Albuquerque, New Mexico —— Domonic Brown doesn’t deal in what-ifs.
It would be easy to do. He was the number one prospect in baseball in 2010, ranked ahead of some guy named Mike Trout, and Brown made good on it with an All Star Game appearance three years later. It quickly fell apart from there, though, and now Brown finds himself restarting in Triple-A one more time, hoping for another shot.
What if he had stuck in the big leagues? What if he had made that one little adjustment to find success at the highest level? What if he was up in The Show today, and not here in the Pacific Coast League playing for the Albuquerque Isotopes in the Colorado Rockies’ organization—now his third professional affiliation?
He could play the what-if game all day long if he wanted, but that’s not what it’s about for the Colorado Rockies‘ newest minor league outfielder. The way Domonic Brown sees it, he’s still getting to play the game he loves every day, and in the end, that—and staying healthy—is all that matters.
“For me it’s just staying healthy, [because] I’m going to always stay positive,” Brown told Baseball Census before a recent ‘Topes game in Albuquerque. “I enjoy the game. I love it. I wouldn’t trade anything for this world. If I say ‘what if,’ what if I never got to the big leagues? I think I got almost five years of experience. I’m almost 29 years old. So the biggest thing for me is start playing, stay healthy, and see what happens.”
Brown was the guy less than a decade ago, and now he’s here, in the PCL, staring down 30 and fast running out of options. Context matters; various injuries helped to derail what could have been, piling up in three different stints on the disabled list in the five seasons he was in the big leagues with two major concussions, achilles problems, and other inevitable aches and pains that are part of the game. That happens to everybody though, prospect or not, and Brown’s walked a difficult line from top young star to prospect-unrealized in a matter of a few short years.
The expectations around him were higher in the past, there’s no question. When you’re a prospect, sites like this one watch and report on your every move, analyze your every game, place you on lists and break down your tools on a daily basis. That was Brown’s old life, but now that he’s had his moment in the spotlight, it’s changed his perspective on things.
“The biggest thing for me is getting out here every day and enjoying what I’m doing,” he said, speaking like a wise old veteran with the benefit of perspective on his side. “I definitely love that. Just being around the guys, creating these relationships and bonds, [being] out here having fun. I think the biggest thing for me is just staying healthy, I think that’s the biggest thing for me over the last three years, and I’ll be in good shape.”
Now that Brown’s joined the Colorado Rockies and been shipped down to the Isotopes’ loaded outfield, he has a good deal to offer to teammates, too: expertise in dealing with the Triple-A grind, knowledge about pitchers and opposing teams, and a helpful ear to lend on how one navigates being so close to the big leagues and yet so far away.
“It’s huge to get feedback from guys like that, from Dom, or from [Chris] Denorfia, or from [Ryan] Hanigan,” Isotopes outfielder Mike Tauchman said about Brown. “All those guys are really helpful and you definitely listen to what they have to say.”
Interestingly, though he may be the highest profile former prospect among his teammates here in Albuquerque, Brown isn’t the only formerly well-regarded young prospect in the ‘Topes outfield. The club is also carrying Rosell Herrera, who peaked at #98 in the MLB Pipeline rankings prior to the 2014 season, only to drop since, to the point where he’s no longer even a top-30 prospect in the Colorado Rockies’ organization. Still, he’s fighting for even one shot at the big leagues himself—a fight Brown knows quite well—and Herrera would be ignorant not to take advantage of the veteran’s knowledge.
“It is important to hear what he has to say, because he has been where we want to be,” Herrera said. “He knows what it takes to get there, and we really have to learn from that.”
If Domonic Brown doesn’t deal in what-ifs, maybe he can at least deal in silver linings. There’s no question Albuquerque and the dreary early morning flights and bizarre road trips that make up PCL baseball are slightly less glamorous than the charter jets, big money, and bright lights of his old home at Citizens Bank Park. But for Domonic Brown, a true hitter through and through, you need not look far to find the good in New Mexico’s relentless—and I mean relentless—winds.
“I like it, the wind is blowing out to right so of course I’m liking it,” Brown said about Albuquerque, smiling. “I got to spend some time with a lot of these guys in spring training so it’s kind of familiar. I got to be around [Isotopes manager Glenallen] Hill for a week or two those last couple weeks so I know he’s very laid back and chill like myself, so you do things the right way and he’s going to reward you.”
And so, Domonic Brown moves on in the next phase of his career. No longer a top prospect, baseball is now about the more important things: relishing the fact that he is still able to make his living with the game, enjoying the relationships he’s building with a new set of teammates, and helping the next generation of top prospects on their journey to the big leagues. It’s a chance so few ever have, playing professional baseball, and Brown is going to be sure to make the most of every second he gets.
What if he got another shot at the big leagues with the Colorado Rockies along the way? That wouldn’t be so bad, either.