Domonic Brown credits 'angel' Joyner for progress with bat

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Domonic Brown credits 'angel' Joyner for progress with bat

CLEARWATER, Fla. – This two-hitting-coach-thing might already be paying dividends for the Phillies.

Domonic Brown is off to a terrific start in the Grapefruit League, and he credits a tip from Wally Joyner, the team’s new assistant hitting coach, for some of that.

Early in camp, Joyner noticed that Brown had a tendency to wrap his hands and wrists around the bat handle instead of cradling it in the base of his fingers. Joyner suggested that Brown adjust his grip, and it has a created quicker, whippier swing. The quicker swing has resulted in Brown’s going 3 for 7 with two homers, three runs and a walk in the first four games. Brown also had a single and a double in an intrasquad game last week.

“It seemed like God maybe sent an angel down toward me,” Brown said of Joyner. “He showed me a little something then, boom, it clicked and I’ve been working hard every day.”

On Tuesday afternoon, Brown provided the highlight of camp when he launched a mammoth home run that cleared the batter’s eye beyond the centerfield wall at Bright House Field.

“That’s the longest ball I’ve ever seen hit here,” Jimmy Rollins said.

Sure, Brown’s home run came late in the game against a pitcher named Zach Nuding, who has yet to pitch beyond Single A. But it was still quite impressive, a cannon shot on a 2-2 fastball. The home run started a three-run rally that also included a two-run shot by prospect Tommy Joseph that propelled the Phillies to a 4-3 win over the New York Yankees (see story).

“Two-strike approach,” Brown said. “I saw a pitch up, took a good swing, and that was it. I knew it was gone off the bat. That’s all I’m trying to do -- hit the ball hard.”

Brown’s hot start is noticeable even beyond the stat sheet. The 25-year-old outfielder, always a spring-training focal point because of his tantalizing potential, appears more comfortable and confident in his third big-league camp.

“I think I’ve been through a lot,” said Brown, referring to the ups and downs of the last two seasons. “Coming in, I’ve been here before. I’m just going out, playing hard, trying to be fundamentally sound, and having fun.”

Past springs weren’t fun for Brown. He got off to an 0-for-15 start two years ago then broke his hand on a swing. Last year, he came to camp and ended up being sent back to Triple A for more development time.

Brown admits that he “probably” put pressure on himself in past camps.

“It’s a lot to handle with [the media] and everything,” he said. “It takes a while to get used to. I’ve been going through this a while.”

The flip side to Brown is Darin Ruf. Last year’s minor-league home run king is competing with Brown for a spot in the outfield. Ruf is hitless in his first eight at-bats. He appears to be pressing and got a day off Tuesday.

It’s early -- very early -- in the exhibition season. You can’t read too much into Ruf’s struggles or Brown’s successes. But if Brown keeps this up, if he is ready to put it all together, club officials will be thrilled. They made him an untouchable in trade talks in years past because they thought he had the potential to be an all-star.

Brown also homered Sunday against the Tigers on a line drive to right-center. Brown said he hit that ball even harder than Tuesday’s bomb.

Manager Charlie Manuel is seeing more of a compact swing from Brown. It starts with the legs.

“He’s got good balance,” Manuel said. “He’s slowed things down at the plate. He’s keeping his balance and catching the ball out in front.”

Brown had knee problems last season. He worked a lot on his legs this winter and believes a strong base has helped his balance. And he’s also as strong as steel. Where once he was a 6-foot-6 stringbean, he is now 235 pounds of muscle.

Defense, whether in right field or left, remains a concern for Brown, but he’s working at it daily. In fact, he spent most of the winter in Clearwater working on it.

“I’m out there because I want to, not because they’re forcing me to do it,” Brown said.

Brown has a long connection with Steve Henderson, the Phillies’ new hitting coach. Henderson was the Phils’ minor-league hitting coordinator during Brown’s time in the minors. The Phillies added Joyner as an assistant hitting coach this winter and it turns out Brown has a connection with him, too. They went to the same high school -- Redan High School outside of Atlanta -- though Brown graduated in 2006 and Joyner in 1980.

