This is a post that appeared at Philly Sports Central earlier this week, and I thought it could be appropriate here too.
Any team, Pat Burrell.
Last Thursday, the Phillies announced that Pat Burrell will sign a ceremonial one-day contract so he can officially retire as a member of the team (Ruben Amaro initially offered a three day contract, but that was deemed unnecessary.) He’ll be honored the weekend of May 18-20 against the Red Sox close to 12 years after his ML debut (5/24/00). In his 12 year career, Burrell slugged 292 home runs including 251 with the Phillies, good for 4th in franchise history. While his prolonged in-season slumps frustrated many fans, from 2005 to 2008 which has to be considered his prime, he was actually very consistent from season to season. He hit between 29 and 33 home runs, slugged between .502 and .507, and his OPS ranged from .875 to .902.
Some may say that he didn’t live up to expectations as a #1 pick because he never won any kind of award or played in an All-Star Game, but he actually stacks up very well compared to other first overall picks. As of now, only five other #1 picks have hit more home runs than he did, and even though some active #1 picks will eventually pass Burrell, his career will definitely be seen in a positive light years from now. Although people may have expected more based on his pedigree in college and the minors, he was still a key part in many lineups.
It may be hard to believe based on the limited range and foot speed for most of his career, but Burrell was once a really good athlete that also excelled in football and basketball. When it was clear that his future would be in baseball, Burrell dropped the other sports and enjoyed a very successful high school career at Bellarmine College Prep, culminating in being named California High School Player of the Year. He was taken very late in the 1995 draft by the Red Sox, but they never had serious negotiations. Burrell chose to attend Miami over Cal State Fullerton, where he would’ve been a teammate of Aaron Rowand.
While individual season statistics before 1999 are difficult if not impossible to find, Burrell’s career numbers as a Hurricane are readily available. He made an impact in college baseball immediately. He led the nation in batting average and slugging percentage, hit 23 home runs in 64 games, and somehow those numbers were dwarfed by his postseason stats. He became just the third player all time to be named College World Series Most Outstanding Player on a team that didn’t win the tournament. He still holds the Miami freshman records for home runs and total bases.
The Hurricanes didn’t come that close to winning a championship for the rest of Burrell’s college career. However, he still enjoyed two more great seasons that resulted in postseason play. His name is all over the Miami record book even though he missed two months of his junior season with a back injury. In Miami history, he’s first in batting average, first in slugging, second in home runs, and he’s also in the top 10 in runs, hits, total bases, RBI and walks. He made just about every All-American team in 1996 and 1997, and even though he missed a lot of time in his junior year, won the Golden Spikes Award, presented to the best amateur player in the country. He was an easy choice to go first overall, and fortunately for the Phillies, signed pretty quickly unlike their first round pick in the previous draft.
To start his pro career, Burrell got to stay in Florida as he was assigned to Clearwater. Going directly to high-A from college in the same year is rarely if ever seen now, and it shows how advanced Burrell was. J.D. Drew actually went right to AA after signing, but he had two seasons of indy league experience at that point. Some of Burrell’s teammates on that Clearwater team included Jimmy Rollins, Brandon Duckworth and Adam Eaton. He’s not on league leaderboards because he fell seven at bats short, but Burrell was one of the league’s best hitters at 21 years old. He would’ve been 11th in the league in OPS, and only one of the players in front of him, Nick Johnson, was 21 years old or younger.
1999 was another big step forward for Burrell, both at the plate and in the field. The Phillies were resigned to the fact that he wouldn’t be able to play third base like in college, but they thought he could cover enough ground to play left field. He still played mostly first base, but he got his feet wet to prepare to make the transition full time in 2000. The change on defense didn’t affect him at the plate at all, and he had another great season. His 1.068 OPS was second in the Eastern League, behind only Nick Johnson. He hit 28 more home runs, and he was well on his way to the majors.
Burrell would only play 45 more games in the minors for the rest of his career, not counting rehab appearances. In 40 games for the SWB Phillies in AAA, Burrell again posted an OPS over .900. His SLG dipped below .500, but his patience and command of the strike zone allowed him to post an OBP over .400. After Rico Brogna went on the DL in May, the Phillies eventually brought Burrell up. On May 24th, he joined the Phillies in Houston and made his major league debut, collecting his first two career hits. The next night, he hit his first home run off Scott Elarton. Two months later, the Phillies acquired Travis Lee who had been one of the league’s top prospects just a couple years earlier. Lee started his Phillies career in left field, but he soon moved to first where he was a very good defender. Burrell would occupy left field for the rest of his career, except for one game in 2009 when the Rays sent him out to right.
It would be fair to say that Burrell may not have lived up to expectations after a career at Miami that indicated he could’ve been one of the best players of this era. He certainly wasn’t that, but he had a very good career that should be remembered fondly in the best years of Phillies history. The difference between the player Burrell was and the player he could have been was was likely a change in approach at the plate. He became great at hitting to right field at Miami, but as a professional he became a dead pull hitter. Maybe he felt pressure to hit more home runs after his outstanding 2002 season and contract extension, but he still became a very dangerous power hitter.