Brookover: Pain, progress for Phillies prospect Randolph

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Phillies top draft pick Cornelius Randolph swung a hot bat all season.

LAKEWOOD, N.J. - It does not say anything about failure or frustration when a player signs a professional baseball contract, but those two things are every bit as guaranteed as the money in the signing bonus. The only unknowns are when a player will have to confront them and how he will deal with the inevitable struggles and strains that come with throwing, hitting and fielding a baseball.

Cornelius Cleopatrick Randolph, the 10th overall pick in last year's draft, got a crash course in failure and frustration in his first full season in the Phillies' organization.

The sweet-swinging lefthanded hitter out of Griffin High School in suburban Atlanta had never slumped during his amateur career, and his introduction to professional baseball last year in the Gulf Coast League in Clearwater, Fla., went exceptionally well, too. In 53 games, he batted .302 and displayed tremendous plate discipline by drawing 32 walks, which helped account for a .425 on-base percentage.

He continued to impress in the Florida instructional league in October and the Phillies decided Randolph, still only 18 years old at the time, was ready this season to play with low-A Lakewood in the South Atlantic League, where the average player age is 21.

Randolph opened the season by going 4 for 37 in his first nine games, but he still had no doubt he belonged at Lakewood.

"That's just my mind-set," he said. "Struggling, that's part of the game, so you know it's going to happen eventually."

And if you're as confident and talented as Randolph, you know it will end, too.

On April 19 against Hagerstown, Randolph matched his season total with four hits, and when he got two more the next night it appeared as if he was ready to take off.

"And then I got hurt," he said.

Randolph lined a single in his first at-bat on a road trip that started in Greensboro, N.C.

"The first pitch I saw - fastball in - I swung and laced it over the second baseman's head and right when I hit it I felt my shoulder pop," Randolph said. "As I took the first step out of the box, I felt a sharp pain. I got to first base and started working it out and decided I was going to play through it."

Before the night was over he had another hit, making him 8 for 13 in a three-game stretch that raised his average from .108 to .240. The next day, however, Randolph could not swing. He had a strained left shoulder muscle and when the problem persisted after the team returned home, the Phillies decided to send him down to Clearwater, where players go for extended rehabilitation.

Randolph's rehab became a lot more extended than planned.

"I was expecting to be there about a week," he said.

He was there for more than two months.

"It stunk," he said. "Every time I would swing it would hurt. I'd start to feel healthy and then I'd try to swing and I'd reinjure it."

So he didn't swing.

"Basically I was just down there shagging fly balls and making sure I was reading balls right and taking good first steps," Randolph said.

All important steps in his development because he was a shortstop in high school who is now learning to play left field.

"The rehab day starts around 7:30 in the morning, so it was early days," Randolph said. "I would go in do my cardio, do my rehab, shag fly balls, do a workout and then do more cardio."

He had to wait nearly six weeks before he could swing a bat again and he did not return to playing until June 29 when he got in a Gulf Coast League game. He played in five of them before returning to Lakewood. In his first eight games after returning from the injury, he went 1 for 21.

Failure. Frustration.

Randolph has handled it in a mature manner and come out the other side.

"I think he has handled it very well, especially for a kid who is only 19 years old," Lakewood manager Shawn Williams said. "He didn't get off to a great start, but he turned it around. Obviously he got hurt and was out a while, but he came back and did not miss a beat."

Randolph said he has talked to J.P. Crawford, the Phillies' top prospect and first overall pick in 2013, about his struggles throughout this season. He also picked the brains of Aaron Altherr, Cody Asche, and Roman Quinn during his rehab assignment in Clearwater. He tried to make the best of a difficult situation and he never lost confidence in his ability to hit.

He entered Lakewood's final homestand of the season Tuesday night hitting .327 with a .379 on-base percentage in August. He has not displayed a lot of power, but Williams believes that will come with age and experience.

"For me, he can just hit," the Lakewood manager said. "I always say you have to be a hitter first and then the power will come."

Randolph is likely to encounter more failure and frustration before that happens, but he has proved this season that he can handle that inevitable part of the professional game. It is a painful but necessary step on the way to the big leagues.

bbrookover@phillynews.com

@brookob