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Friday, March 22, 2013
Domonic Brown's big spring means ...

By David Schoenfield

Freddie Freeman leads hitters with seven home runs this spring, followed by Domonic Brown and Mike Morse with six. Bill Baer wrote on Brown's big spring the other day:
Last year, 15 players hit six or more home runs in spring exhibition games in the range of 45-80 at-bats. There was no correlation whatsoever between their spring hitting and regular season hitting.


Bill looked back at 2011 and 2010 and found the same thing.

Now, that doesn't mean Brown's spring doesn't mean anything. It could mean something or it could mean everything. Maybe it's the first step to Brown reclaiming his top prospect luster of a few years ago. (Darin Ruf, by the way, hit a walk-off home run on Friday and was then optioned to a Triple-A, clearing the way for Brown to play every day, at least until Delmon Young returns from the disabled list.)

The key to remember about Brown is he's still just 25 and has 492 plate appearances. His star potential may be slim, at least compared to what it was projected at one time, but he lacks the major league experience to say he has no star potential. Just look at his Phillies teammate, Chase Utley. Through his age-25 season, he had 439 PAs and a 91 OPS+. (Brown's OPS+ is 90.) Utley's big breakout didn't arrive until he was 26. That doesn't mean Brown is Chase Utley, whose career path is somewhat unusual.

How unusual?

I looked at all players since 1990 who had between 400 and 600 plate appearances through their age-25 seasons and an OPS+ between 85 and 95. There were 25 such players. Utley is easily the class of the group, with the other "bests" including J.T. Snow, Xavier Nady, Jeff King, Michael Tucker and Ryan Doumit. Again, it's a small group and there are guys there who never did much at all.

But that's the Chase Utley group. Brown has played through his age-24 season. His comparative group also consists of 25 players, and includes a more interesting list of players: Carlos Quentin, Carl Everett, Bobby Higginson, Tony Clark, Mark Whiten, Aaron Rowand, Franklin Gutierrez and Jeffrey Hammonds, among others. Josh Reddick is here, and he had a nice breakout season last year with the A's at 25. Ruben Mateo is here and ... well, let's not go there.

How will Brown do in 2013? I'm still cautiously optimistic. He could have a Reddick-like year -- maybe less power but better on-base skills. He lacks Reddick's defense, however, so that limits his overall value, but I think he could be a productive player on a playoff team.