Heading into spring training, there were two worst-case scenarios:
Scenario 1: Brown turns into the Grapefruit League's Carl Yastrzemski and makes a serious case for Opening Day roster consideration.
Secnario 2: The opposite of Scenario 1.
Either situation would have left the Phillies with serious questions about how to handle the psyche of a young athlete. In Scenario 1, they would have been forced to send him back to the minor leagues without much of a case for why he belongs there. Why would they be forced to send him there? Because they already had spelled out that plan. Because John Mayberry Jr. is out of options. Because Laynce Nix is signed to guaranteed money. Because they aren't going to put their best hope for the future in a situation where he is sharing time in leftfield. Brown said he was coming to spring training to win a job, and it would have been tough to convince him that he'd lost if he were hitting .400 with 10 home runs at the end of March.
In Scenario 2, the Phillies would have been confronted with an enormously gifted kid who still seemed mired in the funk that began last July when they sent him back to Triple A.
That brings us to the actual scenario, which at the moment is best summarized by the events that played out in the Phillies' 6-5 loss to the Astros at Osceola County Stadium yesterday afternoon.
In the eighth inning, Carlos Lee smoked a line drive to leftfield, where Brown had trouble reading the ball off the bat and wound up settling for an awkward, over-the-head attempt that resulted in a double, putting the tying run aboard. This followed a seventh inning in which he was charged with an error for a cutoff throw that eluded Kevin Frandsen and allowed a runner to advance.
Although Frandsen may have been partly to blame for the errant cutoff, the Lee double was a wince-worthy moment for anybody with an ounce of empathy.
"He hit a tough ball, that's a tough break, but I gotta catch that ball," Brown said.
There wasn't much else to add. Sure, Lee hit a screamer. But we have seen Pat Burrell and Raul Ibanez make tougher catches over the last 5 years. The fans knew it. Brown knew it. And Charlie Manuel knew it.
"He has to get better," the manager said. "He will get better."
But if all of this sounds like a death sentence, well, don't stop reading yet. Because with one swing of the bat, Brown reminded us all why we've been hearing his name for so long. It was the 10th inning of a tie game with nobody out and nobody on. He got a fastball, middle in, and he parked it well over the rightfield fence for a solo home run that (briefly) gave the Phillies the lead.
"He's going to be a good hitter," Manuel said.
And when you think about it, isn't that what the Phillies would like for Brown to take away from this spring training? That he is still a good hitter, that his ceiling is still enormously high, that he is still a big part of the organization's plans? But also, that he still needs to polish his game, that leftfield will take some time to learn, that a World Series team can't develop a habit of giving away runs?
Once Brown gets over the initial disappointment of his demotion, you have to think he will understand all of the above. Anybody who thinks anything less of his offensive potential hasn't been paying attention. Of the 20 players in camp who have seen at least four at-bats this spring, he is the only one who has yet to strike out. In 16 at-bats, he has two triples, one home run, one walk, two RBI and three runs scored. But in 32 1/3 innings in the field, he has committed a couple of errors to go with a few shaky routes that he has taken in pursuit of batted balls.
"I know I'm going to get better the more I play out there," he said.
He's right. He will get better. And Triple A is the place to do it. Because the next time he is promoted to the majors, the Phillies don't want to have an excuse for not keeping him there.
Contact David Murphy at firstname.lastname@example.org;
follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HighCheese. Read his blog, High Cheese, at www.philly.com/HighCheese.