While everyone connected to and rooting for the Nationals has Henry Rodriguez‘s meltdowns and the rash of injuries on the brain, perhaps it’s time to take a look at the development of the second player Washington acquired from the Oakland Athletics in exchange for outfielder Josh Willingham: Syracuse Chiefs outfielder Corey Brown.
Brown, 26, had a brief stint with the Nats last September that ended with a knee infection after three games. He started strong at AAA Syracuse this season, fueling speculation that he might be promoted to Washington before phenom and 2010 first draft pick Bryce Harper. However, Brown’s performance tailed off a bit, Mark DeRosa and Ryan Zimmerman sustained injuries and Harper got the call.
A left-handed hitting outfielder who is most comfortable in centerfield, Brown has good, but not great, potential in all five tools — power, speed, plate discipline, fielding, and throwing arm.
His advance through Oakland’s farm system had a somewhat unusual trajectory. He struggled during his first season at Double-A, and Triple-A, then dominated. Take a look at his slash lines:
First year in Double-A: .260/.322/.551
Second year: .320/.415/.502
First full season in Triple-A (not including 41 games in 2010 for Sacramento where he went .193/.253/.378): .235/.326/.402.
So far in 2012, 39 games: .281/.400/.500.
At his age, Brown is nearing make or break time. Will he become a solid fourth outfielder in the majors or just a 4-A player who sees occasional time in the majors for multiple teams as organizational filler?
The potential to become the answer to Washington’s lingering centerfield and leadoff hitter is there, if he can absolutely maximize his skills. However, such an outcome is unlikely. First, few players wring every last drop of talent from themselves. Equally important, Harper may lock down the position for a long time if he proves he can handle the position once Michael Morse and Jayson Werth return from their injuries.
Even if Morse eventually moves to first base, Brown faces stiff competition from within the organization in Brian Goodwin, Eury Perez, and Michael Taylor as well as a possible high-priced free agent centerfielder, with a high on-base percentage such as Michael Bourn, whom the Nationals may pursue with gusto during the offseason.
Still, if the Nationals injury epidemic continues, Brown may yet get an extended chance to prove himself during the 2012 season. In a year that has already been a theatre of the absurd, such a development may not be a surprise at all.
Most Likely Future in D.C.: A fourth or fifth outfielder with more reliable skills than Roger Bernadina in 2013 or 2014 or as a 4-A organization man.
Chances to be called up in 2012: Unless more injuries occur, almost zero until September 1. Once rosters expand, Brown is almost certain to be called to Washington as a defensive replacement, pinch-runner, and left-handed pinch hitting option.