Confidence game: Brown set for breakout year
Baseball players are scouted on five major components: hitting for average, running speed, fielding, power and arm strength. There really should be a sixth: self-confidence. It would be very difficult to quantify confidence, but it is essential for obtaining and sustaining success.
Based upon my observations scouting Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Domonic Brown in Spring Training, he is gaining confidence. That could be great news for the Phils and their fans.
I admit, I was among those that initially felt Brown had the physical look and power of a young Darryl Strawberry. At 6-foot-5 and 205 pounds, the 25-year-old Brown has the same tall and slender body type. Who knows, as his career progresses, he may well display some of Strawberry's hitting prowess as well.
After a successful athletic career in high school, Brown could have become a wide receiver at the University of Miami. Instead, he chose to become a professional baseball player, after his selection by the Phillies in the 20th round of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft.
Brown began his career playing for the Phils' Rookie League team in the Gulf Coast League. He hit only .214 in his brief 34-game introduction to professional baseball. Brown went to the plate only 131 times.
Brown's next three years were extremely promising. He hit .299, .291 and .299 playing at clubs from High Class A to Double-A. Brown was sending a message that he was a complete player.
Following his fourth season in 2009, Brown was assigned to play for the Scottsdale Scorpions in the Arizona Fall League. That's where I first scouted him.
Brown struggled with his batting average in Arizona, hitting .229 in 118 at-bats. But he hit two homers and drove in 18 runs, second highest on the Scorpions to the Pirates' Jose Tabata's 21.
In 2010, at age 22, Brown played in both Double-A and Triple-A and hit a combined .327, showing his club and other teams his ability to be an offensive force. Brown was promoted to the Phillies in late July.
Imagine being 22 years old, putting on a Major League uniform, walking around a big league clubhouse and living every little boy's dream. It had to be a little overwhelming. Actually, it had to be a lot overwhelming.
Brown didn't fare too well. He had 70 plate appearances, playing in 35 games and hitting a tepid .210.
In 2011, Brown's career took a bit of a setback when he suffered a broken hamate bone during Spring Training. Given the fact his strong wrists are so important to his swing, the injury took its toll. It cost Brown development time and slowed the progress he made the previous season.
Beginning with his initial introduction to playing in Philadelphia, Brown has made stops at the big league level in each of the past three seasons. Each time, he struggled to gain momentum, experiencing difficulty with Major League pitching.
From the day Brown became a professional baseball player, his power potential, his obvious athletic ability and his overall upside landed the left-handed-hitting Brown on the wish list of other clubs engaging in trade talks with the Phils. While they had agreed to trade numerous highly-regarded prospects and seasoned veterans in building their roster in recent years, Brown remained off-limits and unavailable.
From what I have seen of his at-bats in Florida this spring, Brown now seems comfortable while hitting and more relaxed in his overall game. Working with coach Wally Joyner, he has shortened his swing to be quicker to the ball. I have also noticed more patience and selectivity at the plate, as Brown looks for pitches he can drive.
Brown's legs are set widely apart, with has bat being held relatively still prior to the pitch. He is facing the pitcher more directly than I've seen before, getting a good look at the ball. Brown has a much better chance now to take outside pitches to the opposite field. His hands appear to be closer to his body with less extraneous movement prior to the pitch. I have also seen a much shorter leg lift as a hitting trigger.
Summarizing the changes I have seen, I'd say Brown has less movement and is much more focused in his approach at the plate.
Defensively, I saw Brown boot a ball hit on the ground to left field as he rushed his body and wanted to make a throw before he had the ball in his hand. His routes on fly balls were efficient. In the past, I have seen Brownstruggle a bit finding the ball off the bat. He's still working on his defense.
Brown's arm strength is solid and accurate. Although he has played left field in the games I've seen most recently, he has enough strength on his throws to play right field, a common spot for a player with a strong and accurate arm and a powerful bat.
Brown's speed has never been an issue. He hustles from home to first and has enough pure speed to easily steal 20 or more bases a year. Brown will likely continue to learn how to "read" pitchers' moves. He'll be a force on the bases.
Brown has very solid tools that he is in the process of discovering and refining. He's only 25 years old. Brown has upside remaining and probably even more development of his upper-body strength. His wrist has healed. He is healthy.
Given improvement in his hitting mechanics, the final piece of Brown's development is for him to believe in himself.
After some difficult experiences at the Major League level, Brown may have uncovered a hidden component to sustained success -- a belief in his own abilities.
Given the improvement I have seen, the wait for Brown's ultimate breakout might be over.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Follow @BerniePleskoff on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.