Domonic Brown is back in the bigs. He was once projected by Bill James to go 30/30, so obviously he has the tools to stick in the major leagues. But just as obvious is the fact that he’s not the same prospect he once was. He’s probably the most interesting position player that finds himself with an everyday job after the trade deadline, nonetheless.
Let’s acknowledge the faults first. The 24-year-old’s power hasn’t gone in the right direction since the peak of his prospectdom. Here are his isolated slugging percentages, in order, in 150+ plate appearance samples, since 2010: .284 (2010 AA), .215 (2010 AAA), .109 (2011 AAA), .147 (2011 MLB), .145 (2012 AAA). That’s not going in the right direction. And his speed has followed the trend: He’s gone from stealing 23 (out of 33) in 2009 to stealing five (out of 11) this season. He doesn’t look like a 30/30 guy any more.
That doesn’t mean he isn’t mixed-league interesting. So far he’s only managed 281 plate appearances, and his .239/.317/.385 line has come with a .281 BABIP. But if you plug his career batted ball mix into the xBABIP calculator, you get .311. Give him those hits as singles and you’re looking at a guy that has a little bit of everything with a mediocre batting average instead of a terrible one.
But even that meh xBABIP depends upon a below-average line drive rate (18.8%). This year, he’s had a 21.7% line drive rate in Triple-A. A line drive rate like that, with a little bit of speed, and more ground balls than fly balls, might give him a BABIP closer to .320 in a true-talent year.
He’ll need to add power to that mix to up the batting average past .250/.260 territory. So far, he’s been right at league average (.146 career ISO) and his Triple-A ISO of .145 doesn’t seem to suggest he’ll add much power. He could get a park boost in the major leagues, though. LeHigh Valley’s power factors are all below one and the International League is no Pacific Coast League. The Phillies’ home park is the sixth-friendliest park in baseball with regards to lefty home run power.
So we’re still left with a reasonable-world projection that looks like many of the numbers you’ll find on FanGraphs: .270 maybe, with 15/15 type of full-season stats. Not super exciting.
But, as J.P. Breen excellently recapped this year in his ‘fall from grace‘ story on Brown, he’s still got the tools to exceed those projections. And he’s undergone some fairly dramatic changes, and then un-changes, to his swing in recent times. He’s been much better recently than he was to the date of Breen’s article, too. The oft-cited arbitrary endpoints stat cited is his .362 batting average since coming back from injury earlier this month.
Dom Brown was once a 22-year-old at Double-A with a .318/.391/.602 batting line. He added 20 home runs and 17 steals across two levels that season. 2010 was not so long ago that those tools should have dissipated completely. If your team has a spot on the bench and a need for a big-upside sleeper, it may make sense to make room for guy that was once a blue-chip prospect.