After a year of trying, the Washington Nationals have finally succeeded in trading outfielder Josh Willingham. As of early this afternoon, the 32-year-old was officially an Oakland Athletic.
Coming East are pitcher Henry Rodriguez and center fielder Corey Brown.
We'll talk about Rodriguez another day. Let's focus on Brown for now.
Many have written today that because of his poor performance when promoted to Triple-A Sacramento this past season, he is no longer a true prospect. The 24-year-old Brown batted just .193/.253/.378 with five home runs and 20 RBI.
Clearly over matched or a slow learner?
Nationals' general manager said on Thursday that Brown started slowly at each minor league level but in time mastered that league's pitching. No reason to believe that won't happen this time, he suggested.
Brown was a collegiate star at Oklahoma State and was considered a top-20 pick in the 2007 MLB amateur draft. He was in the top two or three of every meaningful offensive statistic in the Big 12 in his last year with the Cowboys. And John Sickels named him the 10th-best offensive player in the draft.
And yet the Oakland Athletics took him with the 59th pick—a compensation pick for the loss of Frank Thomas—and 10 spots after the Nationals took Michael Burgess, a far less talented player.
I guess that's what happens when you plead "no contest" to felony battery charges when you have sex with a 14-year-old in high school after giving her alcohol. It was ugly enough that the University of Virginia withdrew their scholarship offer.
He hit well that summer of 2007, batting .268/.379/.545 with 11 home runs and 48 RBI in 59 games in the rookie-level Northwest League. Since then, he has made a steady progression towards the majors. Brown hit 30 home runs in 2008 at the Class-A level.
Last season, he hammered the Double-A Texas League, batting .320/.415/.502 with 10 homers and 49 RBI in 331 at-bats before his summer promotion to Triple-A.
To that point, he was considered a quality prospect. Sickels called him a cross between Kirk Gibson and Jeremy Burnitz. Scouts called him "toolsy" with outstanding raw power, good speed and a strong and accurate arm.
When he arrived in Sacramento last summer, it was assumed he'd be a mid-summer call-up to the Athletics next season.
And then everything went sour. I'm sure players have had a worse 40-game span at the Triple-A level but I'm having a difficult time thinking of who they were. He looked terrible.
But I believe Mike Rizzo. He struggles at first when promoted, and then he figures it out.
In his first season at Double-A, he struggled, batting just .268/.349/.488. He returned the following year, and hit .320/.415/.502. There is no reason to believe that won't happen again in 2011.
There has also been much discussion about his high strikeout rate. To be sure, he strikes out a lot. But so did Adam Dunn. Let's compare Dunn's minor league statistics with Brown's based on a 550 at-bat season (it's easier to compare that way):
Average/On-base Percentage/Slugging Percent:
Stolen Bases/Caught Stealing:
Grounded Into Double Plays:
Dunn and Brown had roughly the same number of minor league at-bats so this is a pretty good comparison.
Obviously, if you fan 50 more times in a minor league season than Adam Dunn, then yes, you have a strikeout problem. I'm not sure if that will ever get better. But there are a few players in the major leagues today who strike out 200 times and are All-Stars.
Speed is another obvious difference. Brown averaged eight triples to Dunn's one and grounded into just five double plays versus Dunn's 14. Dunn had a surprising number of steals, but he was thrown out often while Brown almost never was.
Both had good on-base percentages and slugging marks.
I'm not comparing Brown to Adam Dunn; they are different types of players. But their stats are similar enough that it Brown shouldn't be written off because of 40 bad games in the minor leagues. Corey Brown was not, as some suggest, a throw-in, that fireballer Henry Rodriguez was the centerpiece of the trade.
Though I don't think that Brown will become a star in the major leagues, he will be a solid, productive player. He will play quality defense in between Jayson Werth and Roger Bernandina or Mike Morse in a year or two and will hit well, batting around .275/.370/.500 with 20-25 home runs, 85 RBI and 25 stolen bases.
And yes, he will strike out close to 200 times. But, like Adam Dunn, he will make up for it with a higher on-base percentage.
My guess is that unless another trade happens, this will be Nyjer Morgan's last year in Washington. When 2012 comes around, Corey Brown will be the team's everyday center fielder.
Here's hoping, anyway.
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