Over the course of the season, I’m fortunate enough to get to talk to not only all the top prospects in the Yankees organization that come through Trenton, but most of the best players from the other teams as well.
With the Phillies having just made their second consecutive appearance in the World Series, I thought now would be as good of a time as any to look back at interviews with Domonic Brown, Brad Harman and Mike Zagurski from earlier this season.
Mike Ashmore: You had the opportunity to go to the University of Miami and play both baseball and football, but ended up getting drafted by the Phillies and signing with them instead. What did you envision yourself doing down at Miami had you not signed with Philadelphia?
Domonic Brown: “I would have been a wide receiver, hopefully. With baseball, I would have played the outfield and pitched a little bit.”
Ashmore: Did you pitch at all in high school?
Brown: “Yeah, I was more of a pitcher in high school. Actually, I thought I was going to get drafted as a pitcher, but the Phillies were like, ‘We want you to play the outfield,’ and that was fine with me. I love to hit, so that wasn’t a problem at all.
Ashmore: The Phillies ended up taking you in the 20th round in 2006. Take me back to draft day, what was that like for you?
Brown: “It was a great day for me. I actually had a AAU game that day for baseball, and I was playing in the game and my dad got a call. It went from there, you know. It was a great day, you know.”
Ashmore: Were you expecting to go in the middle rounds, or were you expecting to go a lot higher?
Brown: “I was expecting to go in the top 5 (rounds), but we knew with the football and everything, that I probably was going to go later.”
Ashmore: A lot of people seem to be comparing you to Darryl Strawberry — and those comparisons are obviously related to what he accomplished on the field and not off of it. I’m sure you’ve heard that before and would assume you’ve seen him play, whether it be on tape or in person. Do you agree with those comparisons?
Brown: “I really don’t know. I know we have the same body type and speed, and I’m getting to the power. But I don’t know, man. He put up some great numbers. It’s kind of hard to compare myself to Darryl Strawberry right now anyway.”
Ashmore: A lot of people are trying to throw out projections for your power, which you said you are “getting to.” What are you doing…or really, what can you do to try to get that going a little more like you said?
Brown: “There’s nothing, really. I think that’s the last tool that comes. I’m just working hard and not really worrying about the power coming. If it comes, it comes, you know?”
Ashmore: So what do you think is your best tool right now?
Brown: “My speed, running. My arm is pretty good, too. Those two, I’d say right now are the two best.”
Ashmore: This is kind of a weird question, but have you always been fast?
Brown: “Yeah, always. The speed was always there when I was younger and everything. I could always hit a little bit, and my arm was always there, too.”
Ashmore: Baseball America ranked you as the Phillies top prospect heading into this season. Was that something that meant anything to you, or do you not really think about things like that?
Brown: “That doesn’t really mean too much. There’s a lot of great guys, like Carrasco and those guys, so I really try to put it in the back of my head and not think about it. It’s extra pressure, so it’s not a big deal to me. But it’s humbling to be the number one prospect, of course.
Ashmore: Making the jump up to Double-A this season, how big of an adjustment was that for you?
Brown: “It’s a big adjustment, because the pitchers here can locate and hit their spots with every pitch they have. That was a big thing. And it’s a much quicker game than High-A, so I had to make adjustments pretty soon.”
Ashmore: Being involved in the trade talks like you were earlier this year, was that the first time your name had really come up in something like that in your career?
Brown: “Yeah. Last year, there was a little bit, they were talking about something with the Orioles. But it was a big thing this year. I really didn’t worry about it. I’d see my name on ESPN and I was like, ‘Is that really me?’ It was great, but it was also a little stressful. But I tried to take it day by day, and play my game and not worry about it.”
Ashmore: Did you kind of get tired of hearing about it after a while?
Brown: “Of course. Of course you do, but it really wasn’t that big. I guess I’ve got to get used to it if I’m going to play at the big league level, which I hope comes soon.”
Ashmore: For a while, it seemed like a given that you were going to be traded. Were you looking at it that way as well, like it was just a matter of time?
Brown: “I really didn’t know. I just wanted it to be over with, and whatever happened, happened. But I’m still with the Phillies, and that’s a great deal.”
Ashmore: You talked about wanting to get to the big leagues. Is that something you feel like you’re ready for now?
Brown: “I really don’t know. Whenever I’m ready, the Phillies will know and they’ll get me to the big leagues. But I guess I’m not ready now, so I’ll take it one day a a time and that’s all I’ll worry about.”
Mike Ashmore: A lot of people seem to be pretty curious about your background. You grew up in Australia and ended up getting discovered by the Phillies. Can you take me through how that all happened?
Brad Harman: “Basically, I was playing baseball back home. I’ve been playing my whole life, basically. A Phillies scout saw myself at the National Junior Championships that we have over there, and it went from there.”
Ashmore: Has there been more scouting over in Australia in recent years?
