Domonic Brown told them that he is ready.
Philadelphia promoted its top prospect from Double-A Reading to Triple-A Lehigh Valley on Friday, after hitting .318 with 16 doubles, three triples, 15 homers, 47 RBIs, 12 stolen bases and a .993 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 65 games. Of course, every Phillies fan immediately wanted to know when he could make the jump to the big leagues.
It is very unlikely Brown will see any regular time with Philadelphia this season. The Phillies have Raul Ibanez, Shane Victorino and Jayson Werth in the outfield. Ibanez started the season slowly and Werth had been stuck in a slump, but both have been hitting the ball better lately. Brown could be a callup in September, and he could be playing regularly in the outfield in 2011, which seems possible if Werth leaves via free agency.
"[Brown is] just now starting to scratch the surface on his ceiling as a potential Major League player," said LaMar, a Phillies assistant general manager. "You don't want to rush him, but you also want to challenge him. It's a very fine line. We've tried to do that with him. We've tried not to rush him, but challenge him. And that's why with the move to Triple-A, we feel like he's going to be challenged and yet, he's not going to be over his head. I think he'll respond."
The Phillies certainly are happy they never traded Brown, who many teams coveted -- refusing to trade him to Cleveland last July for Cliff Lee, and they refused to trade him to Toronto in December for Roy Halladay.
Brown impressed the Phils in Spring Training and hasn't stopped since.
"People don't understand how hard it is to play 162 games and then the postseason at the Major League level," LaMar said. "Those guys have to be consistent every day, and Domonic came into camp with that mindset. When we sent him to Minor League camp, he didn't miss a beat. When he went to Double-A, he started out great, then had a couple of injury setbacks. His approach to the game was as impressive as the results."
LaMar said Brown simply needs more seasoning.
"Truly, he's an athlete that continues to refine his baseball skills every day," he said. "Even though he grew up playing the game, he also grew up playing another game [football], and was pretty good at it. Anytime you deal with a dual-sport player with Domonic's athleticism, usually it just takes time for him to grow into the game -- just continue to grow in all areas of the game, and he has done that. He has shown no sign of leveling off."
Brown has said a couple times that he can be patient. He sees that it took Ryan Howard time to play every day, despite appearing to be ready. Same thing with Chase Utley and Werth, who did not become an everyday player until 2009.
Like Howard and Utley, who came up through the system, the Phillies don't feel they need to rush Brown.
"Sometimes a jump to the Majors is dictated on needs at the Major League level," LaMar said. "I know from my time in the Minor Leagues that sometimes you have to rush a kid that you'd like to give more time to. In other cases, you hold on to them a little too long. Somebody told me a long time ago you've got to pick that fruit while it's ripe. Sometimes it's time to make a move and you don't have an opening to do it. I think the organization has always had the mindset to do what's best for the player's development and in the long run that will be what's best for the organization. In Domonic's case, we've tried to always keep in mind, 'What's going to make this kid the best player possible?'"
LaMar said Brown has improved defensively, but still has lapses in the field. That must improve before he plays for the Phillies.
But it's hard not to get excited about his bat.
"He has very good hand-eye coordination," LaMar said. "I think when he does play in the Major Leagues, you're going to see a hitter that's capable of playing against left-handed pitching. Maybe not right off the bat, but as his career unfolds, you're not going to have a guy that platoons. You're going to have an everyday player. He goes to the opposite field, and he has power to the opposite field, which is very good at our ballpark. I think he'll fit at our ballpark well. [There are] a lot of good things about him, but he's got a challenge ahead of him because he's not a finished product. I think Triple-A is going to challenge him."