AFL Notebook: Brown Still Polishing Tools

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.—It doesn’t take long to see what all the fuss is about with Phillies right fielder Domonic Brown.

Brown, 22, is a potential true five-tool player with a wiry 6-foot-5, 204-pound frame that screams projection. He’s an outstanding athlete with plenty of bat speed, plus raw power that’s beginning to translate to game situations and, despite a bit of an awkward load, a solid swing with good extension. After tearing through the league in his first dozen Arizona Fall League games, Brown’s performance has tapered off to .239/.302/.407 through 29 games.

"Early in the season, he showed you the raw power and showed you the hitting ability," said Scottsdale manager Jeff Banister, the Pirates minor league field coordinator. "He’s playing deeper now than he’s ever played before, more games than he’s ever played—it is a grind. But he does possess all the five tools to go out and take over the game. When he’s not doing it with the power, he can do it with his legs on the bases. He has that dominating right fielder’s arm that can shut down guys on the basepaths as well. He’s big and lanky, and he can use that speed in the outfield. Boy, I tell you, I wouldn’t mind having him patrolling right field every day."

Beyond Brown’s obvious physical gifts, he’s also developed a solid feel for the strike zone. Despite his tall strike zone, Brown doesn’t chase too many pitches and he’s shown the ability to make adjustments at the plate.

"Most guys that have that kind of power don’t show you a good two-strike approach," Banister said. "He’s shown us the ability to cut the swing down and put the ball in play and drive the ball the other way. Young hitters with power don’t typically show you that—they’re usually out there swinging from their back leg—but he has shown that, which tells me that he has an idea at the plate."

Yet there are still parts of Brown’s game that remain a work in progress, particularly his instincts and reads off the bat in right field, as well as his coordination and fluidity as he grows into his body. Coming out of high school in 2006, Brown had committed to play both baseball and football at Miami, where he would have played wide receiver. He’s a plus runner with a 70 arm, but at times some of his routes in the outfield have resembled slant and curl routes more than efficient paths to the ball.

In the bottom of the second inning on Nov. 11, Athletics second baseman Jemile Weeks hit a routine fly ball to right field. Brown ran in a few steps, reached up with his glove, only to have the ball bounce off his mitt.

The next batter, Blue Jays left fielder Darin Mastroianni, hit a fly ball to right field. Brown began charging in, then had to stop and cut back when he realized the ball had been hit well over his head, with Mastroianni ending up at third base.

Brown did receive a pair of raucous ovations from the home crowd later in the game—for catching a couple of routine fly balls.

"That is one of the things that has to get better," Banister said. "He can’t make errors like that, can’t make mistakes like that in the big leagues. They have lights in the stadiums there, too. He’s a young guy who’s getting used to the bigger stadiums with bigger lights. He did lose both of them in the lights. Now he has had some trouble, and I think he was approaching some of those balls on his heels a little bit and didn’t stay on the balls of his feet, but we talked to him about that, worked a little bit and he was better the other day, not as tentative on some of those balls. I just think the more that he handles the ball, the more that he gets the reps of being in the outfield, the better he’s going to be because he’s that type of athlete. You can’t hold that type of athlete down—he’ll find a way to figure it out."

Outfield Notes

• White Sox outfielder Jordan Danks has been solid for the Peoria Javelinas, hitting .322/.445/.467 in 24 games. Danks is a patient hitter who can work the count well, walking 19 times in 110 plate appearances. He’s also struck out 24 times, showing some struggles against offspeed pitches and fastballs on the inner half. Though Danks is 6-foot-4, 210 pounds, some scouts question whether he’ll ever hit for much power, and he hasn’t shown much ability to pull the ball for power in the AFL. While he doesn’t have classic plus-plus speed in center field, he has shown good instincts reading fly balls off the bat, athleticism and a solid throwing arm.

"I hear he’s a center fielder, yet I’ve had to play him in right field a little bit and he’s made spectacular catches against the walls, so he’s adjusted well to the corner position," said Javelinas manager Kevin Bradshaw, the Tigers’ roving infield coordinator. "He runs the bases very well—he gets the best leads out of anyone we have—and he’s been hitting the ball for power the other way."

• Detroit’s Casper Wells, who turns 25 on Monday, mostly played center field during the minor league season for Double-A Erie, though he’s played right field for the Javelinas. Wells has shown some willingness to chase pitches out of the strike zone—not a major surprise for a player who struck out in 28 percent of his PAs this season—but his overall batting line of .342/.424/.658 in 20 AFL games is solid.

"You watch him in batting practice and he pulls a lot of balls, but then he gets in the game he he goes gap to gap," Bradshaw said. "He’s hitting the ball to the farthest part of the ballparks. He’s got some big RBIs for us and some big two-out hits."

• When the Pirates acquired outfielder Jose Tabata from the Yankees, his swing tended to get long. It’s still an ongoing process to cut down on his stroke, but the 21-year-old outfielder has made strides with his swing and ability to put the ball in play.

"He really has shown from about halfway through the Double-A season this year and on into Triple-A, he really became strike-zone aware, stayed short and compact with his stroke, didn’t get out of control, started working the middle of the field. His hands are lightning fast. He has the ability to wait extremely late so he doesn’t get fooled on a lot of pitches. He’s very calm in the box and sees the ball very well."

At a squatty 5-foot-11, 210 pounds, Tabata is faster than he looks but his defense will probably be better suited for a corner outfield position than center field. Yet it’s not clear that Tabata, who hit .293/.357/.406 with five home runs in 93 games between Double-A Altoona and Triple-A Indianapolis in 2009, will have enough power to hold down a regular job at a corner. He hits the ball on the ground more than he hits it in the air, and he’s still learning to backspin the baseball.

"There are times he can and will get big (with his swing), but I think he’s just a guy that has that magic ability to get the bat on the ball consistently," Banister said. "I do think that he eventually is going to hit for some power, but right now the ability to hit and what he can do right now is the most important thing, and we’ll let that power come when it needs to."