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READING, Pa. — Aaron Brown hadn’t stepped on a mound in four years. The transitioned outfielder’s batting average crept lower early in the 2017 season — his second year in Reading, the Philadelphia Phillies Double-A affiliate, steering him further from the majors. Most players would have to wait for a hot streak to save their season, their career. Maybe, he’d be sent down. Brown, though, had an option others didn’t.
Joe Jordan, the Fightin’ Phils Director of Player Development in 2017, knew Brown’s pitching past — a sub-two ERA with the Chatham Anglers, then another one his junior year at Pepperdine. So he gave him the option: ride out the cold hitting or try pitching.
“It's a second chance,” Brown said. “A huge blessing that I can get on a mound and throw the ball well.”
At 24 years old, Brown opted to reformulate his playing career, a move Andrew Nelson, the Fightin’ Phils Director of Clubhouse Operations, has only seen one other time in his nine year career. Brown considered his inexperience and his time away from the mound. That he might’ve lost what made him a dual-threat for most of his baseball career. But he trusted his mechanics.
The converted relief pitcher made his way back to Reading the following season, and since April 22, has a 0.94 ERA in 19.2 innings. Brown, now 26, said he’s optimistic of an official call-up.
“He didn't make it as a hitter,” Nelson said. “But the Phillies had enough trust and faith to say 'Hey, lets try you as a pitcher,’ and he’s made it work.”
Being a dual-threat lefty didn’t seem abnormal until he came to Chatham at 19 years old. Under former Chatham head coach John Schniffer, Brown was one of two players on the 2012 squad to play both ways. Schniffer remarked on his adept pick-off ability on the mound, but thought he struck out too much..
Brown admitted he focused more on his bat than his arm in the Cape League. The following year, he started games for the Brewster Whitecaps, but knew he’d have to choose one when he signed with a Major League team.
“I feel natural in the outfield,” Brown said. “Hitting has always kind of been first nature.”
The Phillies thought the same in the 2014 MLB Draft — they took Brown in the third round and signed him as an outfielder. Within two years, his bat rose him to Double-A with current major league players JP Crawford, Rhys Hoskins and Jorge Alfaro.
With more playing time the year later, his statistics weren’t matching up. That’s when Jordan approached him.
Brown slept on the decision, he said. He prayed, then spoke with his family and agent. The next morning at FirstEnergy Stadium, he told the team he was ready to flip his career. But he had to start from scratch.
“It's kind of funny looking back now,” Brown said. “You think you're going one direction with you career, then something changes and everything takes a hard turn.”
Nelson recalled getting the news that “Brownie,” his nickname for the 26-year-old, was going to be sent down, but didn’t find out he was going to pitch until later. He turned to Brown in confusion when he found out
“Brownie, you can pitch'” he said.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Brown affirmed, “I pitched in college. It’s just something I haven’t done in a long time.”
Brown began a pitching program that lasted six weeks, primarily throwing bullpen. His pitches were nearing 90 mph, but his mechanics were “rough,” he said. Given his background, he couldn’t make that “nasty pitch” other top prospects have, so he’d have to rely on contact for success.
After an extended spring session and time in the lower divisions, Brown was back in Reading, less than a season from the position change.
“That's kind of wild,” Nelson said. “Have a hitter in Double-A and literally the next year he's back with you again as a pitcher. To get transitioned that quickly is pretty incredible.”
While his batting average dipped his second year in Double-A, there was no sophomore slump for the new installation of Brown. He’s holding batters to a .214 average — lower than the clip that forced him out of the outfield — and he’s Reading’s go-to relief pitcher for two, sometimes three innings at a time.
Each season, Nelson tells each player, one-by-one, that he hopes to never see them again — that they’ll make it Triple-A and not have to return to the Fightin’ Phils. Nelson’s said that phrase to the young outfielder, then the slumping hitter and most recently the newly-named pitcher. But he doesn’t want to say it a fourth-straight year.
“I just wanna say, ‘Hey, enjoy Lehigh, enjoy the majors, you deserve it,’” Nelson said. “I hope I don't see him again.”