No time to relax for Phils' Brown

Domonic Brown knows he needs to improve his defense.
Domonic Brown knows he needs to improve his defense. (DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer)
Posted: February 20, 2014

CLEARWATER, Fla. - There is job security in 27 home runs, a luxury Domonic Brown is only beginning to understand. This spring's Grapefruit League games are not an audition, rather an opportunity for Brown to stress the details. The all-star outfielder can relax.

Or not.

"I still have my same mind-set, man," Brown said. "I don't know if that will really change. I'm busting my butt every day just to improve. I was telling a lot of the guys, 'I want to be the best defensive outfielder in the game.' That's one of my big goals. I'm working hard to do that."

Brown is 26, the anomaly on a team that prompts old jokes. He started 131 games last season - second behind Jimmy Rollins' 151 starts - and questions about his durability persisted because of a forgettable second half that included a concussion and Achilles tendinitis.

He will fight the perception his breakout season was contained in two months, despite the 27 home runs.

"I'm not satisfied with that second half," Brown said. "I really wasn't satisfied with the power numbers and defense. It was a little tough for me."

Defense is where Brown's game is most lacking. A better handling of a fly ball last July 23 in St. Louis could have prevented the concussion and subsequent 11-game absence as the Phillies' season spiraled into irrelevancy.

Brown possesses the tools. His arm grades above average. His route running does not.

"You look in small areas," Brown said. "It could be coming in on balls or playing in more shallow, especially at Citizens Bank Park. I know now I can play in a little bit shallow, and if it's over my head it's off the wall anyway. I'm more comfortable now, so I can do those things. If you play further back, the ball will get in the lights. It's easier. These are things Jayson Werth told me when I was first called up, and I just wasn't comfortable enough to do those things."

The Fielding Bible rated Brown's defense in left field as one of the worst in the National League; Matt Holliday, Xavier Paul, Lucas Duda, Justin Upton, and Evan Gattis were worse. The Phillies have long harbored apprehensions about Brown's fielding. His offensive production in 2013 eased concern about those deficiencies.

Manager Ryne Sandberg emphasized outfield defense as a necessary improvement. The addition of Marlon Byrd helps in one corner. Byrd ranked as the NL's sixth-best outfielder, according to the Fielding Bible's defensive-runs-saved metric.

Sandberg sees a malleable talent in Brown.

"I consider him still a young player, and a guy that needs to work on all parts of his game," Sandberg said. "The defense, continuing to throw well, reads off the ball, game situation reads, at-bats, situational hitting, baserunning. I think he's a guy who could possibly get 15-18 stolen bases, 20 maybe in a healthy year. All parts of the game."

They will accept a similar barrage of homers. Brown was the third Phillies player since Mike Schmidt to hit 25 or more homers in a season before turning 25. (Scott Rolen and Pat Burrell were the others.) Brown wants more plate appearances with better counts. His .324 on-base percentage left room for growth.

"I had fun, man," Brown said. "I had fun every single day. Ups and downs, that didn't matter. Playing the game is incredible. There is nothing better."

Brown looked up at the clock. "I have a meeting," he said. He followed Chase Utley to the conference room adjacent to the manager's office. He has ideas how to better spend his mornings before the scheduled practices.

"Tomorrow," Brown said, "I'll start early work in the outfield."


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