By JAY LeBLANC
July 3, 2008
The Washington Nationals felt like they got a steal last summer when they selected Florida high school outfielder Michael Burgess with their supplemental first-round pick - No. 49 overall - in the 2007 MLB Draft, but they figured it would be a while before he started to realize his vast potential. After all, Burgess only slipped that far because he slumped during his senior year of high school as coaches tinkered with his powerful swing.
“We know when his sweet spot connects to the ball, it is thunderous. It’s special,” Nats general manager Jim Bowden told MLB.com. “There is some development that needs to take place with Michael … All the potential is there, but it’s going to take time to get to the success.”
Apparently, Burgess had other plans. The 5’ 11”, 195 pounder dominanted from Day One in the Gulf Coast League, hitting .336 with eight home runs and 32 RBI and earning Post-Season All-Star honors. He continued to exceed expectations after a late-season promotion to the short-season Class A Vermont Lake Monsters, slugging another three home runs to go along with a .286 batting average in 70 at bats. Baseball America took notice, ranking Burgess as the Nationals’ No. 4 prospect in the offseason.
Still just 19 years old, Burgess is enjoying a fine season with the Class A Hagerstown Suns. He currently ranks second in the South Atlantic League with 15 home runs and eighth with 51 RBI, and started in right field in the circuit’s recent All-Star Game. The fact that he’s hitting just .266 and has struck out 99 times in 289 at bats indicates that he still has plenty of work to do in the minors, but there’s no question the Nationals are more than pleased with the progress he’s made. I recently had a chance to speak with Burgess:
Q: What were your thoughts when you first learned you’d been drafted by the Nationals? Did you know in advance that they were looking to pick you?
A: Yeah, I knew they were looking to take me. I didn’t think they were going to, but I was hoping they did.
Q: You slipped to 49th in the draft when many predicted you’d be chosen higher, and then went out and dominated the Gulf Coast League. Did you use that as motivation?
A: Yeah, and I still use it as motivation to this day. I’m just going out and playing my type of ball.
Q: Which is?
A: Just playing hard, and trying to get to the big leagues as soon as I can.
Q: You recently played in the South Atlantic League All-Star Game. What was that experience like?
A: It was pretty cool, man, just to play with other guys from the other side, like a friend of mine like [Braves prospect Jason] Heyward. I liked playing with those guys.
Q: Could you describe your approach at the plate? Do you come into an at bat looking for a specific pitch, or do you just react to what’s thrown?
A: I just come looking for whatever pitch I feel that pitcher’s going to throw. I just look for that specific pitch.
Q: Is there any player, past or present, that you try to model your approach after?
Q: Why do you like Gary Sheffield?
A: I like Gary Sheffield, man, because he plays hard and he swings hard, like myself - I like to swing hard, too.
Q: What are some aspects of your game that you’re trying to improve upon this year?
A: My batting, my hitting, limiting my strikeouts or whatever, and my outfielding.
Q: How do you feel your defense is coming along?
A: I think my defense is pretty good. I could work a little more on the bases, too. There’s always something I can tweak a little bit and get better at.
Q: Your manager, Darnell Coles, and your hitting coach, Tony Tarasco, were both big league outfielders. What kind of advice have they given you as you work toward getting there yourself?
A: Well, they always tell me to be patient and take it a day at a time; don’t rush it. And just play the game hard, because you never know who’s watching.
Q: How soon do you think you’ll be ready to help the Nationals?
A: Whenever they’re ready for me. I can’t predict … it could be next year, it could be three years, it could be five years, you know? So just whenever they’re ready for me.
Jay LeBlanc is an assistant news editor at The Washington Times and Mayor of the National Pastime web community. His Prospect Q&A column runs every Monday and Thursday throughout the season. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Photo by Amanda Rice
Be sure to check out our previous National Pastime Prospect Q&A’s: Matt Wieters, Orioles; Ross Detwiler, Nationals; Adrian Alaniz, Nationals; Jake Arrieta, Orioles; Greg Golson, Phillies; John Shelby III, White Sox; Brandon Erbe, Orioles; Chris Marrero, Nationals; Jason Donald, Phillies; John Ely, White Sox; Nolan Reimold, Orioles.