For the sixth consecutive season, the Philadelphia Phillies will have just one All-Star representative. The last time that the Phillies had multiple All-Stars in a season was in 2013, when Cliff Lee and Domonic Brown represented the team in the midsummer classic. More than half a decade later, Brown is a long way out of MLB. But he’s still playing baseball, and doing quite well, at least in a relative sense.
Now 31, Brown is in his second year in the Mexican League. Though Mexican League teams aren’t directly affiliated with any major league teams, they are classified as Triple-A. If you can’t get a job in a major league organization, playing in the Mexican League is a good way to stay on the radar of American teams. The Phillies, for example, signed Fernando Salas away from his Mexican League team earlier this season, and he is currently at Triple-A Lehigh Valley.
Six years after he made the trip to Citi Field to take part in the All-Star Game, Brown is slashing .300/.361/.592 with 19 home runs, 56 RBIs and a .952 OPS for Tecolotes de los Dos Laredos.
Brown’s team is 39-33 overall, after going 33-27 in the first half of the season, which put them seven games back in the north division, which would be the equivalent of the National or American League. He and RHP Sergio Mitre are the most notable former major leaguers on Tecolotes de los Dos Laredos. The team also employs former Oregon State LHP Luke Heimlich. Heimlich, 23, likely would have been a first round pick in the 2018 MLB Draft, but his juvenile court records were published in 2017, showing that he admitted to molesting his six-year-old niece when he was 15. Heimlich says he plead guilty to a crime that he didn’t commit, but his legal history has kept him from joining a major league organization, and the Mexican League, where he has a 5.62 ERA in 14 starts, is the only place he’s gotten a chance.
In any event, Brown has had a rather remarkable career arc. The Phillies selected him in the 20th round of the 2006 MLB Draft, and (along with the help of poor standardized test scores) lured him away from going to Miami, where he had an athletic scholarship to play both baseball and football. By 2010, he was seen as one of the top five prospects in baseball, with many credible outlets ranking him on par with or even better than Mike Trout.
Brown made his major league debut in 2010, breaking into the league in late-July with Shane Victorino on the injured list. Brown doubled off the wall in right field in his first major league at-bat, missing a home run by a few feet. It didn’t prove to be a precursor of things to come, though, as Brown hit just .210 in 62 at-bats in 2010.
A year later, with Jayson Werth having exited in free-agency, Brown hit just .245 in 184 at-bats. The Phillies, who would win a franchise record 102 regular season games in 2011, traded for Hunter Pence prior to the July 31 trade deadline, which led to Brown being optioned back to Triple-A.
After spending much of the 2012 season in Triple-A – and hitting just .235 in 187 at-bats at the major league level after the Phillies traded Pence to the San Francisco Giants – Brown exploded in May of 2013. In 109 at-bats, Brown hit .303 with 12 home runs, 25 RBIs, a .688 slugging percentage and a .991 OPS. Having appeared to turn the corner, Brown was voted to the All-Star Game, where he struck out in his lone at-bat.
The 2013 All-Star Game turned out to be the highlight of Brown’s major league career. After hitting 23 home runs and driving in 67 RBIs in 355 at-bats prior to the All-Star Break, Brown wasn’t able to find his power stroke after the midsummer classic, hitting just four home runs in the second-half of the season. He never rediscovered the approach that allowed him to hit 18 home runs between May and June of 2013.
In 662 at-bats between 2014 and 2015, Brown hit just .233 with 15 total home runs. He had world class arm strength in right field, but it didn’t matter, because he couldn’t consistently get behind balls to use his arm. Brown finished his time with the Phillies – which he split between left and right field – with -25 defensive runs saved total. The final play that Brown made as a Phillie was stumbling over the right field wall at Citi Field in September of 2015, a play that left him concussed and ended his time with the Phillies.
Brown spent the 2016 season in the Toronto Blue Jays organization, where he never reached the majors, instead hitting .239 with seven home runs and 41 RBIs with the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons. A year later, Brown hit .304 with three home runs and 21 RBIs in 158 at-bats for the Albuquerque Isotopes, the Triple-A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies. But without much context, the Rockies released Brown in July of 2017. Since then, he’s played outside of the United States.
In many senses, Brown’s story is a sad one. He once appeared likely to be part of the core group of talent that succeeded Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard. And for six or seven weeks, he played at a level that reminded you why those expectations were once placed on him. Still, whenever a prospect doesn’t pan out, it’s sometimes assumed they just didn’t have the desire to be great. In Brown’s case, as he plays in – and thrives in – the Mexican League almost four years after his last major league at-bat, it’s hard to make that case.
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