CLEARWATER , Fla. - When I'm King of the World - Spring Training Edition . . .
There will be a motto displayed on the locker of every Baseball America Top 100 Prospect that reads: "Remember Clint Hartung, Dino Restelli, Ted Kazanski, David Clyde, Mike Anderson, Todd Van Poppel, Joe Savery . . . Oh, you could add scores more whose names you won't remember, baseball highflyers who crashed and burned before they even got off the runway.
Mike Anderson was considered a better prospect than either Greg Luzinski or Mike Schmidt. He was a spectacular rightfielder with power. Then, near the end of spring training in 1973, in the same game where rookie Schmidt blew out a hamstring, Andy, just 22 and on track to open the season as Danny Ozark's rightfielder, was beaned by hard-throwing Reds righthander Clay Carroll. I can still hear the rifle crack of baseball on helmet. When Mike returned from a severe concussion, he was never the same aggressive hitter. He should have carried a parachute to the plate along with his bat. Andy finished a 9-year career as a reserve outfielder for three teams with 28 homers and 134 RBI. Some of us thought those would be his season norms.
Domonic Brown appears to be riding the same tsunami of unfulfilled expectation. I heard somebody say the other day that Baseball America's No. 4 rated prospect's timing was a little off, but it was early in spring training. Not to worry. Chris Wheeler correctly noted that the powerful 6-5 beanpole with the paint-by-numbers swing was in a rut where he was taking strikes and swinging at balls. Trouble is, Brown's swing is so messed up, he's in chameleon mode, changing something every day. Hands held ear high, then shoulder high, then neck high. Yesterday, during BP, he was featuring a much shorter stride into the ball. But he is so long in his take-back, it probably wouldn't have made a difference. There is too much loading and not enough firing. Domonic did not start against the Orioles, a mercy-benching as it were for a kid who has struck out eight times in 12 ABs against underwhelming pitching. And this is not a spring-training slump. It yapped at his heels when he was used sparingly off the bench last season. It followed him to the Dominican Republic. And it showed up here.
I feel a little sorry for Ben Francisco, a hard-working professional outfielder who is expected to act as if he's the other half of a sizzling competition for rightfield playing time. If this were a real fight, it would have been stopped in an early round.
When I'm King of the World . . .
My kingdom to have been a fly on the wall when Lenny Dykstra was among the baseball-related guests at the Charlie Sheen mansion for a screening of "Major League." The Dude-speak must have been intense . . . Chase Utley took ground balls during batting practice yesterday, just picking up grounders and tossing them back to coach Pete Mackanin - no doubleplay turns or throws to first. "Just taking it a step at a time," Chase said. "I felt OK."
Mike Schmidt was leaning against the batting cage during BP talking to a writer when Shane Victorino appeared to make a not-so-subtle statement. On the last pitch of a round, a grinning Shane pushed a bunt up the first-base line. Schmidt pretended not to notice. In his second and final at-bat of a 6-5 loss to the Orioles, the centerfielder legged out a bunt single.
When I'm King of the World . . .
Joe Blanton will not do interviews or autograph signings unless Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt are also invited . . . After one spring-training outing, each of the Four Aces has allowed at least one run. Blanton, however, allowed a single walk in three hitless innings against the Yankees. Pending nickname: Country Joe and The Fish . . . Brad Lidge gave up a run in the third inning behind Oswalt. The (cross your fingers) closer has looked short of stuff so far and might be edging into that area where he is trying to close deals with sixth-inning juice.
Ryan Madson has the staff's most electric arm, but can he acquire the full measure of mental toughness it takes to get those final three outs?
On the other hand, it has been pointed out that this is the first Phillies spring training where Lidge has showed up without a limp, or spent most of the 6 weeks at the Carpenter Complex playing catchup. The guy deserves the opportunity to get ready at his own pace without a radar gun breathing down his neck.
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