Top prospect Domonic Brown one step away from Philly again

Posted: May 03, 2011

ALLENTOWN - The soon-to-be crowd at Coca Cola Park was still wrapping up the work day when the Lehigh Valley IronPigs took the field for batting practice yesterday afternoon. The gates were still closed, the afternoon sun still hanging in the sky, the centerfield scoreboard still dormant. But as Ryne Sandberg took his usual reading on the pregame temperature of his team, he noticed a little more energy, and as he watched Domonic Brown drive balls into the outfield, he understood why.

"What I noticed just in one batting practice is that he brought kind of a new life and some excitement to the team, which is going good," the Hall of Fame second baseman and IronPigs manager said. "We've got a good bunch of guys here. But I did notice some excitement amongst them. Just taking a round of BP. He's got a different look to his ball coming off the bat. We're definitely glad to have him."

The big unknown is how long they will keep him. Brown, the dynamic, 23-year-old outfielder who enters this season as one of the top prospects in the sport, had hoped to be playing regularly in Philadelphia by this point, but a broken hand early in spring training derailed any chance he had of earning a spot on the Phillies' roster. Seven weeks later, Brown is coming off a five-game rehab assignment at Class A Clearwater, where he went 7-for-19 with two home runs and a double. The Phillies, meanwhile, enter today with an impressive record (18-9, best in the NL) that belies the struggles they have endured on offense, where they rank sixth in runs (121), seventh in batting average (.256), 10th in OPS (.704) and eighth in home runs (23).

Charlie Manuel is looking forward to his lineup getting a boost later this month, when he hopes second baseman Chase Utley will return from the disabled list. But Utley probably isn't the cure-all, and if the Phillies continue to get spotty production behind Ryan Howard in the order, there could be an opening for a certain toolsy outfielder who hit 20 home runs with a .980 OPS in the minors last season.

"Of course I'm paying attention to what is going on up there," Brown said yesterday, when he rejoined the IronPigs after being activated from the disabled list. "Hopefully I can contribute to the team whenever. Right now, I'm thinking about Lehigh. That's where my mind is right now."

That's a long way from where his mind was 2 1/2 months ago, when he reported to Clearwater with a real opportunity to win playing time in the Phillies' lineup. But things did not go exactly as he had planned. First, he and the Phillies attempted to adjust the hand position he used while standing in the batter's box. Brown always had held his hands higher than convention suggests, but the Phillies felt they had crept even higher late last season, after a July promotion to the big leagues and a couple weeks of regular playing time dissolved into spot duty during the stretch run.

Brown never found a comfort zone with the change, going 0-for-15 with nine strikeouts to start the Grapefruit League season. He finally decided to abandon the alterations, and responded with his first hit of the spring. Problem is, he also suffered a broken hamate, a tiny bone in the hand that many younger players fracture during the act of swinging.

"My hands just started getting higher and higher as I went up in the big leagues, and I wasn't playing every day, so they were just getting higher and higher," Brown said. "We were really just trying to get them back down the normal way, and they just kept dropping and dropping. Now I'm back where I need to be. I feel strong, confident."

Brown underwent surgery in early March and spent the rest of spring training rehabbing the hand. By the time he was ready to play competitively, the Phillies were nearly a month into their season. And while veteran leftfielder Raul Ibanez has struggled mightily, carrying an 0-for-34 slump into tonight's game against the Nationals, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. emphasized earlier this week that he does not think Brown is ready to join the big-league roster.

"A lot of it depends on what is happening here, on what our needs are here, and how well he is playing," Amaro said. "I'm not going to bring up Domonic Brown just to bring up Domonic Brown. I'm going to bring up Domonic Brown when he is ready to play in the big leagues and be a contributor."

Last night, when the IronPigs lost, 6-4, to Buffalo in 10 innings, Brown was 1-for-5 with a run scored.

Brown insists he is not in a hurry to get back to the big club. He hit .210 with a .612 OPS and two home runs in 70 plate appearances with the Phillies last year, but he never really had an extended opportunity to play regularly.

"I don't want to make up for anything," he said. "I just want to take it one step at a time, and I wasn't doing that in spring training. I was trying to go for the home run every single at-bat, and that's not my game at all. I'm a patient hitter. Get my walks, a couple strikeouts, but I'm very patient at the plate. I wasn't doing that."

For more Phillies coverage and opinion, read David Murphy's blog, High Cheese, at www.philly.com/HighCheese.

Follow him on Twitter at

http://twitter.com/HighCheese.

|
|
|
|
|