Brown focused on improving, sharpening defense
Outfielder aims to enhance defensive play, build upon 2013's offensive success
SARASOTA, Fla. -- It was just a series of routine Spring Training outfield drills for the Phillies and, truth be told, it didn't go very well for Domonic Brown. But it's what happened next that first-base coach Juan Samuel, who is in charge of the outfielders, remembers most.
"He asked me to come out early for extra work the next day," Samuel said. "To me, that's a good sign."
It's an especially good sign because Brown is coming off the best year of his career. He led the Phillies in home runs (27) and RBIs (83) and made his first All-Star team. This is the first spring he's come to camp being counted on as an everyday player. So, yeah, the fact that Brown isn't letting complacency set in is a welcome sight.
Then again, this is also an important year for Brown on a personal level. He's no longer the wide-eyed kid who was the Phillies' No. 1 prospect. It's hard to believe, but he's 26 years old now and will turn 27 before the end of this season. He's making $550,000, just slightly above the Major League minimum, but that's about to change. Next season, he'll qualify for arbitration for the first time. It's the point of a player's career where many teams make a decision consider whether to lock them up with a long-term deal that will make them financially set for life.
Of course, much of that will ultimately depend on how well Brown plays. And he realizes that he still has things to prove.
One factor that may have helped keep him from getting full of himself was that, despite his success, his name was mentioned in a flurry of trade rumors over the winter. There were reports that the Phillies were "actively shopping" him, that they were holding out for two or three players in return, or that they needed to get pitching back. There was even one that he could be dealt for Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista, which was kind of funny since Brown and Bautista used to hit together regularly at a batting cage in Tampa.
"We were having fun with it. But you never know, man. This has happened to me since 2009, when I was in high A ball. So I don't even look at it," he said.
Brown grabbed the attention of the baseball world for a five-week stretch beginning on May 1, when he was one of the hottest hitters in the game. In 33 games through June 5, he batted .318 with 15 homers and 33 RBIs. Nobody can keep up that pace. Brown didn't. In his final 80 games, he batted .263 with nine homers and 39 RBIs. But that led to the impression that he struggled in the second half. The suggestion rankles.
"I really don't think I struggled. If you look at it average-wise, I still was in the same area. Maybe from a power numbers standpoint, but that's going to happen. There are going to be times when you're going to hit more homers than others. A lot of people say I struggled. I don't really see it," he said.
He also suffered a concussion and sat out time with a sore Achilles after the break, which has been a career-long problem. Over the years he's been bothered by a sprained right knee (2012), a hamate fracture and sprained thumb ('11), a tender quad ('10) and a fractured finger ('09).
"I play hard. That's really the only thing I can say," he said. "If there's a ball I've got to lay out for, I'm going to lay out for it. If it's a play at the plate, I'm going to do what I've got to do to win a baseball game. I think that's really what it boils down to. If I slow up or not dive on a diving play I'd probably play the whole season. But that's just the kind of player I am. That's how I was raised to play baseball and I have fun doing it. That helps me sleep at night."
No matter how much he did last year, Brown understands as well as anybody that this is no time to rest on what he's accomplished. He went 0-for-2 with a walk and scored a run in Friday's 15-4 Grapefruit League loss to the Orioles at Ed Smith Stadium, dropping his spring average to .105. Asked what part of his game he most wants to improve in, he had a quick response: Defense.
"For me, he's come a long way this spring," Samuel said. "I know he still thinks he can get better and we think he can get better. I just think at times he feels so comfortable that he relaxes a little bit and that's when those ground balls get you.
"I'm trying to get him to really think about becoming a complete player. When they talk about Domonic Brown, talk about a guy who does things right. Charges balls, doesn't try to do too much after the catch, concentrates. Game management. Because I think last year we saw him throw the ball to bases where we had no play."
So he will keep working, keep trying to become the best player he can be. If he can be consistently productive, stay healthy for the entire season and improve his defense, that will be a really good thing for the Phillies. And it could be an even better thing for Domonic Brown.
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.