ball club largely dominated by veterans and seasoned pros, the duo of Marlon Byrd and Brett Myers offers a contrasting view with their youthful exuberance
and skill. Along with
2nd baseman Chase Utley, they may well be the three youngest players
on the Phils this season.
However, do not be confused by their apparent youth and inexperience at the big league level. In a sport where talent matters as much as experience, the M & M Boys may well prove to be among the most talented performers on a team worthy of the title "star-studded."
Although their paths to professional baseball took on divergent paths, they joined forces in the year 2000 and have been inseparable teammates and friends ever since. Now, their paths, along with their 23 teammates, could lead to a NL East title and a playoff birth. Suffice it to say that their performances may well determine how smoothly the path will be traveled.
The Phillies drafted both Brett Myers and Marlon Byrd in 1999, though the expectations for the pair were quite dissimilar. Myers was a high school All-American, and a former boxing champion while Byrd's excellence was performed on the football field. The cocky Myers was the Phils #1 draft choice and immediately conjured up images of a young Curt Schilling.
was drafted in the 10th round out of a Georgia JC, and although the
Phils liked his athleticism, they were not nearly as convinced that he would
ever make it to Veterans Stadium. A
career threatening knee injury made him a questionable long-term
proposition. Yet, from the time
that they both signed, in the summer of 1999, it became clear that they had both
the skill and desire to become major contributors to the Phillie
Befitting his youthful inexperience, Myers was sent to the GCL in 1999 where he toyed with rookie league hitters. Byrd, three years older, and much more experienced took his bat and glove to Batavia, one notch above the GCL, and immediately showed the Phils that they had something special.
With a power bat and lightening speed, he not only hit a solid .296, but also took time to slug 13 home runs and knock in 50 runs. He suddenly went from suspect to prospect and the season of 1999 was the last year that the M & M Boys would be separated.
Beginning in the year 2000, when they led Piedmont to an incredible 90-47 record, their climb through the system has been swift and successful. They became roommates the following year while at Reading and have maintained their friendship throughout.
they prepare for the rigors of a pennant race in 2004, the expectations have
risen for both. No longer are they viewed as yearlings, and rookie mistakes will
no longer be tolerated. As the leadoff hitter, Byrd is counted on to set the
table for sluggers Bobby Abreu, Pat Burrell, Jim Thome and Mike Lieberthal.
As for Myers, the whispers in camp talk of a much more mature hurler, of a man who now understands his art, and the role he plays in making his art presentation a winning one. Actually, no less an authority than Manager Larry Bowa has been touting Myers as the pitcher most likely to make a major leap in '04 from solid starter to star hurler.
to say, this would bode well for the Phils. Pitching in the middle of a rotation
consisting of "ace" Kevin Millwood, All-Star lefty Randy Wolf, and former
All-Stars Vicente Padilla and Eric Milton would seem to preclude Myers from
attaining recognized stardom. Yet,
through the sheer will of his determination and talent, he may well force his
way to the top of the rotation by June.
At worst, he promises to improve on his 14 wins last season, a year that saw him wilt under the pressure of a failed playoff push. Nevertheless, the experience he gained should serve him well this year and for many years thereafter. Phillie fans can't be faulted for envisioning a staff of Myers, Wolf, Padilla and minor league phenoms Cole Hamels and Gavin Floyd leading a charge to several NL Eastern titles over the next decade.
Lets take a closer look at the M & M Boys and see what we might expect from them in the upcoming season. What better place to start than at the top, and that's exactly where Marlon Byrd will bat this summer… at the top of the order.
Although his final numbers of a .303 average and decent power numbers indicate a very successful rookie year, it was not always that way for the muscular Byrd. Struggling under the weight of a potential rookie of the year award, he struggled at the back end of the order until June.
With calls for a change in centerfield, many fans opening campaigned for a Kenny Lofton trade. In fact, the Phils briefly considered this scenario but instead made another decision. They would move Byrd from the bottom of the order where he was clearly floundering and place him at the leadoff position, a spot he had occupied at SWB in 2003.
