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.