Sunday, January 18, 2009

Michael Burgess-Prospect Number 4

Coming from Hillsborough High in Florida, Michael Burgess knows he hasn’t accomplished anything yet. A look at the list of notable alumni from the school that shares the same name of its town will tell you why.

He has shared the same mound as flamethrowers Dwight Gooden and Baltimore Orioles closer Chris Ray. He has roamed the same outfield as sluggers Garry Sheffield, Carl Everett, and yes, Elijah Dukes. All of these names leave Michael Burgess as currently just a blip on the radar of immense baseball talent to come from the Hillsborough Terriers.

Fortunately for Burgess it’s no new thing to join elite company. The young super athlete rarely has been the first to do anything in his legendary baseball community. Instead the outfielder is always evoking the names of past greats that have achieved greatness before him.

In the 5A Florida State Championship finals Burgess pummeled a 470-foot home run to centerfield that cleared a 60 foot centerfield wall, a shot to make Mickey Mantle blush.  The colossal shot thrilled fans but shocked none. The Sarasota crowd had seen it before; Bo Jackson, Frank Thomas, and Ken Griffey Jr. had all done it during their tenure.

That summer Burgess was in the midst of leading his summer ball club, the Cincinnati Redskins, to a 56-5 record. He was playing for the legendary Joe Hayden who had tutored the likes of Barry Larkin, Griffey Jr., Mark Mulder, and Corey Patterson. During one batting practice Burgess delivered a shot to right center that landed on the roof of the sporting complex close to 500 feet away.

Hayden would later tell reporters that he had only seen one other player do that before, Ken Griffey Jr. But Griffey did it three times.

“Plenty of players come out of the area, but how many are going to make it that’s the question. I think about it before I get on the field, and I try to play my heart out to be the next player out of Tampa, Florida to make it to the major league,” Burgess told Sports Illustrated’s Lucas O’Neill.

Hopefully for the Nationals it is the background of Burgess that will push him to achieve greatness. A background like Burgess’s forces humility, it forces drive, and most importantly it forces a talented young man to understand that god given talent just isn’t enough.

The six foot one, 225 pound outfielder was on the fast track to be the number one overall pick out of high school. He opened the eyes of scouts his sophomore year when he batted .505 with 10 homers and 20 stolen bases. He got them to salivate when he batted .511 with 12 homers and 24 stolen bases his junior year. Numbers like that made ball clubs even forget about his 95 MPH fastball and his 0.67 ERA in 20 innings that same year.

He has a build that reminds you of Bo Jackson, and an athletic skill-set that’s not too far off either. In high school Burgess ran a 6.8 60 yard dash and could squat over 600 pounds.

Then his senior year something happened. Burgess had been rated as the nations number one high school prospect, and had won the Jackie Robinson Award for the nations best high school player, yet his senior year he couldn’t muster more than a .338 batting average with only two homers in 25 games.

Burgess had become high school baseballs version of Barry Bonds. It wasn’t anything that he was doing wrong that caused the drop off in his stats, it was the opponents refusal to pitch to him. Pitches in the strike zone became like an endangered species for the  young slugger, who saw seventeen intentional walks before his eight game of his senior year.

Burgess’s draft stock plummeted with the lack of numbers and the inability to reach expectations. Many felt that because he would likely slip out of the top 10 picks in the draft, he would attend Arizona State where he had committed to play that fall. This feeling caused Burgess to drop even further in the draft, all the way to the Washington Nationals third pick, and the 49th overall.

The outfielder has had solid success in his first two years in professional baseball. In his first year he combined to bat .318 between the Gulf Coast League Nats and the Vermont Lake Monsters. He Slugged 13 home runs and drove in 42 while reaching base at about .400. Starting in Hagerstown his second season he continued to show improved power but showed way less discipline, batting .249 with 18 home runs and 136 strikeouts.

It looks for Burgess that while he can hit the ball a mile he needs to shorten his stroke and make sure he’s making contact. The bottom line is a player needs to be able to bat over .250 in A ball if he wants to make it to the show, regardless of potential and power. Burgess claims he wants to be, ‘the first player to bat .500,’ so lets hope he put a lot of time in the offseason to improve his plate approach and discipline.

Outside of the batters box Burgess continues to impress. He has good hands for an outfielder and his rocket arm from the mound transfers to an all-star level gun from the corner spots. He has solid speed but not a lot of base stealing potential. He will likely start the season in Potomac and if he can continue to progress in the batters box, the 20 year old may only be a year or two from sniffing Nats Park.

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