“Both of them have been great,” Brown said of his hitting coaches.

So far this spring, Brown has been pretty good, too.

Phillies set to sign a host of 16-year-old prospects from Latin America

Phillies set to sign a host of 16-year-old prospects from Latin America

The Phillies’ current 25-man roster features seven graduates of the organization’s Latin American program.
 
On Saturday, the club will add more than a dozen new Latin American prospects when the international signing period for 16-year-old players begins.
 
These players are expected to spend at least a year, and in most cases more, in the Dominican Summer League before the team determines if they are worthy of advancing to one of its minor-league teams in the U.S.
 
Maikel Franco, Freddy Galvis, Cesar Hernandez, Hector Neris, Carlos Ruiz, Severino Gonzalez and Edubray Ramos, all currently on the Phils’ active roster, are all homegrown products of the organization’s scouting development program in Latin America.
 
According to multiple baseball sources, this year’s group of Phillies’ Latin American signings features five standout prospects from Venezuela. Three of the players were rated in the top 50 in Latin America by Baseball America. Here are the top-five players, all 16-year-olds, that the Phillies will sign:
 
Francisco Morales, P, Venezuela – A 6-5 right-hander with a plus slider and a fastball that ranges from 91-95 mph. Ranked 12th by Baseball America.
 
Bryan Gonzalez, SS, 2B, Venezuela – The strong-armed switch-hitter has a line-drive stroke and reminds some of Placido Polanco. Ranked 19th by Baseball America.
 
Nicolas Torres, SS, Venezuela – Leadoff-type hitter with good wheels. Ranked 45th by Baseball America.
 
Juan Aparicio, C, Venezuela – He played third base in national competition, but is changing positions and projects as an offensive-type catcher. He was ranked 47th by Baseball America.
 
Jose Tortolero, SS, Venezuela – He shows an average big-league arm and has excellent hitting tools.

Tonight's lineup: Cody Asche bats 3rd; Ryan Howard in for Tommy Joseph

Tonight's lineup: Cody Asche bats 3rd; Ryan Howard in for Tommy Joseph

After a scorching road trip, Cody Asche bats third for the Phillies in Friday's series opener against the defending champion Kansas City Royals. 

Asche went 12 for 30 on the road trip with six doubles and six RBIs. In 90 plate appearances this season, he's hit .289/.333/.482 with 10 doubles, two homers and 10 RBIs.

Peter Bourjos, also playing well lately, bats second. After hitting .164 in April and .230 in May, Bourjos hit .410 in June, going 25 for 61. The hot streak has his season batting line at a respectable .262/.300/.391.

Ryan Howard gets the start at first base in place of Tommy Joseph, who is down to .223 on the season after going 0 for 11 in Arizona earlier this week.

Howard is 3 for 19 lifetime against Friday's opponent, right-hander Ian Kennedy.

1. Odubel Herrera, CF
2. Peter Bourjos, RF
3. Cody Asche, LF
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Ryan Howard, 1B
6. Cameron Rupp, C
7. Freddy Galvis, SS
8. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
9. Jeremy Hellickson, P

The Royals may be without their hottest hitter, Kendrys Morales, who is 12 for 16 over his last four games. Morales is Kansas City's everyday DH but would obviously be unavailable in an NL park unless the Royals move Eric Hosmer to right field. Hosmer has played just three innings away from first base in the last three seasons.

Phillies-Royals 5 things: Defending champs awful on the road

Phillies-Royals 5 things: Defending champs awful on the road

Phillies (35-45) vs. Royals (42-36)
7:05 p.m. on CSN

The Phillies are back home this weekend to take on the defending champion Kansas City Royals after a 5-4 road trip. A six-game homestand begins Friday with the Phils taking on the Royals and Braves before heading to Colorado for four games at Coors Field before the All-Star break.

