After sending a pair of long balls deep into the Philadelphia night on Wednesday evening, Domonic Brown will be a popular topic in fantasy circles with his breakout May. Since the calendar flipped, Brown has popped 10 home runs to go along with a solid .287 average with 15 runs scored and 21 RBI. Phillies fans and fantasy owners alike have been waiting on this type of performance from the former top-prospect and it’s possible that his success could ultimately save the jobs of Phils’ Manager Charlie Manuel and GM Ruben Amaro. The real question, however, is can he save you fantasy team?
Brown fits the bill of a five category contributor with a tall athletic-frame. He stands at 6’5″, carries a cannon on that left shoulder and possesses the athleticism to make an impact both in the field and at the dish. Brown can hit for power, run and play solid defense and you would think that as he continues to bulk up over the years, the 26-year-old could add a bit more punch to that power stroke.
Prior to 2013. Brown had a couple of failed opportunities in the big leagues, collecting a .236/.315/.388 slash line over 478 at-bats major league at bats. His struggles were frequently overshadowed by his dominance of the minors and Brown has remained the Phillies “untouchable” prospect throughout their turnaround from cellar-dweller to World Series Champion. As the core of this perennial playoff contender rapidly ages before our very eyes, the Phils decided to give Brown yet another go-round in the majors and at age-26–equipped with a simpler, shorter swing–he has finally carved out a consistent, everyday role in the lineup.
Initially, the team hoped that Brown could provide just a sliver of the upside he frequently displayed at the lower levels. Instead, the team’s best offensive player has emerged as a true post-hype breakout. For the season, Dom Brown has put together a solid .262-23-13-32-3 5×5 line while rising into the top-25 among fantasy outfielders according to ESPN.com’s player rater. Following his May power surge, the speed remains the only piece missing from his fantasy profile, but Brown has picked that pace up of late as well. Each of Domonic’s three stolen bases on the year have come in his past 10 games and there is plenty of reason to think that Brown will be able to provide you with 15+ stolen bases this year, a mark he surpassed in four of his last five season while splitting time between the majors and minors.
The primary concern for Brown at the moment is a poor 9:35 BB-to-K ratio for the season that has played no small part in his miserable .298 OBP this year. Less encouraging is the fact that he has not taken a single walk during his monstrous May. That’s right, Brown’s last free pass came on April 30, or 101 plate appearances ago. It is somewhat perplexing as Brown has consistently shown a solid eye at the dish throughout both his major and minor league career, drawing a walk in over 10% of his big-league plate appearances in 2011-12. Brown is currently swinging at 33% of the pitches he sees outside of the strike zone according to Fangraphs and while he’s making contact with those pitches 73% of the time, that number is up about 10% from his performance last year.
Ultimately, Brown’s poor command of the strike zone in 2013 is a bit of a mystery as this is not an issue that he has struggled with previously. Still, it’s impossible to expect a player with a sub-.300 on-base percentage to maintain elite fantasy production over the course of a full season. Players who don’t draw walks are prone to slumps and, as it stands, Brown is becoming a batting average risk with each passing day. His inability to take a walk is also going to suppress his runs scored and stolen base totals as we get further into the season, leaving owners expecting a five-category stud left with a little more than a two-category contributor.
Brown’s work at the dish this season has been impressive and there is no doubt that his mechanical tweaks coupled with increasing confidence in his ability at the big league level will keep him fantasy relevant for year to come. Still, this guy will not be a top-30 outfielder until he learns to draw a walk. Brown’s talent is enticing and, as a Phillies fan I am certainly encouraged about what I am seeing, but the numbers across the board will be underwhelming until Brown modifies his approach at the plate and begins to get on-base more frequently. If he nudge his walk rate closer to the 8.7 BB% that he’s put up over his career, you are looking at a player capable of putting up 25+ home runs and 15+ steals with solid run production. Until then, however, the right move is to sell high on Domonic Brown’s May performance before his free-swigging tendencies catch up to his currently solid numbers.