represents the peak of his performance to this point in his career. Since then, he has been at best a replacement-level player, posting negative WAR’s in 2014 and 2015. Brown only played in 63 games last year due to injury.
Brown isn’t Jay Bruce but he is a good plan B for a team that was looking for a left-handed bat all winter. He will compete with Dalton Pompey, Ezequiel Carrera, and Junior Lake for the fourth outfielder job.
For many reasons, this is a great signing for the Blue Jays. Brown has experience in both corner outfield spots, and gives manager John Gibbons the ability to platoon Brown and Pompey in left. Pompey is competing to be the everyday guy in left, but he struggled in 2015 against righties hitting .189 in 81 at-bats. Despite offering average offensive production during his time in the majors, Brown has had pretty good success against right-handed pitching in his career, compiling a .737 OPS with 46 home runs.
On the other side of the coin, Pompey hit .350 in 13 games against lefties, and while that is a small sample size, Pompey profiles as a hitter who can crush southpaws. Brown has never hit lefties well. His OPS is 108 points lower and his power just isn’t the same.
This acquisition by the Blue Jays and Mark Shapiro allows Toronto to get the most out of its outfielders.
Signing Brown to a minor-league deal doesn’t hurt the payroll, and at this point in the offseason, why not give a look to a former top prospect at a position of need.
Brown has never graded out as a great fielder by any defensive metrics including UZR and DRS, but he will be playing the easier of the two corner outfield spots, and moving to the AL gives him the chance to be the designated hitter.
This is a low risk signing with the chance for a high reward and at age 28, there is still plenty of time for Brown to have a good career.