The most operative buzzword regarding the Phillies outfield unit is potential. Bobby Abreu has the potential to be a batting champion. Marlon Byrd has the potential to be a 30-30 man. Ricky Ledee's career was stunted by potential. Jason Michaels has the potential to be a starter somewhere in this league. Burrell has the potential to be, well, you know. Phillies fans are often justifiably frustrated with unfulfilled potential, and this group has plenty. But 2004 could be the year that sees it all come to fruition.
As our preview series mercifully draws to a close, we examine the outfield corps and all its potential.
Bobby Abreu – L/R
Last year: Abreu had pretty much the same season he has had each of his six years with the Phillies. .300 average, 20 homers, 101 RBI, 99 runs, 124 strikeouts and 22 steals are all right around his career average. All good numbers, better than average, but Phillies fans and Abreu himself were expecting more. Everyone was expecting a breakthrough MVP-type season with Thome hitting behind him, but that didn't happen. What the Phillies got instead was a durable, steady outfielder who gives the middle of the order some speed.
What could go right: Abreu finally breaks out and scorches the league, winning a batting title and becoming a bona fide force instead of just a "nice player."
What could go wrong: Barring injury, about all that can be expected to go wrong is another unremarkable season.
Outlook: We've been waiting for Abreu to break out since he hit .335 at 25 and became the Phillies first 30-30 guy at 27. Abreu has the goods, without question. But there is also the perception that he is lazy, failing to capitalize on his talent. He is a five-tool player, but has never won an award or even made an All-Star team. He has power, but hit 20 home runs the last two seasons after hitting 31 in 2001. He has speed, but is not a particularly good baserunner. He hits for average, but after that .335 season he has hovered around .300, and was hitting .274 at the All-Star break. He has a very good arm, but often seems hesitant and nonchalant in the outfield. If Abreu was a man of meager talent, his numbers would be cause for celebration, but since he has all that talent, he could be in danger of being the next Von Hayes. At age 30, it's time for Abreu to finally become a superstar.
Marlon Byrd – R/R
Last year: After being anointed the team's starting centerfielder before the season even began, Byrd started horribly, hitting .193 through May. But then he started putting it together, hitting .364 in June and finishing at .303. He also established himself as a capable leadoff hitter, batting .319 with an OBP of .374 and 64 runs scored in 326 at-bats in that slot. He also hit .333 with an OBP of .426 at home.
What could go right: Byrd will work on base running technique in spring training, trying to become a smarter runner instead of a guy who relies purely on speed. If that works, look out, as Byrd could become one of the best leadoff hitters in the game.
What could go wrong: The sophomore jinx catches Byrd, and he regresses into a .250 hitter.
Outlook: Byrd has a stubborn work ethic, and usually rises to a challenge. The Phillies hope Byrd and Jimmy Rollins become their version of Juan Pierre-Luis Castillo, creating havoc on the bases and forcing teams to deal with them while Thome-Burrell-Abreu are up. Considering Byrd's ability to overcome adversity and improve every year, 2004 should be a good one.
Pat Burrell – R/R
Last year: We all know what kind of year Burrell had, going from 37-116-.282 to 21-64-.208. Nobody worked harder on his game, however, and Phillies fans, notoriously vicious on slumping players, acknowledged this and gave him their full-throated support.
What could go right: Burrell rebounds and gets back to 2002, or a reasonable facsimile.
What could go wrong: He doesn't.
Outlook: Sluggers as accomplished as Mike Schmidt and Mark McGwire have had similar seasons early in their careers and came back nicely. McGwire, in particular, suffered an excruciating year in 1991, with eerily similar numbers. And that was after four very good seasons, not one. But he came back with a 42-104-.268 campaign in 1992. Burrell, who has demonstrated remarkable mental toughness, should come back as well. The team would probably take a 30-100-.250 season, and Burrell certainly would.
Ricky Ledee – L/L
Last year: Ledee seemed to have found his niche as a fourth outfielder with the Phillies, giving them quality starts in left and center, good defense, and some pop off the bench, smacking a career high 13 homers. He is a professional player who quietly goes about his job, and accepts and fulfills his role with professionalism.
Outlook: Ledee will continue to be the Phils' fourth outfielder, and will ideally play less than last year, when he often played in place of the slumping Burrell and Byrd. The Phils would also like to see his pinch-hitting average (.224) improve.
Jason Michaels – R/R
Last year: Michaels was a solid bench player, hitting .330 with 16 of his 36 hits going for extra bases. He had a respectable .341 OBP as a pinch-hitter, and clubbed two pinch homers.
Outlook: There may be no more underappreciated player on the Phillies' roster than Michaels. He certainly can hit and is a decent outfielder. But with Doug Glanville back, he may be caught in a numbers crunch and may wind up as trade bait. Hopefully, however, he will remain with the organization, as he is quite an asset to the team.
Doug Glanville – R/R
Last year: Glanville split time as a reserve outfielder with Texas and the Cubs and hit a game-winning triple for Chicago in the playoffs.
Outlook: Glanville returned to the Phillies, but is not guaranteed a roster spot. He is a free swinger who never walks, but gives the team much-needed speed off the bench, very good defense in center as a backup to Byrd, and a smart, character player in the clubhouse. If nothing else, he provides a stream of valuable quotes.