ALLENTOWN - Just past 10 o'clock on a warm summer evening in the Lehigh Valley, Domonic Brown stood in front of his locker wearing compression shorts and a sheepish grin.
"It's humbling," the long, lean outfielder said with a shake of the head. "I'm 22 years old and in Triple A."
For now, he says again and again and again, that is good enough for him. Less than an hour before, he had finished off another one of those games that serves as sort of a living checklist for the front-office personnel who drool at his potential.
Arm? In the top of the fifth, he fielded a single off the wall in rightfield and threw a laser to second base, where a stunned Juan Apodaca had yet to even begin his slide into the bag.
Power? In the bottom half of the frame, he drilled a two-run homer over the 400-foot sign in dead centerfield.
Contact? His first of four RBI came on a sacrifice fly. His last came on a two-strike groundout to shortstop that drove in the go-ahead run.
Speed? He almost beat out the aformentioned groundout.
But there is another tool that has the Phillies organization buzzing almost as much as the .405 batting average, 1.197 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging), four home runs and 11 RBI that Brown posted in his first 12 games at Triple A. It is a tool that provided some of the basis for Ruben Amaro Jr.'s statement yesterday that the lefthanded-hitting outfielder could be a candidate for a big-league promotion this season. And it is the first tool that newly called-up infielder Cody Ransom pinpointed when asked about his brief time with Brown at Triple A.
"He's got a good head on him," said Ransom, who was with the IronPigs when Brown was called up 2 weeks ago. "He was raised right, it seems like. People get on him all the time, but he takes it all in stride."
The Phillies saw it in spring training, when Brown quietly went about his business with none of the chutzpah typically associated with a kid ranked by scouts as one of the game's top prospects. He ended the spring with a flurry, hitting two homers in his Grapefruit League finale, one of them off flame-throwing Tigers ace Justin Verlander.
Folks in Lehigh Valley have seen it over the last 2 weeks. Brown speaks like a player fine-tuning himself for the next level. His big goal, he says, is to take better swings when ahead in the count. The Phillies are impressed with the way he has improved his route-running in the outfield, and he has shown remarkable polish in two of the more bedeviling aspects of a lefthanded pro: hitting opposing lefties, and hitting with two strikes.
"He does something every game, at least one thing, that's a little wild," Ransom said.
Ignoring thoughts of the next level might not sound easy, particularly as time ticks toward the major league trade deadline and injury-ravaged teams like the Phillies consider all possible options to improve. But, Brown said, "I always have. I just come out here and have fun and enjoy these big-leaguers that are on our team."
Most players in Lehigh Valley have spent some time in the promised land. Catcher Paul Hoover played well in a short stint for the Phillies in May. First baseman Andy Tracy owns a World Series ring and has spent the last two Septembers in Philadelphia. And as the Phillies look for the right combination of players to pull them out of third place, Brown has worked his way to the top of available options.
"The players dictate their progress," Amaro said yesterday, "and he's dictating it."
A lot depends on how the Phillies decide to navigate the 3-plus weeks that remain before the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline. A month ago, Brown was a longshot for a promotion. Since then, however, lefthander J.A. Happ has failed to convince the club that he is ready to return from a strained forearm suffered in mid-April, and second baseman Chase Utley has had thumb surgery that likely will sideline him until late August. Amaro said pitching remains his priority, while also defending his decision not to keep Cliff Lee along with Roy Halladay.
"Time and circumstance dictates some of the things you can and cannot do," Amaro said. "We just felt like we were in a position to be able to hold one guy and not to hold the other guy. We had to put ourselves in a position not to leave our club and our organization with the cupboard bare. By moving all of this talent from our organization [in trades to acquire first Lee, then Halladay], it just made it very difficult to continue to be able to do business long-term."
But Amaro said the Phillies have both the personnel and payroll flexibility to add a pitcher and/or an infielder, although pitching remains the priority. He also said he would consider trading a member of his big-league roster.
"Obviously I don't want to weaken my club," Amaro said, "but if I have to weaken one area to strengthen another, I might do that."
Trading a valuable player like Shane Victorino, signed to a 3-year, $22 million deal through 2012, or Jayson Werth, who will be a free agent after the season, might seem far-fetched. But so did trading Lee, who is having a Cy Young-caliber season in Seattle. With Brown playing his way into consideration and the Phillies looking to make a big move, Amaro hasn't publicly ruled out anything.
"Is it possible to be a seller? Sure it is," he said, "but if I were a betting man I'd say we'd be buyers. We could be buyers and sellers."