COMMENTARY| Two years ago, watching Philadelphia Phillies' outfielder Domonic Brown prepare for the delivery of a pitch was eye-curdling. He was a bundle of nervous energy, standing long and tall and lanky with an awkward sway like a poorly constructed building ready to fall over in a stiff breeze. His hands were high, his left elbow (Brown is a lefty) pointed back behind him at a 90-degree angle from the bat, which swirled uneasily in what looked like nervous hands.
Add 20 pounds of man weight and Brown suddenly looks like that stiff breeze wouldn't phase him. Add Wally Joyner and Steve Henderson, perhaps not more seasoned and knowledgeable hitting coaches than the departed Greg Gross or Milt Thompson, but sometimes a new voice and a new view of approach can do wonders for a player wandering through the netherworld of professional ballplayers trying to find themselves.
Over the past two seasons, we've heard a lot about Dom Brown's hands, how they're too active, how manager Charlie Manuel and Gross and current third base coach and former Triple A manager Ryne Sandberg worked with Brown on quieting his swing. None of it seemed to take, but now, it seems as if Brown has bought the whole package of advice and has started to apply it to his game. So far, the results may save his career in Philadelphia.
The more a hitter's hands are active upon pitch delivery, the more the rest of that hitter's body is going to have to work to have the bat head in the hitting zone at the right time. The higher your hands are, the further the bat has to go to reach that hitting zone. Most modern teachings will tell you your hands should be in the vicinity of your ear while in your stance with your weight evenly distributed so when the pitcher breaks from his motion and you begin to load your swing you need only to bring those hands back with your shift of weight to the back leg, allowing them to be in the ideal position to begin your swing plane and drop the bat head through the zone while keeping your hands inside the ball.
Maybe that sounds too technical. You wonder, as I have, how Brown could have blossomed into such a prospect with mechanics that are less than sound. Well, Brown is an athlete, but at some point, in any sport, athleticism ceases to circumvent precision, craft and professionalism. Brown has learned this lesson at the highest levels of pro ball. Perfecting the craft of hitting will be the way Brown succeeds if he is to succeed at all. He can no longer rely on his 6'5", 200-plus pound athletic frame to carry him up the ladder to making good on the promise that once had him the top prospect in the Phillies' organization. When he perfects that craft, that athletic frame will only make him all the more impressive.
It seems this offseason saw a dedication to conditioning in Brown's new look. It seems the simple action of lowering his hands to the proper trigger point and keeping those hands quiet has allowed Brown to unleash some of that forgotten, or diminished, promise.
Brown is absolutely tearing the cover off the ball in the Grapefruit League this spring training. I know what all cognizant Phillies' fans are thinking. "Yeah, great, I once hit a bomb in Little League." Brown had a solid spring in 2012 as well, hitting .300 in 20 ABs. This season's sample size is more poignant. Brown is hitting a lofty .395 in his spring training-leading 63 ABs. He also leads all of spring training in hits with 25 and is tied for the lead in home runs with 6.
Spring training numbers are nice. They create hope. While they mean nothing in the grand scheme for guys like Chase Utley or Michael Young, getting their reps and working toward Opening Day while, Lord willing, remaining healthy, they mean a lot for Brown.
First, they mean a roster spot, and Brown has undoubtedly earned one and more. And let's face it, this was his last shot. Another failure to show signs that he could become an inkling of the prospect that he once was could have spelled Brown's ticket out of town, or worse still, passage on that fated cruise to baseball obscurity and oblivion. Still, he has to continue his progression when it counts, and that progression will include staying healthy. The hope is that his bolstered frame will aid in that.
I've always been of the opinion that Brown should have been given the chance to play everyday and get 400 ABs in a season. I also understand that his small sample size at the major-league level didn't bear the fruit the organization was looking for and with a top five payroll and the window to a championship being propped up by a lauded starting rotation, the Phillies felt they couldn't wait for Brown to become the player they expected him to be while with the big club. So, he often found his way back to Triple A.
Imagine if Brown can be just two-thirds the player we've seen this spring. Imagine if he now understands that perfecting the craft of playing the game and not relying on some innate ability is what makes great players great. Imagine a player on this roster of bloated salaries earning just $414,000 and making a significant impact. Imagine the fact that he's not eligible for free agency until 2017. Imagine that young star we've desperately needed from inside the organization already being here.
Quietly, it looks like Brown is beginning to get it. Could there be irony in the fact it may have only taken quiet hands for him to start making big-league noise?
Pete Lieber is a freelance writer who has been covering the Phillies for more than three years and following the team since before John Wockenfuss' approach made Dom Brown's old one look like Ted Williams. Follow him on Twitter at @Lieber14.
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