Baseball's cruel reality

CHARLES FOX / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Chase Utley ties last night's game with fifth-inning single.
CHARLES FOX / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Chase Utley ties last night's game with fifth-inning single.
Posted: June 27, 2014

AT THIS time last year, they represented two of the biggest hopes for an expedited rebuilding process.

On June 27, Jesse Biddle had a 3.21 ERA with 91 strikeouts and 43 walks in 81 1/3 innings at Double A Reading. "Bring him up!," cried a fan base that had watched Roy Halladay hit the disabled list as the Phillies languished near the bottom of the NL East.

On June 27, Domonic Brown hit his 21st home run and tallied his 55th RBI. He was on pace for 44 of the former and 113 of the latter. He was hitting .276 with a .323 on-base percentage and .552 slugging percentage.

One of them was 21 years old, the other 25. One of them was a reason to believe in the future of the rotation, the other to believe in the future of the lineup. Yesterday, the Phillies gave both of them a timeout.

Where they go from here is anybody's guess. Developing prospects can be a lot like maintaining a romantic relationship. No matter how much work and love you invest, sometimes it just goes up in flames. And then sometimes these moments are potholes instead of roadblocks, and you look back years later and laugh that there was ever any doubt. The difficulty lies in separating one from the other. If it was easy, baseball history would look a lot different. For starters, the guy sitting in the dugout yesterday talking about this stuff wouldn't be a doing so as a legendary former Chicago Cub.

"It's up to the player to make the adjustment," said Ryne Sandberg, whom the Phillies deemed expendable in 1982, partly because scouts doubted whether he'd ever hit for power, partly because he played the same position as a guy named Mike Schmidt. "The players that make the adjustment and try something different, and apply it in the game and get over the hump, go the other way, if a guy can't make an adjustment and stays the same, then chances are things are going to stay the same."

Sandberg was talking specifically about Brown, but on a day when the Phillies placed Biddle on the temporary inactive list for what general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. termed a "mental break," the words seemed to apply to both.

Both are coming off perhaps the worst nights of their careers. On Wednesday night, Brown's fielding miscue in leftfield led to all three of the Marlins' runs in a 3-2 Phillies loss. His .593 OPS ranked 77th out of 82 qualifying hitters in the National League.

Two days earlier, Biddle had allowed 10 runs in three innings of a loss to the Mets' Double A affiliate. He walked three while striking out two, putting his totals in those departments over his previous 10 starts at 33 and 38. His ERA ballooned to 5.03.

"I'm miserable out there," Biddle told the Reading Eagle yesterday. "I'm very unhappy. And I don't know why . . . Nothing feels fluid on the mound, nothing feels natural."

On Wednesday night, Brown sounded a similar refrain.

"It's just been a frustrating year for myself," he told reporters after the loss to the Marlins. "I mean, we still have 3 months to go, but damn . . . I've got to pick it up for sure."

Four hours before game time yesterday, Sandberg leaned against the batting cage behind home plate and watched as Brown whipped his bat into motion. There were three other people in the vicinity - Tony Gwynn Jr., Carlos Ruiz and hitting coach Steve Henderson. Otherwise, Citizens Bank Park was empty. After Brown finished his round at the plate, he joined Sandberg at the side of the cage, and the two men spoke for a few minutes.

Baseball is a baffling game, and you don't need to look very hard for top prospects who succumbed to it. The year that Baseball America rated Brown as the fourth-best prospect in the game, the player three slots behind him was Mike Moustakas. He entered yesterday hitting .182/.248/.364 for the Royals. The guy who ranked eighth that year also plays for the Royals. Eric Hosmer's OPS in 2011 and 2013: .799 and .801. His OPS in 2012 and 2014: .663 and .645. Colby Rasmus hit .263/.334/.452 with 39 home runs in his first two seasons in the majors. He hit .224/.293/.396 with 37 home runs in his next two. And now he has hit .264/.321/.495 with 32 home runs in his last two. Carlos Gomez was a well-below-league-average hitter in his first 539 games. Over the last three seasons, he has developed into a superstar.

Starlin Castro, Dee Brown, the list goes on. Good luck explaining why anything happens in the game of baseball. The only thing we can say about days like yesterday is that it reminds us that the future can be a scary place. Evolve or perish. That is the challenge for Brown and Biddle. And, perhaps, for the organization as a whole.

On Twitter: @ByDavidMurphy


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