Outfielder Domonic Brown-- the winning answer the Phils have been looking for?
By Mike Bruton
If you’ve holding your breath waiting for Phillies outfielder Domonic Brown to become the wunderkind everyone expected when the Phillies selected him four years ago, by all means take a much-needed, huge breath of fresh air.
Wunderkind may be a bit too strong for Brown’s current status as the 2013 season open, but the lanky talent is playing with purpose and consistency for the first time after two injury-riddled stretches in the big leagues the last two seasons.
A week before the season opener Brown is tied with Ryan Howard for the team’s lead in home runs with seven and in RBI with 16. He is hitting .354 and his fielding has been much better than in the past.
In fact, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel has all but said that Brown would be the starter in either left or right field on opening day (April 1 at Atlanta) with centerfield already staked out by Ben Revere.
To put it directly, Brown is finally looking like the player who was labeled as the Phillies top-ranked prospect from 2009-2011 by Baseball America.
“He’s doing what he has to do,” said Manuel, to reporters. “We all know what he is capable of. He has tremendous potential. He’s someone that could be a special player.”
Brown, 25, added some upper-body bulk to his 6-5 frame over the offseason and the muscle and some changes in his batting technique, he says, accounts for his consistency at the plate.
“I added about 10 pounds of muscle,” said Brown. “I feel good.
“I’ve cut down my swing. I’ve talked to Charlie a lot about hitting. I can’t think of anyone, who knows more about hitting than Charlie. He has helped me cut the long swing.”
Brown, aware that in the minds of the Phillies faithful he has not performed up to par, did not walk into spring training feeling a sense of great urgency.
Yes, there has been the occasional rebuke from the stands these last two seasons. Philadelphia fans are not known for weak vocal chords or patience.
Brown says he has chosen to approach the game on his terms not someone else’s.
“Make or break?” he said to The Associated Press. “I’m 25 years old. Maybe (it’s) make or break with the Phillies because I don’t know what 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.”
Revere was penciled in as starter at centerfield when spring training opened. Delmon Young was atop the depth chart at right field with left field wide open.
Young, however, is on the injured list with a painful right foot and is not expected to be ready for opening day. That left the corners of the outfield open and Brown has been playing like a man who sees an opportunity.
Slugger Darin Ruf was sent back to the minor leagues, which enhances Brown’s chances to be an everyday player on opening day.
“It really doesn’t matter where (I play),” said Brown. “I kind of like taking more balls off the bat in left. I played right and center all my life. The slices were different (in left field). Now it’s becoming natural.”
Brown, who passed up a football scholarship to the University of Miami, was taken by the Phillies in the 20th round of the 2006 amateur draft.
Clearly, the Phillies saw something in him. They kept the young outfielder while letting other prospects go in trades to get pitchers Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt and outfielder Hunter Pence.
Brown entered spring training in 2011 with the chance to win a starting job. At that point only Bryce Harper, Mike Trout and Jesus Montero were considered to be better prospects in the major leagues than Brown.
Brown broke his hand and struggled when he returned and the Phillies eventually picked up Pence to play right field.
He had a second shot at a starting spot when camp opened last spring but suffered thumb and knee injuries.
Brown’s career stats in the majors are tepid. He has hit just .236 with 12 home runs and 58 RBI in 147 games. Being an everyday player is Brown’s goal this time around just as it has been the two springs before this one.
This time, things are different.
“I don ‘t think I was stressing out,” said Brown of 2011 and 2012. “I prepared the right 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.”
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