CLEARWATER, Fla. - An overdeveloped drive for excellence usually serves players as a springboard to glory.

It is what impeded Greg Golson.

He reported to spring training 2 weeks early last season. Once here, he discovered that the workout time allotted to minor league players did not fulfill his workaholic desire.

So, he returned to his home in Texas until the official reporting date.

"They were working out, like, 1 hour here," Golson said. "I was, like, 'I can work out 5 hours in Texas.' "

Really, that was symptomatic of his problem. As the Phillies' first-round pick in 2004, the "Centerfielder of the Future" was too consumed with work.

"It's been a slow process, frankly," said assistant general manager Mike Arbuckle, who runs the player development department.

"He was always a focused, serious-minded kid. I always tell our kids on the first day of spring: 'Remember why you started playing this game. To have fun.' He's a perfectionist. You have to find that happy medium."

Golson has found a middle ground, and more success, by cutting himself some slack. He is slated to start at high A Clearwater this season with the hope that, sooner than later, he reaches Double A Reading. Bolstered by confidence, perhaps the next few bumps won't be as severe.

"I think he feels like he belongs," Arbuckle said.

Golson had never failed in his life the way he failed his first two full pro seasons.

"When I struggled, I kind of questioned myself," Golson said. "I did the work. I stayed longer. I got here early. And didn't do well."

On the field, his major mechanical issue had been what Arbuckle called, "an aluminum-bat swing. There was no lower half involved. He didn't load with his hands."

Since the Phillies drafted Golson, minor league hitting coordinator Don Long concentrated on getting Golson to keep his hands back and to use his strong legs - he's the organization's fastest player - as a better power base. Eager to please and a maniacal worker, Golson tried. Mainly, he failed.

"I was always worried about how I looked," Golson said.

He hit just .264 at Class A Lakewood in 2005, his first full pro season. The Phils figured he should enjoy more success at that level, and, drafted out of high school, he was just 20, so they sent him back there.

He hit .220 in 93 games.

"It almost got to the point where we thought we were getting too analytical," Arbuckle said. Long and the rest of Golson's instructors began to back off.

And they promoted him.

Huh?

"We like to have a guy have success at a level before we move him, but sometimes a promotion jump-starts a guy," Arbuckle said.

Less input and better competition, at high A Clearwater, was just the answer. There, Golson relaxed and found the smooth, powerful stroke that has the Phillies' eager to see him play this season.

"I just had to realize, it's not the end of the world if I'm not hitting well," Golson said. "And, you know, eventually, you look at all these guys' swings - good players - they're not cookie-cutter swings. I had to get back to playing the way I played, doing what they liked when they drafted me."

Golson's defense has not been a problem. His base-stealing has. He has only attempted 88 steals in 269 games. He hates to get caught, and his success rate of 76 percent is about 24 percent lower than he would like.

"He has to understand: At these levels, we don't care if you get caught. There's only one way to learn how to steal bases. That's to run during games," Arbuckle said.

Since his arrival, Golson has been the main object of new first-base coach and baserunning expert Davey Lopes' instruction.

"I'm going to run a lot more," Golson promised.

And he'll be fine with it if he fails. *