Posted by Kevin Durso
A lazy fly ball went to left field to lead off the bottom of the seventh inning of the Phillies game against the Yankees on Sunday afternoon. Without problem, Domonic Brown settled under it and let the ball fall into his glove. In a matter of miliseconds, the ball was on the ground…and ruled live.
It was ruled a fielding error for Brown, who failed to secure the fly ball out with both hands.
The Yankees were leading 4-3 at the time. That error kicked off a three-run frame for the Bronx Bombers, who went on to win the game, 7-4.
Fast forward to yesterday. Brown is again patrolling left field when a low liner is hit to left off the bat of Brett Gardner. He and Tyson Gillies are chasing after it. Brown doesn't appear to have a good read on the ball from the start, and dives desperately as the ball bounces by him. Gardner races around to third and scores during the same play on an error. No error was charged to Brown during that time, but it is those kinds of mistakes that will cost Brown this Spring.
This is Brown's third straight spring in Clearwater with the Phillies. The first came in 2010, when he was a hotshot big-name prospect. Everyone wanted him – no one could have him. In the two seasons since, Brown has been trying to find a way past the minor leagues and into a regular position in the majors, not one that makes you ride the pine.
That's what makes this spring so important for Brown, and it has nothing to do with the numbers. He is 2-for-8 at the plate in three games so far, with a triple, but what is important for Brown is showing his game has evolved so he can play at the top level.
Brown has made solid contact several times in Spring Training without the results. That's progress. Brown has showed he can still run with the best of them. That's progress. But Brown hasn't left that same progress in fielding. His error on Sunday and mental error yesterday have shown no progress from a year ago, something that will send him right back to the minors.
Why? With guys like John Mayberry Jr., Laynce Nix and Ty Wigginton able to play in left field, Brown clearly needs to stand out.
Was Ruben Amaro Jr. trying to send a message by signing Nix and Wigginton this offseason? Both can play left field but also can handle other positions. Still, are the Phillies finally starting to set a deadline for Brown's evolution?
So, for Brown, Spring Training in 2012 is all or nothing. If he makes the team, he'll get starts, and a chance to prove that he belongs with the Phillies. If he doesn't, could he be out the door by August?
There is always a way this could backfire. Brown could be the valuable piece to land another big name or other prospects at the deadline if the Phillies do move on. But if you look at an outfielder on a division rival, you may realize why the Phillies should be caution.
Michael Bourn barely got a chance to show who he was with the Phillies, and when they gave up on him, he was traded to the Houston Astros as part of the deal that brought Brad Lidge to the Phillies. That paid off in the short term, but now Bourn has since been traded to the Atlanta Braves and has become an All-Star outfielder. What the Phillies didn't see in Bourn, he showed them through other teams that allowed him to grow into the role.
How did Bourn get to that level? Well, it certainly didn't happen overnight. Bourn went to a mediocre team that needed a centerfielder. So, he played…a lot.
All Brown needs is to get some experience in the outfield, particularly left field – where he would most likely be playing. In resting starters, Charlie Manuel has opened up an opportunity for Brown to play – all game, every game – this spring. The more work Brown gets, the better chance he remains a Phillie for longer.
So Brown has earned himself a chance, but the warning is that it may be his last. If Brown treats it that way, there is no reason why we shouldn't see him around quite a bit this summer.