Harman: “It’s definitely grown over the past five years, I’d say. Now there’s quite a few teams represented out there. I don’t know how many, but there’s at least five or six full-time scouts living over there, and then there’s some scouts that will travel over to see guys play.”
Ashmore: You got to make your Major League debut last season, what was that experience like?
Harman: “Awesome, everyone here wants to get there, everyone in pro ball. And even people not in pro ball, it’s a dream for many people. Being able to achieve it last year was obviously a highlight of my career, and I’m just working towards getting back there.”
Ashmore: Is there any one moment from your experience up there that stands out?
Harman: “My hit. To get a hit in the big leagues, to get that first one out of the way was obviously memorable. But the guys that I got to hang out with over there on a daily basis and play against was pretty impressive.”
Ashmore: Were you able to get a World Series ring from their success in October last year?
Harman: “I did get a ring this year, the Phillies gave one to me. It was cool.”
Ashmore: Considering where you were last season, is it a little tough to be back in Double-A this season?
Harman: “Yeah. It’s just about performing, it doesn’t matter what level. I’m not performing at the moment, and it’s something that’s frustrating. But it’s just a grind, and I’ve got to keep going out there and playing baseball.”
Ashmore: You got to play in the World Baseball Classic as well this season, tell me about that…
Harman: “It was awesome. It was my second time there, and it was a great experience. Great level of competition. And it was fun to play with all the Australian guys. They were all Double-A, Triple-A guys with some big leaguers. It’s good to get the group together, so it was a lot of fun.”
Mike Ashmore: You made your big league debut with the Phillies in 2007, coming out of virtually nowhere to do so. What was that whole experience like?
Mike Zagurski: “It was great. I think it’s something that everybody who plays this game strives for. The way it happened was kind of unique, I guess, like you said. I was in A-Ball three weeks before I was in the major leagues, so it was a little different. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Ashmore: You didn’t really get scouted that much or even drafted. So I’d be curious to know at what point in your career did you have the confidence to think that a moment like that big league debut was a realistic possibility…
Zagurski: “I think probably when I was in High-A at the beginning of ’07. Going into spring training, they gave me a chance to make the Double-A team out of camp, and I knew at that point that I had a chance to do something. I didn’t make the team out of camp, but I went down to Clearwater and threw the ball pretty good and I think that once I got moved here, I realized that hey, I am close now. They always say that you’re one call away when you’re in Double-A, and at that point, I finally realized that I had a chance.”
Ashmore: Is there a particular moment that you’ve taken away from that big league experience?
Zagurski: “I think the experience as a whole was big for me. Just in the sense that I certainly wasn’t young in age, but in terms of minor league baseball experience, I was a little bit younger. Maybe I didn’t quite understand the whole layout of the major leagues, and that’s something that now, when I hopefully get back, I’ve been there and I’ve experienced it and understand it and know how it goes. I know how to carry myself and how to do things, and that can hopefully translate into success at the big league level.”
Ashmore: So how big of a setback was the Tommy John surgery considering the track you seemed to be on?
Zagurski: “I think timewise, it certainly was. From a mental standpoint and stuff, it kind of forced me to make sure I do everything the right way. I’ve been there, so I’d have a taste of what it would be like to get back. If I’d gotten hurt in A-Ball or Double-A, I might have wondered if this was really worth it. But having been in the big leagues, I knew this was what it was going to take to get back, and this was how I wanted to do it. Timewise, it cost me the year. But in the long run, hopefully it won’t be too big of a setback in the grand scheme of things.”
Ashmore: How close are you now to what you were prior to the surgery?
Zagurski: “I don’t think I’m quite there yet. I think the velocity has been kind of coming and going, which is pretty normal. The breaking ball has been quite a bit better, which was nice. Early on, at about the 12 month mark, it was not where I wanted it to be. So I’d say I’m not quite where I was before, but I would say it’s starting to get there.”
Ashmore: So I’m guessing that it’s not too bad being back in Double-A considering how well the recovery from the surgery has gone…
Zagurski: “For me, it didn’t make a difference. I needed to get somewhere and pitch. It had been almost 20 months between games for me. I started in Clearwater a couple of times and came here. It could have been here, Triple-A, whatever. To me, it was just I have to get somewhere and get some innings and show that I am healthy because it hd been a while since I’d pitched being healthy. The Double-A thing didn’t make a lot of difference to me.”
Ashmore: Kind of a tough year to miss last year with the Phillies winning the World Series, I’m sure…
Zagurski: “Sure. It was tough, but I know a handful of those guys that I played with; and some of the newer ones like the Durbin’s, the Eyre’s and those guys that I met in spring training, and they’ve been nothing but supportive. I’ve gotten text messages from them, seeing how things are going. So it was certainly tough from the standpoint of being a part of the team and winning the World Series. But I was able to watch a lot, and I think I learned quite a bit. It’s surprising what you can learn from watching on TV and things like that. But hopefully sometime a few years down the road, I can be a part of the next one.”
Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com