CLEARWATER — Pasco County batters felt a mix of apprehension and dismay when stepping into the batter's box against Dominic Brown, a former Pasco High standout who was skilled in the art of pitching and intimidation.
Brown, tall and lanky, always had the look of a power pitcher. The 6-foot-6 left-hander could throw a fastball 90 mph.
Then came the 2006 draft, when the Phillies selected him in the 20th round as …
"It kind of surprised me that they didn't want me on the mound," Brown said. "I've always been a pitcher. But I loved to hit, and I've played in the outfield before."
By refining his hitting and fielding skills, he has moved up the organizational ladder.
Brown, named Philadelphia's top prospect by Baseball America during the offseason, is playing for the Class A Clearwater Threshers. He was hitting .299 with nine home runs, 38 RBIs and 14 stolen bases before breaking his right hand when hit by a pitch June 8. The break likely will sideline him for another three weeks.
"The injury was a setback, but I've been pleased with the way things have gone so far," Brown, 21, said. "I knew I was going to have to refine some of my skills and develop more tools. It's all about doing the little things."
Brown is used to making adjustments, on and off the field.
In 2005, the then-junior led Pasco to the Class 3A region final before losing to eventual state champ Orlando Bishop Moore.
"Dominic could do it all and was a big part of that team," Pasco coach Ricky Giles said. "He had a strong arm. He was fast. He was just an athlete."
During the summer before his senior season, Brown left Pasco to live with his father, Robert Walker, in Georgia. He enrolled at nearby Stone Mountain Redan. Brown's mother, Rosemary, was her son's legal guardian and contested the move.
But a Georgia court awarded Walker custody, clearing the way for Brown to play sports in the state. There, he went 7-1 with a 1.29 ERA and hit .455 with 11 doubles.
Brown also was one of the nation's top receivers and had a football scholarship offer from Miami. Then the Phillies selected him.
Forced to decide between baseball's money and a college education, Brown decided a four-year scholarship paled in comparison to the six-figure carrot Philadelphia dangled in front of him.
"It was a tough decision to make," Brown said. "I miss football, especially during the fall. But I love playing baseball."
Sticking with baseball is paying off.
Starting with rookie ball, he has moved up a level each year. Last year at Lakewood (N.J.), the Phillies' low Class A affiliate, he hit .291 with nine home runs, 54 RBIs and 22 stolen bases.
This year at high Class A, he was named a Florida State League all-star and ranks among the top 10 in the league in nearly every hitting category.
"We had a kid (in Tampa Bay), Carl Crawford," Chuck LaMar, former Rays general manager and current Phillies assistant manager for player development and scouting, told the Philadelphia Daily News. "He had signed to play football at the University of Nebraska. He was the same way. Everybody thought, 'He's a football player because he signed to play major college football.'
"But the minute we got him on a baseball field, he showed the feel for the game, the instincts and the ability to adjust. And Dominic has shown all of those skills. I would say he's more of a baseball player who's an athlete than a football athlete who's trying to learn our sport."
Brown still makes it back to Dade City. Before spring training this year, he stopped by to talk to the players at Pasco.
"Dominic always finds time to give back to the community," Giles said. "He gives kids bats, hats, whatever he can. He would give the shirt off his back. That's just the way he is. He always worked hard and is humble."
Bob Putnam can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.