The results couldn't have been more sudden, or dramatic. Immediately, he became an on-base machine and his .160 average quickly climbed over the .200 mark. From there, he hit at close to a .350 pace for the rest of the year to finish on the north end of .300 at .303. Along with those tidy numbers came increased power numbers, more runs scored and a stolen base percentage that would make anyone proud.
He also displayed excellent instincts in the outfield, and proved to be a stellar center fielder. More than one baseball scout began making comparisons to Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett when discussing the mercurial Byrd. Built along similar lines, Byrd generates extra base power from strong wrists, and a lightening quick bat, much as Puckett did.
Although his homer run total of seven was a small sample size of Puckett, most coaches in the Phils organization expect his totals to climb into the mid 20 ranges… and quickly. It will shock no one if Byrd becomes a perennial 20-20 player, capable of hitting home runs and stealing bases with equal aplomb.
Phillie faithful, certain of a Pat Burrell revival in '04 have reason to believe that a Burrell-Byrd-Abreu trio could soon become the best outfield in baseball. If this happens, count on Byrd to be at the center of all the action.
As previously mentioned, the Phillies five man starting rotation is the envy of ball clubs from Seattle to Miami. Blessed with the rare combination of youth, skill and experience, the Fantastic Fivesome are counted on to all produce double digit win totals in '04. With a crack bullpen of Billy Wagner, Tim Worrell, Roberto Hernandez and Rheal Cormier, the chances of blown leads have been reduced to a small afterthought this year.
Perhaps no pitcher will benefit from the increased bullpen assistance than Myers. During the 2003 season, he saw no less than four potential victories disappear under the erratic performances of Mssrs. Williams, Wendell and Mesa. That he was still able to win 14 games is testament to his talents.
His out pitch remains a curveball that literally freezes a hitter in his tracks. When he is on his game, he will combine a knee-buckling curve ball with a 91-92 MPH fastball and a change up that makes his fastball appear quicker. One of the criticisms of Myers has been his seemingly low strikeout total, but watch for these numbers to rise as his understanding of how to set up a hitter grows.
In fact, if he remains healthy the entire year, the ace mantle could well fall on his shoulders before August. With a bulldog mentality, befitting a former boxer, Myers is sure to bring back memories of his idol, Curt Schilling, both in the efficient way he retires hitters, and in the temperamental personality that he displays.
pitchers would dare question the authority of Pitching Coach Joe Kerrigan, yet
Myers did just that in a well-documented verbal battle last August. Though he
later admitted his misgivings at questioning the wisdom of such a respected
coach as Kerrigan, his outburst was very much in character.
The key for the Phils will be in harnessing that fire against opposition hitters in '04, and not at friendly teammates or coaches. If this happens, and it says here that it will, watch for Myers to win upwards of 16-18 games this season.
If baseball were a food, then the 2004 Phils would be a twelve-course meal. If speed were an appetizer, then Jimmy Rollins wets the palate. Define grace and hitting skill as the salad and none tastes better than Bobby Abreu and Placido Polanco.
If its power and strength that describes your taste in a main course, then Jim Thome, Pat Burrell and Mike Lieberthal are an award-winning delicacy. The crème-de-la-crème in delicious after dinner drinks is a pitching staff led by Kevin Millwood and Randy Wolf.
However, no fine dining would be complete without the tasty treat of a scrumptious dessert, and what better way to satisfy the taste buds than with a large order of M & M's, named Marlon and Myers.
For our very own Philadelphia Phillies, this is a menu guaranteed to be favorable to the final bite…in late
October of 2004.
In my last article titled, "Two Arms, Two Arms," this writer described a ride from Philadelphia to Reading as taking approximately four hours to navigate. This assumption was based on California freeways, slow and crowded. I was justifiably corrected by one of my readers, and offer my apologies. He shared that the trek from Philadelphia to the lovely city of Reading can be made in a bit over an hour.
I welcome suggestions, questions, comments and corrections, too. Please email me at
firstname.lastname@example.org and I will respond. CD from the Left Coast