Ryan Howard greets Domonic Brown after he homers in the fourth inning of the Phillies' 13-4 victory against the Orioles in Sarasota.
But the years would go on, and Brown's huge potential just wasn't being realized. He was called up in 2010 after Shane Victorino was placed on the disabled list, and remained with the team afterwards as a left-handed batter on the bench.
Ruben Amaro admitted several years later that his staying on the bench that season stunted his development. The next year Brown was favored to win the starting slot vacated by the departing Jayson Werth, but broke his hand in spring training and started the year on the disabled list. When he came back, he wasn't able to impress, compelling Amaro to deal a few prospects and start the brief but much-loved Hunter Pence era.
After Pence was traded in last season's house cleaning, Brown was called up and, with the team not expecting to contend, given a fairly regular place in the lineup. He didn't put up numbers, but something about the way he played had caught my eye. He just seemed to look more like a major leaguer than he had in the previous two seasons.
Still, this spring was going to be huge for Brown. With the corner outfield spots wide open and presumptive starter Delmon Young out for at least the first two weeks of the season, 2013 seemed to be the last chance for Dom Brown to show the Phillies that he was the player topping so many lists of prospects three years ago.
The results have been delighting fans who once despaired. Brown is hitting .389 through Saturday's 13-4 victory against Baltimore at Sarasota, along with seven homers—tied for the MLB spring lead—and 16 RBI. The transformation in his look that started last year has been completed, and now it just looks like he belongs.
Some Phillies fans are, understandably, a bit skeptical. Brown has had great springs before and then failed to carry it over into the regular season. But this year, I think things will be different.
My reasons for this belief are based on two things that I've seen about his mechanics that are markedly different than in years past. First off, his hands are lower and closer to his body this year. This fixes one of the long-time flaws in his hitting: The length of his swing.
Brown's swing in seasons past has been extraordinarily long, which gave him little margin for error when he committed to a pitch. He had little ability to adjust mid-swing, leaving him flailing at breaking pitches, while the swing's length also saw him unable to catch up to good fastballs.
In attendance at Saturday's game at Orioles camp, I noticed just how different Brown's swing was this year in the third inning. With runners on the corners and two outs, Brown was facing Wei-Yin Chen. Chen threw Brown a good breaking ball, and as Brown loaded up it looked like he was going to be way out in front of the pitch and miss it completely. Instead, he adjusted mid-swing and shot a grounder up the middle, bringing Jimmy Rollins in to score.
His second big contribution Saturday showed the other big change in his mechanics. This is partially a product of his hands not having to move as much, but Brown's lower body is now far more anchored when he is batting. Gone is the sway and movement that accompanied Brown's swing in previous years. This has helped with getting his bat through the hitting zone quicker and has given him a more stable base with which to drive the ball.
And drive the ball he did in the fourth. With Ryan Howard and Michael Young on base, Brown took a pitch from reliever Jim Johnson deep into left-center field. There was absolutely no doubt that he had hit his seventh homer of the spring.
I think that Dom Brown has finally taken the steps necessary to break out. Milt Thompson and Greg Gross have for the last three seasons tried to get the mechanical adjustments Brown needed to become the player he could be to take, but neither were able to do so. Steve Henderson and Wally Joyner seem to have finally gotten him to take those tweaks to heart, and he looks primed for a breakout year right at the time that the Phillies, strapped for youth and offense, need him to. There is obviously a season to play, but it looks like 2013 will finally be Brown's year to shine.