CLEARWATER, Fla. - One of the more pleasant surprises in baseball last year was the progress of Phillies outfielder Domonic Brown, at least through the first part of the season.
Brown, who never had more than 212 plate appearances in his first three seasons with the Phillies, became a National League all-star. He finished his first full season hitting .272 with 27 home runs and 83 RBIs in 540 plate appearances.
The only person who didn't consider Brown's season a surprise was the leftfielder himself.
"I am a guy who visualizes a lot and sets a lot of goals, and [being an all-star] is one of my goals I set in the beginning of the year," Brown said. "And when it came, then it felt like it was supposed to happen."
What he didn't envision was a series of late-season injuries that sapped his strength and tore into his production. Brown suffered a concussion and was later hampered by Achilles tendinitis.
"Injuries are part of the game and I won't make any excuses," Brown said.
Brown clearly was not the same player toward the end of the season. In his last 31 games, which included 25 starts, he had zero home runs and five RBIs in 102 plate appearances.
Now he is recovering from the flu. On Saturday he played his first game since March 15. There was also an off-day and a rainout during that span, but Brown is trying to catch up and he likely will see action in most of the remaining spring-training games.
He took a positive step in Sunday's 5-1 win over the Minnesota Twins at Bright House Field. Brown entered the game with one extra-base hit all spring, but had two hard-hit doubles in his first two at-bats.
"It was good to see [Brown hit] today," manager Ryne Sandberg said. "He had four at-bats [Saturday] as a DH to get him in the flow and that probably helped him, and he didn't miss his balls and squared up nice."
On a team noted for its age, the 26-year-old Brown offers the Phillies a young building block, one who needs to play at his pre-All-Star Game pace for them to defy the dire preseason predictions.
"He's one of the future core guys," said shortstop Jimmy Rollins, 35.
Brown is expected to bat lower in the order this season. He hit sixth on Sunday, a likely spot. Last year in games he started, Brown batted third three times, cleanup 40 times, fifth 45 times and sixth 43 times.
Brown says he is fine with hitting lower in the order.
"I am hitting sixth or seventh, and in that role I can let the big dogs eat with [Marlon] Byrd and [Ryan] Howard providing the power," Brown said.
Not surprisingly, Brown has set the same high standards for himself this year as he did a year ago.
"I am looking to build off last year," he said.
Just not the end of last year.
"The second half was tough for me," he said. Injury-wise, that is part of the game, and everybody is banged up in the second half of the season."
Sandberg says there is a lot to be impressed about with Brown.
"He has a lot of tools and the potential is there and it's another season," Sandberg said. "Last year was a stepping-stone for him and something to build on."