READING - As he does before every at-bat, Domonic Brown kissed his hand and pointed to the sky before stepping into the batter's box in the first inning on Wednesday for the Reading Phillies.
In a motion that seemed just as loose and effortless as his gesture to the heavens, Brown sent the first pitch he saw from the visiting New Hampshire Fisher Cats pitcher, a 90 m.p.h. fastball, sailing over the left-centerfield wall.
It was the 6-foot-5, 205-pound rightfielder's sixth home run in his last 11 games.
These days, Brown has a lot to be thankful for.
As Brown tears up the minor leagues, the blue-chip prospects on both sides of the Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay deals are mostly struggling to gain traction with their new teams.
"I just feel very fortunate [to still be here]," said Brown, whom the Phillies refused to part with despite numerous inquiries. "I talk to Kyle Drabek and Michael Taylor a lot. They're my good friends and I've been with them ever since rookie ball. So it's been hard for them, but they're making the adjustments. I'm just glad I'm here."
Drabek, a righthanded pitcher, and Taylor, an outfielder, were both highly regarded Phils prospects who were traded to Toronto for Halladay. Taylor was subsequently dealt to Oakland.
For the first four innings of Wednesday's game, Brown watched his teammate, starting pitcher Phillipe Aumont, struggle on his way to an early exit. Aumont, a righthander, is the most highly publicized player the Phillies receved in exchange for Lee in the deal that sent the ace from Philadelphia to Seattle.
After getting off to a solid start this season, Aumont - he came to Philadelphia with centerfielder Tyson Gillies and pitcher J.C. Ramirez - entered that game after having allowed 10 earned runs in his previous two starts, which amounted to just five innings of work.
On Wednesday, Aumont lasted four innings, allowing four earned runs, all in the second inning.
"[He] got a little experience in double A last year but now he's still adjusting in a different level and a different role," Reading manager Steve Roadcap said of Aumont, who worked as a reliever last year. "He's working on some things; he's struggled. But today was an improvement. If you look beyond the numbers, he was much, much better."
Sitting in the opposing dugout on Wednesday was Drabek, now with the Blue Jays' New Hampshire double-A farm club. Drabek, once considered the future ace of the Phillies' rotation, was traded along with Taylor and catcher Travis d'Arnaud for Halladay in the offseason.
Drabek also got off to a slow start with his new team, but has bounced back of late and is carrying a 3.60 ERA with opponents hitting just .235 against him.
"You just have to be able to go out there and pitch in as many games as you can," Drabek said. "The more experience you get, the more comfortable you get. So definitely, where I am right now, I feel a lot more comfortable than I did at the beginning of the year."
The 21-year-old d'Arnaud is sporting a .328 batting average but is still catching in high single A.
Taylor is batting a meager .232 in triple A after batting a combined .320 with double-A Reading and triple-A Lehigh Valley last season.
Gillies, the outfield prospect the Phillies got as part of the Lee trade, can sympathize with Taylor.
The 21-year-old Gillies was placed on the seven-day disabled list Wednesday with a left hamstring strain.
It was an exclamation point on what has been a tough season for Gillies to this point.
Gillies started the season 4 for 36 and was batting .247 when he was placed on the disabled list.
More alarming is that the centerfielder has only one stolen base in two attempts. Last year, Gillies, known as a threat on the base paths, swiped 44 bags in 63 attempts in high single A for the Mariners.
"Everyone goes through some growing pains," said Roadcap, after explaining that Gillies' strained hamstring is a minor and recent issue that hasn't been bothering him all season. "He's a guy that knows one speed, and that's 100 percent at all times. And it's hard for him to back off. So we're going to make sure that he's fully recovered before he gets back."
So, as other promising players, who have either joined or left the Phillies' farm system, scramble to adjust to new coaches, new teammates, new roles, new stadiums and new levels of play for new organizations, Brown is happy to stay where he is until receiving the imminent call to triple A.
For right now, even when he strikes out - which he did Wednesday on a 17-pitch at-bat while fouling off 11 breaking balls - Brown still shows promise.
"They told me when I got in the dugout that it was 17 pitches," Brown said. "I'm just trying to keep it going."