Pat Burrell Could Define Phillies Season

Pat Burrell entered his Philadelphia Phillies career with more promise than any prospect since Scott Rolen or Mike Schmidt. The number one pick in Major League Baseball's draft made his debut in 2000, and his statistics skyrocketed from there. However, in 2003 Burrell struggled through the worst season in his career and left many people questioning his dedication and even his talent on the field. How Pat rebounds in 2004 will be crucial to the Phillies success this season.

Last season, Pat Burrell was mired in the worst slump of his young career and faced unending questions all season long about his lack of production from the plate en route to a .209 batting average for the season. Now, just four days from pitchers and catchers reporting to Clearwater, Florida for spring training 2004, Pat Burrell is once again a key to this season for Philadelphia. How Burrell performs this season may make the difference between the Phillies winning the division, and possibly fighting tooth and nail once again just to win the wild card.

For the past two years, the Phillies have been near the top of Major League Baseball, in strikeouts, and last season Burrell tallied 142 on his own. That just won't cut it this year. With two left-handers, Jim Thome and Bobby Abreu, book ending Burrell in the Phillies lineup Pat has the perfect opportunity to rebound from last season's dismal showing.

All signs are pointing to Burrell rebounding strong come April's season opener. After spending substantial extra time in the batting cage and working out with manger Larry Bowa and special hitting instructor Charlie Manuel, Burrell is already on the fast track to bouncing back strong in '04. There are several things that both Bowa and Manuel must advocate Burrell to change, however, if he hopes to return to his caliber of play this year.

Last season, Burrell was undisciplined at the plate, he appeared to be trying to swing for the fences on every pitch, and these practices reflected in his number of strikeouts, and his batting average as well. This season, Burrell needs to focus simply on making contact and remaining focused in the batters box. If he truly has been working as hard as it has been reported, he should be in for a monster season.

However, if Burrell's work leaves him with the same bad habits and unproductive batting stance, it could mean trouble for the Phils cleanup hitter. It is clear that something was wrong last season, and if the problem is not corrected, the Phillies may need to consider other options in left field. But, let's hope that Pat has been working hard in Clearwater, and it doesn't come to that.

The bottom line is that hitting between Abreu and Thome can do nothing but help Burrell in 2004. Throw in the fact that he will now be hitting in Citizens Bank Park, where wind will certainly be a factor in his favor. Toss in his newly found sense of urgency and one will realize that Burrell has all of the cards stacked in his favor going into this season.

Look for Burrell to rebound strong with 35 home runs, 135 RBI and a .288 batting average. If those projections hold true, Burrell's success should undoubtedly have a trickle down affect on the rest of the lineup and launch the Phillies into their first playoff season in eleven years.

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