In each of the last two springs, Domonic Brown had a chance to win a starting job. He batted 16 times in 2011 before a freak fracture of a bone in his wrist handed Ben Francisco right field. Last spring, Brown batted all of 20 times while hamstrung by thumb, neck and knee ailments. John Mayberry Jr. started in left on opening day.
This is not revisionist history. Was Brown guaranteed anything by the Phillies? Absolutely not. Did he do enough to secure anything? Definitely not.
So, with a few weeks before camp opens, Brown stares down his third chance. The 25-year-old was anointed the Phillies' best prospect for three straight years by Baseball America. He has batted 492 times in parts of three major-league seasons with inconsistent results, at times displaying the tantalizing talent that seduced scouts. Mostly, he grades as incomplete because the sample size is much too small.
"I'm kind of interested to see how guys react to the opportunities they’ll have in spring training," Ruben Amaro Jr. said, "because they're going to have the chance to play."
Should Domonic Brown start in left field for the Phillies?
The Phillies GM was not talking specifically about Brown. But if the erstwhile top prospect cannot beat out Darin Ruf, John Mayberry Jr. and Laynce Nix for playing time this spring, it could finally signal the end of a complicated marriage.
Amaro created this drama by signing Delmon Young to a one-year, $750,000 deal and labeled him the everyday right fielder "in a perfect world." That was viewed as Brown's spot. It had not been guaranteed. Brown did not lose a job. And there was no reason to hand Brown a job given his checkered injury history.
This is merely another chapter in the curious journey of Brown from ultra-hyped prospect to major-league player.
When asked if there needed to be a platoon in left, Amaro said, "not necessarily." Consider the competition: Ruf is 26, has never played outfield for a full season and has 37 major-league plate appearances. Mayberry, 29, resembled more platoon player than regular during his first full season in 2012. Nix, 32 and the highest paid outfielder on the roster, is a bench player.
And, again, this all assumes Young can competently man a position he has not for six years; overcome microfracture surgery on his ankle; maintain acceptable conditioning, all while hitting for power in the middle of Charlie Manuel's lineup. There very well could be two corner spots to fill.
The Phillies will let spring training decide things. Two team officials admitted it would be ideal if Brown could finally seize his moment. That way, either Ruf or Mayberry could occasionally pop into the lineup maybe to spell Brown against a tough lefty or provide rest for Young.
Both Ruf and Brown have options remaining, so they could be sent to the minors. Mayberry does not.
"Domonic Brown and Darin Ruf will be battling out in left field," Amaro said, and later added Mayberry is "in the mix as well."
Whatever is said between now and April 1 has little bearing. It will be decided on the field, and the Phillies' request of Brown is reasonable. Show us.
He has amassed a total of 36 at-bats in 13 Grapefruit League games during the last two springs. There are fingers to point regarding the handling of Brown over the years, but the fact remains he is still 25. There is time. There is an opportunity.
It's not Delmon Young, Darin Ruf, John Mayberry Jr. or Laynce Nix who will prevent Domonic Brown from attaining a regular role.
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