They are relevant questions because they could be questions still. The regular season is a different beast from the Grapefruit League. The pitchers are sharper, the rotations set, the bullpens lined up like revolutionary cannons.
"There's two bells, one is spring training, the other is the season," manager Charlie Manuel said Thursday as the Phillies prepared to leave Clearwater for a 3-day stop in Philadelphia before heading south to Atlanta for Monday's season opener. "When that bell opens up to open the season, we start over and it starts counting and everything goes back to zero. That's when it starts counting. That's when we'll see what we've got."
For now, what the Phillies have is a wild card. It's a tantalizing one, a former blue-chip prospect rated by Baseball America as the No. 4 minor leaguer in the game, a player who was heralded to have 20-plus home run power and the ability to hit for contact. In short, Domonic Brown's upside is the kind of player who can be a difference maker in a pennant race.
His upside is also the kind of player who can accelerate a rebuilding process like the one the Phillies will likely face after this season, when players like Chase Utley, Roy Halladay, Carlos Ruiz, and Michael Young are all scheduled to become free agents. Most scouting publications have the Phillies' minor league system ranked in the bottom third in overall talent. The talent that they do have is concentrated in pitching, where lefthanders Jesse Biddle and Adam Morgan both project as future big-league starters. Earlier this spring, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. shrugged off rankings by outlets like ESPN and Baseball America, labeling them "crap."
Brown could go a long way to vindicating the GM.
"I think if you look at the way he's hit during spring training and everything, he can definitely be a big impact," Manuel said. "At the same time, too, he's going to be good especially if our other guys are good. That's what a balanced lineup is all about. They each other, they make it work."
When the Phillies arrived in Clearwater, it was difficult to tell exactly how the organization viewed Brown. Over the previous three seasons, he had logged 492 plate appearances in the majors, hitting .236 with a .315 on-base percentage and .388 slugging percentage with 12 home runs. Yet he had never appeared in more than 56 games in a season, had never made an Opening Day roster, and was never named an everyday player.
"That's part of the game," Brown said earlier this spring, "but I think once I get that shot, get the opportunity and get cut loose . . . we'll see what I'm made of. You have to go out and perform, and if you don't, then usually they get rid of you. I'm not even going to lie to you. I thought I'd have been gone a long time ago, not because of my performance, but because of the guys they could have gotten for me."
The Phillies have been patient with Brown - some might argue too patient. But after 7 weeks in Clearwater, the team does not have any other option except to play the 25-year-old corner outfielder on a regular basis.
"I think right now he's earned the right," Manuel said. "He's earned the right to stay in there and hit off lefties because the way he's hitting them here. He's earned that right."
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