Domonic Brown appears primed for breakout year
CLEARWATER, Fla. (AP)
Domonic Brown turned on an inside fastball and sent a towering drive way out to right field. A few innings later, he made a diving catch on a sinking liner to left.
The talented outfielder is finally showing the potential that once made him an untouchable prospect on the Philadelphia Phillies.
Just don't tell him it's a make-or-break year.
''Make or break? I'm 25 years old,'' Brown said. ''Maybe make or break with the Phillies because I don't know what they're thinking. But I don't worry about that. I just go out, have fun and play my game, play hard and that's it. And if I do go somewhere else, there's 29 other teams. I'm a baseball guy, period. I think of the whole, but it's been great here. I don't see myself going anywhere. That's the business part of things, though.''
It's odd that Brown would even mention getting traded because he seems to be settling in nicely with the Phillies, who need him more than ever this season. They've been waiting a couple of years to see Brown put it all together and prove he belongs in the big leagues.
So far, he's done that this spring. Brown is hitting .375 (21 for 56) with four homers and nine RBIs.
''We had to talk pretty straight with him and he's growing up, he's getting matured, he's working to get better and he realizes what it means to work and improve on things he has to do,'' manager Charlie Manuel said.
The Phillies entered spring training with only center fielder Ben Revere set in the outfield. Delmon Young was signed to be the starting right fielder, but he'll open the season on the disabled list, so the corner spots were up for grabs.
Brown seized the opportunity. Barring injury, he should be starting in the outfield on opening day. Depending on whether Darin Ruf makes the team, Brown will either be in left or right.
''It really doesn't matter where,'' he said. ''I've been in left long enough now to be comfortable. I kind of like taking more balls off the bat in left. I played right and center all my life. The slices were different. Now it's becoming natural.''
The tall, slender Brown, a left-handed hitter and fielder, was selected by the Phillies in the 20th round of the 2006 amateur draft. By 2009, he showed five-tool ability. That's why Brown stuck around when the Phillies unloaded prospects in trades to acquire Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Hunter Pence. Brown was the one guy they wouldn't let get away.
Brown hit .299 with 14 homers and 64 RBIs while stealing 23 bases at Class-A Clearwater and Double-A Reading in 2009. He batted .318 with 15 homers and 47 RBIs in only 65 games at Reading in 2010, continued his torrid hitting at Triple-A and then got called up to the Phillies later that season.
Brown didn't impress in his brief stint, but entered spring training in 2011 with a chance to win a starting job. He was considered the game's fourth-best prospect by Baseball America behind Bryce Harper, Mike Trout and Jesus Montero. But Brown broke his hand and started the year on the disabled list. He struggled when he returned and the Phillies eventually acquired Pence to play right field.
Brown came to camp with an opportunity to win the starting job in left field last year, but was hampered by thumb and knee injuries. He didn't play his first game with the Phillies until July 31, and again struggled. He had a tough time defensively, too.
Brown's career numbers in the majors are poor: a .236 average, 12 homers and 58 RBIs in 147 games. All he wants is an opportunity to play every day, which he is getting this spring.
''I think it was a new challenge,'' Brown said of his up-and-down seasons. ''I had a couple injuries. I don't think I was stressing out. I prepared the right way and it just didn't work out. Now I'm just playing and having fun and not worrying about the numbers, and maybe that's why I'm getting good numbers, because I'm not worried about them.''
Manuel has noticed Brown spending more time around hitting coaches Steve Henderson and Wally Joyner. He's more attentive and open to advice nowadays. Manuel has wanted to see Brown hold his hands lower. He's doing it now and having success.
''He likes being around our hitting coaches now and he listens to them,'' Manuel said. ''He's lowered his hands instead of being way up (near his ears). He has better balance, he keeps the ball out in front. I've been really impressed by some of the balls he's hit. He's got big-time power. If he keeps hitting like that, he's got a chance to be good.''
NOTES: The Phillies optioned RHP Justin De Fratus and LHP Jake Diekman to Triple-A Lehigh Valley and reassigned LHP Cesar Jimenez and INF Josh Fields to minor league camp, leaving their roster at 36 players. ... SS Jimmy Rollins will return to the Phillies and play in a minor league game Monday after playing for Team USA in the WBC. ... The Phillies traded minor league pitcher Michael Cisco to the Los Angeles Angels for no compensation. Cisco is the grandson of former Phillies pitching coach Galen Cisco.