Let's take a look at Friday's series opener:

1. Royals reeling on the road
Kansas City is positioned atop the AL wild-card race, but the Royals have been one of the majors' worst road teams this season. They're 15-25 away from Kauffman Stadium, the fourth-worst road record in MLB, better than only the Twins, Reds and Brewers. 

K.C. has scored 128 runs in 40 road games, an average of 3.2 per game that ranks dead-last in the majors. It's puzzling given the Royals' talent that they would be so much better at home. It wasn't the case either of the last two seasons, when they went a combined 91-71 on the road.

The Royals did, however, sweep a two-game series in St. Louis Wednesday and Thursday.

2. Banged-up champs
Alex Gordon, the best defensive leftfielder in baseball, returned to the Royals last weekend after missing over a month with a wrist injury. But Kansas City is still undermanned with Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain, their second and third hitters, out. 

Moustakas is out for the season with a torn ACL, while Cain went on the DL this week with a hamstring strain.

Cain was hitting .290 for the Royals with a .752 OPS during a streaky 2016 season. 

Moustakas and Gordon suffered their injuries in a collision in late May. It was a genuine blow to the Royals' chances at repeating. Moustakas hit .284 last season with 34 doubles, 22 homers and 82 RBIs. In his place, the Royals have used rookie Cheslor Cuthbert, a 23-year-old from Nicaragua.

Cuthbert has hit .256/.299/.419 in 39 games in Moustakas' place.

3. The DH effect
The Royals' everyday first baseman is Eric Hosmer, a slick fielder and perennial .290-.300 hitter. 

Their designated hitter is Kendrys Morales, who is absolutely on fire right now. He's 12 for 16 with four extra-base hits in his last four games and has hit .455 with a 1.310 OPS in his last 22. Over the last four days, Morales has raised his batting average by 31 points and his OPS by 69.

But ... with the Royals playing this series in an NL stadium, they won't be able to start both. That is, unless they move Hosmer to right field, where he's played just three innings in the last three seasons.

Could be a big break for the Phillies, missing Kansas City's hottest hitter. Stay tuned.

4. Hellickson vs. Kennedy
The Phillies hand the ball to Jeremy Hellickson for his 17th start of the season. He's 5-6 with a 4.23 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP to this point, with 84 strikeouts, 24 walks and 16 home runs allowed in 93⅔ innings.

Hellickson is coming off two good starts in a row, having allowed three runs in seven innings to the Diamondbacks and one earned run in six innings to the Giants.

While it seems like it's been an up and down season for Hellickson, in reality it's been mostly up. He's allowed three runs or fewer in 11 of 16 starts and has truly struggled only four times, in back-to-back starts against the Nationals and Mets in mid-April, in St. Louis on May 2 and in D.C. on June 10. 

Otherwise, Hellickson has kept the Phillies in games and kept hitters off-balance with an elite changeup. 

He's faced Kansas City a bunch from his days in the American League. Active Royals are 16 for 68 (.235) against him with two extra-base hits, five walks and 12 strikeouts.

5. Scouting Kennedy 
The Phillies face Ian Kennedy, the veteran right-hander who joined the Royals on a five-year, $70 million deal this past winter. Kennedy has been solid in his first 15 starts with his new team, going 6-6 with a 3.96 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and .230 opponents' batting average. He's struck out 85 batters in 88⅔ innings.

Kennedy is coming off his most dominant outing of the year, a seven-inning, three-hit, one-run, 11-strikeout performance against the Astros. 

Current Phillies have done little against Kennedy, going 8 for 53 (.151) with just two extra-base hits, a Carlos Ruiz double and Freddy Galvis homer. They do have 10 walks against him, however.

Kennedy is mostly a three-pitch pitcher who throws a four-seam fastball in the 92 to 94 mph range, a changeup in the mid-80s and a curveball in the high-70s. On rare occasions he'll throw a cutter to righties.