Early Friday afternoon, I replied to a tweet (I'm @karabellespn) about the viability of Philadelphia Phillies outfielder John Mayberry Jr. With Shane Victorino hitting the disabled list, Jayson Werth now hitting for the Washington Nationals (though not as well as most thought), Ben Francisco hitting the bench and Raul Ibanez seemingly hitting for, well, the local nursing-home team, I tweeted that Mayberry was actually the team's top active outfielder, and thought about how scary that was. Then I went out for a nice, leisurely jog.
By the time I returned a few hours later, the situation had changed.
A year ago, Domonic Brown was viewed in both the fantasy and real baseball communities as a can't-miss prospect, someone capable of hitting for power, stealing bases and thriving defensively, a true five-tool star in the making. And then the Phillies, in the midst of the 2010 pennant race, called him up from Triple-A, generally let him languish on the bench, and of course he didn't hit. Then he struggled in winter ball. Then he broke the hamate bone in his hand in spring training and didn't make the Phillies.
Well, he has made the Phillies now; on Friday, the team promoted him from Triple-A Lehigh Valley, where he was hitting .341 with a .968 OPS, with two home runs and 10 RBIs in 11 games. Sure, this could be read as a panic move by the team with the National League's best record, as Brown is unproven at this level. But the team doesn't have strong options in the outfield right now, and the once-feared offensive team ranks 21st in runs scored. Why not give the kid a chance and see what happens? Victorino is out a few weeks, Francisco has had his chance and it's a good bet Mayberry and fill-in center fielder Michael Martinez will be overwhelmed as everyday players.
Granted, Brown might be overwhelmed, as well. It's something all prospects need to deal with, and some overcome it. We just don't know whether Brown can handle this. I have concerns about his ability to make consistent contact at this level, especially against left-handed pitching, and stay healthy, which has clearly been an issue. However, as excited as most people seemed to be about Brown a year ago, people might be assuming he's not a special prospect now because of what happened after his 2010 promotion. Don't go there; this guy is going to be good, really good, but like all 23-year-olds, there will be an adjustment period. For Eric Hosmer it lasted all of one at-bat. For Matt LaPorta, it took years. Brown is currently owned in 3 percent of ESPN standard leagues. Don't wait on him, because by Monday that number could be more than 50 percent.
Phillies manager Charlie Manuel should play Brown regularly, at least against right-handed pitching, in right field and see what happens. I suspect he'll bat him sixth, at best, after first baseman Ryan Howard and Ibanez, and perhaps after Mayberry. Brown could also bat second; he takes pitches and has base-stealing speed. Make no mistake, though, the pressure is on. Manuel could platoon him against southpaw pitchers with right-hander Francisco, but Francisco is hitting .216, and .189 with a .512 OPS against lefties. I think Manuel really likes switch-hitting, Rule 5 pick Martinez in center field, and Mayberry will play right field against the likes of Friday's opposing starter, Texas Rangers lefty C.J. Wilson.
In terms of 2011 statistical projections, ESPN Fantasy gave Brown 297 at-bats this season (roughly half a season), and expected 12 home runs, 46 RBIs, eight stolen bases and a .259 batting average. Those numbers look really good, perhaps a bit optimistic, actually. They would make Brown an easy top-50 outfielder even in standard (10-team) leagues, and obviously there's the lure of considerable upside. That projection was low on at-bats only because Brown had broken his hamate bone before the season; I think a reasonable full-season projection would have been 22 home runs, 75 RBIs and a similar batting average. And that's on the low end.
If you're putting up with the likes of Ibanez, Francisco, Jonny Gomes, Nate McLouth, Peter Bourjos, Brad Hawpe, Cody Ross and J.D. Drew, all of whom are owned in more leagues, replace them with Brown immediately. I'd also consider cutting underachievers Denard Span, Jason Bay, Michael Cuddyer, Luke Scott, Aubrey Huff, Garrett Jones, Ryan Ludwick, Omar Infante and Ryan Raburn. Regardless, find a bench spot for Brown. Just one day ago, colleague Jason Grey ranked Brown as his No. 2 prospect for the rest of the 2011 season. I buy that, and so should you.