The depth in the Washington Nationals' outfield and the return of Drew Storen from the DL led to Rick Ankiel being designated for assignment this past July. As Nats' skipper Davey Johnson explained it, there were outfield options in the organization, but not in the pen, so the team made the tough decision to DFA the well-respected veteran.
"With the maturation process of some of the young players," Johnson explained, "[Bryce] Harper in particular, playing every day, [Michael] Morse coming back, [Steve Lombardozzi] doing a good job leading off and [Jayson] Werth... looks pretty good to me, he's getting close... it felt like... and I've got a left-handed bat down in Triple-A that can do some of things that Rick [can]... maybe not as good a defender, but maybe a better hitter in Corey Brown. But to have to replace a guy in my bullpen with some people I've got down there. No, I don't have it. So, it was a tough choice, but it was the right choice."
While young players like Lombardozzi, Tyler Moore and Harper saw significant time in the majors this past season, the 26-year-old Brown (who turned 27 in November) was up-and-down but mostly down with the Nationals' Triple-A affiliate. The former Oakland A's 1st Round pick ('07) acquired along with RHP Henry Rodriguez in the December 2010 trade that sent Josh Willingham to the Athletics, had three stints with the NL East champs, but just 27 plate appearances on the year in which he had a .200/.231/.400 line with two doubles and a home run in 19 games.
In his second full season at Triple-A, after an 18 double, 14 home run 2011 season in which he had a .235/.326/.402 line with the Syracuse Chiefs, made his MLB debut and had season-ending surgery to remove an infection from his knee, Brown put up a .285/.365/.523 line with 22 doubles, nine triples and 25 HR's in his sixth minor league season in 2012.
When Brown was called up to D.C. in September, the Nats' press release summed up just how good a year the outfielder had. Brown, "... ranked among this season’s International League leaders in most offensive categories," the Nationals noted, "... with 83 runs (first), nine triples (second), 25 home runs (second), .523 slugging percentage (second), 253 total bases (second), 56 extra-base hits (fourth), 138 hits (tied for fifth), .365 on-base percentage (sixth), 71 RBI (tied for sixth) and 59 walks (ninth)."
Brown's first major league hit was his first major league home run in July against the Brewers, he hit a walk-off single to beat the Marlins in early September and finished the year in the nation's capital, but he was left off the postseason roster. Brown impressed last Spring, hitting a double and a home run while putting up a .310/.355/.448 line and playing strong defense over 13 games and 29 ABs, but he didn't make the Opening Day roster and even an equally impressive start this season won't allow him to avoid another April in upstate New York. It would take a series of injuries or several players struggling to see any way the outfielder ends up in D.C.
Can Brown work his way into the mix in the nation's capital? Is he going to officially be labeled AAAA? Should he be labeled "Most Likely To Be Traded" if the Nats need to make a move?