Brown looking for extended playing time

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Three years ago, Domonic Brown was considered a rising star in an organization that was on top.

On the eve of the Phillies’ first full-squad workout in this year’s spring training, the outfielder and the team are something else entirely.

Exactly what Brown is at the start of the 2013 season will be defined by what he makes of his latest opportunity to become an everyday player in the big leagues.

His confidence remains high despite a three-year journey marked by injuries, demotions and disappointment.

“If I get 400 to 500 at-bats, I think I can show what I’m really capable of doing,” Brown said Thursday morning. “I’ve been waiting for that for a long time. When I get that opportunity … like I did at the second half of last year, see what I’m capable of in 400 or 500 at-bats.”

It’s a legitimate point. The 187 at-bats Brown got last season after right fielder Hunter Pence was traded to the San Francisco Giants were the most in his big-league career, so his opportunity to shine over a long period of time has never materialized.

Part of the reason for that limited playing time has been his health. The other reason has been his ineffectiveness in his short stints in the big leagues.

After getting his first taste of the big leagues in 2010, he had a legitimate chance to make the roster out of spring training in 2011.

Some concerns grew when he followed up a 2-for-29 winter ball stint in the Dominican Republic by going hitless in his first 15 at-bats of spring training. When he finally got a hit, he also fractured the hamate bone in his right hand, assuring that he would not be on the opening-day roster.

With John Mayberry Jr. and Ben Francisco sputtering in right field, Brown received his first extended playing time in the big leagues shortly after he recovered from the hamate injury. He hit .246 with 10 doubles, five home runs and 19 RBIs in 54 games before the Phillies decided they had to replace him in right field with Pence, who was acquired from Houston.

Given less of a chance to win a job in spring training last year, Brown ended up having no chance when thumb, neck and hamstring injuries limited him to seven games.

When the Phillies decided Pence was not the future they wanted in right field, Brown got another opportunity to become the starting right fielder, but he hit .235 with five home runs and 26 RBIs in 56 games. He also looked shaky at times in right field and admitted to knee soreness.

“That's been the biggest thing,” Brown said. “That’s really what I want to focus on this year, just staying healthy. The last three years I’ve fought a couple injury bugs. I think that’s been the setback.”

Good health would go a long way to helping Brown’s chances of becoming the big-league fixture everyone thought he would be three years ago. Better defense and some big hits would help, too.

Manager Charlie Manuel said he’s concerned about his corner defense. He wasn’t singling out Brown, but he is among the concerns regardless of whether he plays left field or right field. At this point, it appears as if he is fighting with rookie Darin Ruf for the majority of playing time in left field.

“I’ve been through a lot, but still at the end of the day there are much more positive things than negative,” Brown said. “It all balances out and I throw those little negative things in the garbage because I know the positive stuff is a lot. I’ve been through a lot, but I’ve had a lot of great moments.”

You can read more about Brown in Friday's Inquirer.