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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
Walks seem to come in bigger bunches than hits for draft prospect Michael Burgess.
By JOEY KNIGHT
Published April 5, 2007
TAMPA - The familiar assemblage of local pro baseball scouts -roughly a dozen - has arrived at Middleton High on this warm Tuesday evening an hour before the Tigers' game against Hillsborough and several minutes before the Terriers' team bus.
Presumably, this radar gun-wielding contingent has convened at the Tigers-Terriers game to observe, among others, five-tool Hillsborough draft prospect Michael Burgess. Presumably, that is, because these guys would rather eat their gas vouchers than speak to a reporter.
"I'm not gonna say a word," says one, acknowledging only that he's a scout. "I'll get in too much trouble."
Three hours later, Burgess has completed another uneventful night at the plate 0-for-1, a walk and another reach on an error in his team's critical 3-2 district triumph. By the time the Terriers finish their postgame meeting in rightfield, the scouts have dispersed.
And another evening has passed without anyone really knowing the collective big-league baseball mind-set about Burgess' enigmatic senior year.
"You can never predict the draft," says Burgess, still believed to be the bay area's most coveted major-league draft prospect. "I don't know what to say about this season. My other years I've been hitting pretty good, but this season it just seems like I get a hit a couple of games and look like the man, but the next game I come out looking a little low."
From a statistical standpoint, Burgess' numbers (.326, one home run, 14 RBIs, 10 strikeouts) represent a glaring dip from his junior year, when he hit better than .500 with 12 homers en route to being named Aflac National High School Player of the Year.
But toss in the fact he has been walked 27 times, more than twice as often as any other Terrier, and it could be surmised Burgess has further endeared himself to scouts with his patience at the plate and team-best .577 on-base percentage.
"These scouts aren't stupid," said Plant coach Dennis Braun, whose club faces the Terriers tonight in a critical Class 5A, District 10 contest and rematch of Hillsborough's controversial 17-10 triumph March 6.
"They saw him last year and saw him playing in the fall with a wooden bat. He's got the five tools and that's what they look at. I don't think (the offensive dropoff) will affect him a whole lot."
All appearances indicate Burgess is taking things in stride. He remains the Terriers' most stoic figure in the dugout and one of their hardest workers outside of it. His stepdad, Eric Watson, calls him "a good overcomer."
"If it's not going well for him at the plate, he doesn't take it on the field, he doesn't take it on the bases, he just loves playing this game," Terriers coach Ken White said. "I can't say a bad thing about the guy."
But Burgess admits the lack of hittable pitches, which have thwarted his ability to get into any kind of rhythm, frustrated him at the season's outset.
In one three-game stretch, White put him at the leadoff spot in an attempt to force teams to pitch to him. Burgess was walked to lead off every game.
Tuesday night, he worked Middleton right-handed ace Nevin Griffith to a 3-1 count before grounding to short his first at-bat. His second time up, he purposely crowded the plate in an effort to get an inside fastball he could turn on. He was walked on four pitches.
"It's kind of hard being patient when it comes to your senior year because you kind of want to impress everybody," said Burgess, who has signed with Arizona State. "But it's not all about that, you've got to just take what they give you."
These days, Burgess expresses a similar philosophy regarding his future.
Though conventional wisdom suggests his upside remains plenty strong enough to make him a first-round pick in this summer's draft, he knows he has no more control over it than what Plant's pitchers will throw to him tonight.
"Any way it goes I'm going to be satisfied," he said. "I'm going to go to a (Division I school) where I can play centerfield and hit every day as a freshman, or I can go pro."