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An older Domonic Brown is becoming a wiser player in Phillies system

READING - "When I was younger," Domonic Brown was saying the other night at FirstEnergy Stadium, prefacing his answer to a question. And at first it didn't register.

Domonic Brown, now at Reading, is willing to wait for his time with Phillies. (Charles Fox / Staff Photographer)
Domonic Brown, now at Reading, is willing to wait for his time with Phillies. (Charles Fox / Staff Photographer)Read more

READING - "When I was younger," Domonic Brown was saying the other night at FirstEnergy Stadium, prefacing his answer to a question. And at first it didn't register.

"When I was younger," the Double A Reading rightfielder said again a few moments later. This time the full impact of those four simple words struck home.

When he was younger?

Goodness knows, it's easy to forget sometimes that Brown is still just 22. He was widely considered the best prospect in the organization even before the Phillies raided the minor league pantry, first to get Cliff Lee, then to acquire Roy Halladay, in the last year. Now there really isn't a close second.

It's also easy to forget when looking at the numbers he has put up for the R-Phils so far. He is batting .337 with seven home runs and 23 RBI in 30 games. His on-base percentage is .402. His OPS is 1.055.

But the fact remains that he has things to learn, experience to accumulate, growing to do. Things that, yes, he's better at now than when he was younger. But the maturation process still isn't complete.

"I think he's just now starting to grasp the importance of the opportunity he has," said Chuck LaMar, assistant general manager for player development and scouting. "Up to this point, he was an athlete having success. And it's fun to have his ability. But I think now he's starting to sense that he has a chance to be part of a winning team at the major league level. He has a chance to make a lot of money in this game. And because of that, comes responsibility of using that God-given talent.

"The game becomes a little more serious. At least to the good ones it does. And I think he's gone from an athlete having fun to, still an athlete having fun, but he knows there are consequences. He knows the importance of what he's trying to do and he's accepted that responsibility very well."

It's ever so early yet, as anybody who had to bundle up to attend a game during the last homestand can attest. But if Brown continues to pile up stats, pressure will inevitably build to promote him at least to Triple A Lehigh Valley, maybe even all the way to the big leagues. That's just part of the deal.

Brown, however, said he's content to take his time.

"Oh, man, it's not hard for me to be patient," he said with a smile. "It's easy for me. I saw those guys, [Ryan] Howard and Chase [Utley], how they came through the minor leagues. So I know it's going to take me a little time to get up. I've been patient all my life. I got drafted in the 20th round [in June 2006], so I've got to be patient. I've been working my way up ever since.

"I really don't know. I'll leave that up to [the Phillies]. I just come out here and work. I don't worry about that stuff. Because if I did I'd probably bat .100 or somewhere below the Mendoza line."

From all accounts, putting in the effort is a given for the 6-5, 200-pounder. Reading hitting coach Frank Cacciatore has been able to chart the arc of his career after working with him in the Florida Instructional League in 2008 and when he was moved up to Double A late last season.

"The progress from a year-and-a-half ago to now has been very good," Cacciatore said. "And the thing that's been impressive for me is his desire to get better. Because I'm just a facilitator of information. If he's not willing to take it and go with it and he thinks he's got the answers, we would get no place. But that's not him at all. He's just ready to learn. He's like a sponge. His work ethic is second to none.

"So those two things and then there's obviously the ability and the potential he has. Everybody sees that. He knows he's got it. But he also knows that in order to get there he's got to work."

It was when Brown began using that phrase - When I was younger - that it became clear how well he understands how far he has come and what he still has to do to complete his hardball education.

For example, he said he completely agrees with LaMar's observation that he needed to learn how to grind it out over the course of the longest season.

"When I was younger, I really didn't understand the importance of that whole at-bat thing," he admitted. "Now I'm really starting to get it. I'm not giving away at-bats. I'm not swinging at bad pitches. First pitch, if I do swing, it's gotta be a pitch right down the middle. When I was younger, I was trying to get a hit so I'd be swinging and my ability took care of the rest. But I'm learning. I'm happy with my progression and hopefully I can keep doing it."

Power usually is one of the last attributes to fall into place for a young hitter. That seems to be coming for Brown. His first season, in the Gulf Coast (Rookie) League, he had just one homer in 117 at-bats. In 2007, one for every 73.5 at-bats. In 2008, 1 per 49.3. Last season, 1 per 28.2. This year, seven already in 101 at-bats, one for every 14.4.

"When I was younger, I would hook those balls and not keep them fair. Or not get any backspin on them because I was trying to do too much. Now I'm just staying calm and trying to hit the ball hard somewhere," he said.

LaMar said he doesn't think there's any question that the power numbers will be there, but added that it is not the organization's focus at the moment.

"More concern with his development as an overall hitter," he said. "He's made great progress on using the whole field, handling tough lefthanders, which he's going to have to do at the major league level, and I think this year and in subsequent years people are going to see more and more power. It's going to be a big tool for him once he gets to Philadelphia."

Once he gets to Philadelphia. And that probably isn't going to be as soon as some would like.

"We have no timetable," LaMar said. "Nobody has even talked about when's the right time to get him to Triple A or is he going to be ready for the major leagues by September. Those conversations haven't even started. We just want him to go about his business and approach his job like he has so far. Take every at-bat and every day as importantly as the last."

When Brown was younger, he was a terrific prospect.

When he gets a little older, he just might be a heckuva major leaguer.