Juan Pierre, Domonic Brown, and plans

Last week, the Phillies signed Juan Pierre to a minor-league contract. Pierre’s most likely role with the club is as the fifth or sixth outfielder. His primary duty might be to pinch run when Jim Thome reaches base in the late innings. Once Ryan Howard returns from his Achilles injury—projected sometime in May—Pierre may be designated for assignment.

What makes this minor move interesting is what it tells us about the Phillies’ plan for Domonic Brown. National media coverage seems to view the Pierre addition as the Phillies placing “another obstacle” in the way of Brown. This is a misunderstanding of the situation in Philadelphia.

Brown appears to be behind John Mayberry Jr. , Laynce Nix, Ty Wigginton, and Pierre on the club’s left field depth chart. With the possible exception of Mayberry, these names all share one commonality—they will NEVER block a prospect.

So no, Pierre does not add another obstacle for Brown to overcome. The obstacles in Brown’s path are solely personal.

First and foremost, he must greatly improve his outfield defense, a task that is accomplishable but requires a lot of repetition. All aspects of his defensive presence appear to need work. His route running in Philadelphia was comical. He has a strong arm but occasionally became overzealous with his throws. He also made throws to the wrong location, demonstrating a need to improve his game awareness of base/out states.

wRC+ found Brown’s offensive contributions in 2011 to be one percent above league average, and a .276 BABIP certainly did not help. However, scouts, spectators, and talking heads unanimously agree that Brown has plenty of room to work on his plate approach. Another spin with Triple-A Lehigh Valley is not likely to harm his offensive progress and will almost certainly help.

And that brings us back to Pierre’s purpose. Rather than an obstacle, Pierre provides additional depth to ensure that the Phillies do not need to thrust Brown into major league duty until he is completely ready.

Philadelphia has yo-yoed Brown around the past two years, and it is clear the Phillies have recognized the potentially damaging impact this could have on their prospect and have taken steps to rectify the situation.

When Brown is ready—that is, when his defensive presence catches up with his tools and his bat is prepared to shoulder the burden of a left-fielder—he will walk onto the roster virtually unopposed.

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  1. Fred said...

    If Pierre has a great April, then what do the Phils do when Howard is back?  Do you still DFA him if he is doing well? Granted, he may just get an AB or PR assignment here or there, but what if he comes out swinging in ST?

    IMO, Brown is one step above Hewitt, lots-o-potential, can’t seem to realize that skill-set.  I hope the best for Brown and it would be WONDERFUL to see some youth in the Phils future.

    I think that if the Phils were actually players on cespedes and/or soler, that might spell a dubious future for Brown in red pinstripes.

  2. Brad Johnson said...

    Pierre having a great April will require a truly terrible spring from Nix and/or Mayberry. Otherwise he simply isn’t going to get the opportunity.

    If everyone else is healthy, Pierre’s probably the odd man out regardless. His spring performance doesn’t necessarily matter, we know exactly who he is and it’s someone who has a limited role on a club like the Phillies. I can’t see the Phillies cutting Nix, Wigginton, or Thome to keep Pierre.

    They could go with a short bullpen until an injury opens a roster slot for him, but that’s the extent of their flexibility.

  3. Fred said...

    Yeah, that’s part of the reason that I thought this deal was a head-scratcher from the start…he has potential to do something for the team, but that doesn’t jump out at me…a terrific spring just means that the decision gets more difficult to dump him…

  4. Matt C said...

    What does Pierre offer that Scott Podsednik (signed to minor-league contract earlier this winter) does not?  Clearly the Phils are just stacking up options for LF in the hope that one of them works out.

  5. Brad Johnson said...

    I suppose that’s a fair point, but I think Podsednik is a crappier version of Pierre. The skill set is the same, but he strikes out about 10% more often.

    Podsednik also spent time in Lehigh last year, so he’s probably more comfortable with the minor league role. If the Phillies find they have to designate Pierre at some point, they can comfortably fall back on Podsednik instead of Brown if an injury crops up.

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