On the onset, Michael Burgess’ minor league career looks like, well, average at best. Burgess, a former first round pick (49th overall) by the Nationals in 2007, was 22-years-old last season, has played exactly 21 games in Double-A, and owns a rather mundane .250/.343/.456 career line. And his 2011 numbers with the Daytona Cubs are downright pitiful: .225/.323/.427.
Michael Burgess, though, is a name to remember; a name that will likely be among the game’s most pleasant surprises by the end of 2012.
Context is everything in baseball. Everything. Take for example the 1990s version of Coors Field, the ultimate hitter’s paradise. From 1995 to 1999, Vinny Castilla hit .302/.348/.545 with 191 homeruns, tied for seventh in baseball during that time. His total offensive production, however, was just three percent above the league average – three percent! Why? A lot of it has to do with the advantage of playing in Coors Field – sure the era didn’t help his cause either. But Denver’s home park was one of the most notorious bandboxes in all of baseball history. And once that’s figured into the equation all of a sudden his numbers aren’t as good as they first appear. Just as a comparative example, Jayson Werth, who hit .232/.330/.389 for the Nationals last season, performed at the same level offensively as Castilla during those five years: three percent above the league average.
Context. It’s always all about context.
Burgess’s line from last season, .225/.323/.427, looks terrible, especially for a twenty-two year old and former first rounder. But with the proper context it’s fairly easy to forecast his future success.
He spent all last season in the Florida State League, one of the least favorable hitting environments in all of baseball. The league average OPS, .710, was the third lowest mark for any full-season minor league level. And according to Weighted Runs Created Plus, his production last season – remember: .225/.323/.427 – was still eight-percent above the league average.
But that doesn’t make him a potential breakout candidate this year, right?
Right, sort of.
See, Burgess was also extremely unlucky last season too. His batting average on balls in play (BABIP) was .253 last season. The FSL league average was .313. So there’s going to be quite a bit a progression back towards the norm next season as well. Plus, his peripheral numbers are quite impressive too.
Burgess walked in 12.1% of his plate appearances, nearly four percentage points above the league average. His strikeout percentage was just a tick above it, a solid rate for a player with above-average power potential. His ISO (isolated power), .202, was nearly 80 points higher too. And considering the average age for batters in the FSL, 22.7, Burgess’s production last season all of a sudden looks a lot better.
He’s likely to begin the season in Double-A, with the Tennessee Smokies in the Southern League, a far better hitting environment. And it’s also a spot where he’s likely to start capitalizing on his solid potential too.
Right now, Burgess has a decent big league ceiling: a right fielder with 20+ homerun potential, and could probably peek somewhere along the lines of a .260/.340/.440 hitter.
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