He has yet to face a pitcher wearing a different uniform from his own, but the early buzz in camp is that Phillies left fielder Pat Burrell has been displaying the best swing he's had since he smashed 37 homers in 2002 and copped himself a $50 million contact.
"You know who looks good? Pat," pitcher Randy Wolf said, offering an
unsolicited opinion. "He was raking the ball. I threw him a few pitches (inside) that no one could keep in fair territory, and he was getting the barrel on them."
Burrell is showing confident signs. After scorching several line drives to all parts of the field on the first day hitters faced live pitching, Burrell casually said, "I had some good swings in there."
Burrell's 2004 season had a little bit of everything in it - the good, the bad and the ugly. He opened the year with a shortened, less aggressive swing, and by late May he had his batting average above .300 and was among the league leaders in RBIs.
However, in June the bad habits returned. He hit .221 in June and July, then landed on the disabled list August 3 with a wrist injury. He came off the DL with his wrist heavily wrapped and hit .223 the rest of the way.
At first, it was presumed that Burrell would have surgery in the offseason to repair the wrist. When he searched and found a medical opinion that the surgery wouldn't be required, there were some nervous people in the Phillies' front office.
But Burrell has been swinging the bat without discomfort for the better part of three months, and last week he shed the precautionary tape job he had been wearing on his wrist.
Manager Charlie Manuel and his staff have been offering Burrell advice in low doses.
"I think one of the biggest things is to keep Pat comfortable and relaxed," Manuel said. "There comes a time when you're teaching and pounding a guy with stuff that you have to let him up. You have to back up, leave him alone and see how he does. It's called patience.
"As long as he keeps his balance, he's fine. I just want Pat to get
comfortable, go out and hit. Pat still has some career years coming."
Another player who has been impressive in camp is Juan Richardson. The 26 year old third baseman has been plagued by injuries and underachieving since he signed with the Phillies as an amateur free agent in July of 1998. This spring, the Phillies have been impressed with his work ethic and the progress that he’s showing in camp.
In the intrasquad game on Monday, Richardson was 3-for-3 with two doubles, a run scored and an RBI.
While Richardson is slated for the minor leagues to start the season, there is a potentially interesting scenario on the horizon. There’s a lot to fall in place, but stay with me here; What if David Bell’s recurring back injury keeps him out for most – or all – of the season? Meanwhile, Richardson tears up minor league pitching like it’s expected that he could since the Phillies first signed him or like he was in 2003 before he got hurt. Depending on what’s happening at the major league level, the Phillies might be interested in resuming trade talks for Placido Polanco rather than face another offseason battle over his contract. At the very least, considering the severity – or the potential severity of Bell’s injury – Richardson will likely get a good look this spring and they’ll keep a close eye on him during the season.
Catcher Carlos Ruiz was another impressive member of the Phillies intrasquad heroes on Monday. Ruiz gunned down Shane Victorino and Chris Roberson in the fifth inning, throwing out two guys who simply aren’t used to being thrown out stealing bases. Ruiz will be at AAA this season and could become at least a quality major league backup in the very near future.
Meanwhile, speaking of Victorino. He made a dazzling defensive play to rob Marlon Byrd of extra bases. Victorino crashed into the center field fence, fell to the ground and hung on to the ball. The fact that it was Byrd who hit the ball is interesting, since the two of them are in a battle for a spot on the Phillies bench. In the early going, Victorino has sent a message that he is here to win a spot. The Phillies were a little concerned about Victorino’s commitment, since he showed up at the last moment when camp opened. They had expected him in camp early to impress his new bosses.
Finally, lefty Mike Bacsik was impressive. He pitched his one inning and retired three hitters on ground balls that looked like they were hit by little leaguers. His change-up was flat out scary. Bacsik is fighting for a spot in the bullpen as a left-handed specialits, but he could also enter a battle for a starting spot if Vicente Padilla can’t start the seasson. It’s likely that Gavin Floyd will get that spot, but stranger things have happened.