“THE KID APPEARED about 4 p.m. in the same quiet manner that has accompanied his rise through the minor leagues. One minute, Ryan Howard was sitting by himself in front of his locker, talking about all the hype and expectation that a blue-chip prospect must learn to ignore. The next minute, he was swiveling in his chair to find the Next Big Thing standing quietly behind him.
“I know you saw your name in the lineup out there,” Howard said as he stood up to greet the kid.
Howard wore a broad smile, the kind that comes with ease after several seasons of dominance in the major leagues.
The kid? He wore the kind of smile that comes on the first day of high school – thin and humble and maybe a bit uncomfortable, but at the same time brimming with the kind of quiet confidence that so many ascribe to him.
Domonic Brown might have entered the year as Baseball America’s 15th-best prospect in the game, but he doesn’t act like a player who has the world by the baseball cleats. The Phillies called him up to the big leagues yesterday after just 28 games at Triple A, and they felt comfortable enough in his ability to hit him sixth in a lineup that was riding a six-game winning streak. But after a quick conversation with Howard that consisted mostly of him nodding and smiling, Brown walked to his locker and slipped back into the process that has consumed the past 4 years of his life: preparing for his first game as a big-leaguer.
“It was a great day,” the 22-year-old outfielder said before helping to lead the Phillies to a 7-1 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks. “One of the best days of my life.”
The day came earlier than expected, thanks to a strained oblique that is expected to sideline centerfielder Shane Victorino for about 3 weeks.
Barely a month ago, Brown was still at Double A Reading, where he had been promoted late in the 2009 season. A 20th-round selection in the 2006 draft, the Phillies convinced him to forgo a football scholarship to the University of Miami, which had wanted him to play wide receiver. After he struggled in his first professional season, hitting .214 with a .557 OPS as an 18-year-old in the Gulf Coast League, Brown vaulted through the minor league system. In 2008, he hit .291 with a .798 OPS at low-A Lakewood. Last season, he spent his first 66 games at high-A Clearwater, hitting .303 with a .903 OPS and enduring rumors about a potential trade to Toronto for Roy Halladay.
Last night, however, he and Halladay shared a lineup, and in one of those moments that trumps any volume of fiction, Brown gave the veteran righthander a 1-0 lead with an RBI double off the rightfield wall in his first big-league at-bat.
“You’d be crazy not to be curious to see how he is going to do up here,” said Greg Gross, who briefly served as Brown’s hitting coach at Triple A Lehigh Valley before the Phillies promoted Gross to replace Milt Thompson last week. “He’s probably the most polished of the young hitters that I’ve seen get to that level.”
The swing that Brown put on Edwin Jackson’s off-speed pitch in the second inning last night was one that Gross saw plenty of times in Lehigh Valley. “Majestic,” and “fluid,” are two words the veteran coach used when searching for a description of the way the bat slices down from Brown’s left shoulder and glides through the strike zone. In 28 games at Lehigh Valley, Brown hit .346 with a .390 on base percentage, .561 slugging percentage and five home runs.”