Out of Left Field: Michaels A Winner

Jason Michaels came from a winning college program, playing beside Pat Burrell at Miami. Some fans may think that a lot of the school records at Miami belong to Burrell, but would be surprised to find out that Michaels is the one that is listed throughout the Hurricanes' record book. Even with all of that history and a more than solid performance at the major league level, Michaels still isn't getting the recognition he deserves.

When Phillies fans analyzed the team's needs during the off-season, the one area that seemed to have the least amount of question marks was the outfield situation. Sure, it was obvious that Pat Burrell would be a concern until he found his stroke again, but even he seemed set as the starting leftfielder. Marlon Byrd and Bobby Abreu were also set, in centerfield and rightfield respectively. Their backups would be Ricky Ledee, the Phils top lefty bat off the bench, and Jason Michaels, the top right-hander off the bench. The fun began when General Manager Ed Wade signed Doug Glanville on January 12th and announced that Glanville would compete for a roster spot in spring training.

Tongues began wagging in Philadelphia almost immediately, and just as quickly, the spotlight focused on Jason Michaels. Fans wanted to know, were the Phillies unhappy with Michaels? Did it have anything to do with the Pat Burrell snub of manager Larry Bowa and the subsequent release of Tyler Houston in August? Or, did it have something to do with Michaels' mysterious hand injury that ended his Dominican League season early? I have a theory about the situation, but first we have to learn a little something about Jason Michaels.

It should come as no great surprise to anyone that Jason Michaels can flat out hit. Everywhere he has gone he has been successful and put up MVP/All-American numbers. When he came out of Jesuit High School in Tampa, Florida, where he led the Tigers to the Florida State Championship in 1994, he had visions of playing collegiately at baseball powerhouse Miami. He settled for spending his first two seasons at Okaloosa-Walton Community College. At OWCC, he led the Raiders to an all-time best record of 39-17 in 1995 and was named to the All-Panhandle Conference second team.

During the break before his sophomore season, he played summer ball in Virginia, in the (Shenandoah) Valley Baseball League, where he led the Staunton Braves to a 29-11 record and the Valley League championship. Jason scorched the NCAA sanctioned wooden bat league, leading all players in hits (69), HR (11), RBI (42), and slugging percentage (.649), while finishing a close second in batting average (.361.) He was an easy selection as the leagues Most Valuable Player. He followed that experience with an outstanding sophomore year at OWCC. Having already signed to transfer to Miami, Michaels led OWCC to a 47-11 record, surpassing the schools all-time best winning percentage set the previous year, and leading the Raiders to their first Panhandle Conference championship. Jason set single season records that year in batting average (.426) and slugging percentage (.716) while being selected the Panhandle Conference Player of the Year. He was also named to the National Junior College Athletic Associations second team.

He joined a Miami Hurricanes team in 1997 that had gone to the College World Series title game in 1996, losing in historic fashion to Louisiana State University, when LSU's Warren Morris hit a two-out, two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth to beat the Hurricanes 9-8. Miami boasted star third baseman Pat Burrell, who had been named the College World Series' Most Outstanding Player as a freshman. Michaels and Burrell became quick friends and led the Hurricanes over the next two years to records of 51-18 in 1997 and 51-12 in 1998.

Jason Michaels still holds Miami Hurricanes records for most hits in a season (106), and most doubles in a season (32). Despite playing just two years at the perennial powerhouse, he also is amongst the University's top ten in career home runs (34) and RBI (154.) When the Phillies saw Michaels still available in the fourth round of the 1998 draft, after having made Burrell the number one overall selection, they jumped at the chance to reunite this dynamic duo in their farm system.

Michaels progressed quickly through the Phillies farm system, albeit not as quickly as his buddy Burrell, and has been a mainstay on the Phillies bench and a fan favorite since 2002. Pat Burrell seemed to enjoy being reunited with Michaels in 2002 and responded with a career best .282 average, 37 home runs, and 116 RBI. But last year, when Burrell struggled with the bat, it was Michaels that stepped up and provided production out of left field, batting a team best .330 in 76 games.

So, what does any of this have to do with the signing of Doug Glanville? Well, there are a number of reasons teams trade players, but one reason that is not always easy to comprehend comes in the form of benevolence—trading a player for the good of the player. Jason Michaels has earned the right to compete for an everyday position in the major leagues, but he is not going to get that opportunity with the Philadelphia Phillies. Instead of insisting that Michaels be satisfied to come off their bench, I believe that the Phillies are looking to deal Michaels to an organization that is more beneficial to his situation.

He has worked his tail off making himself into a major league player, and he has had success at every level, from high school star, to Junior College MVP, to NCAA Division I star. He worked himself through every level of professional baseball and now he and the Philadelphia Phillies find themselves at a crossroads. Don't be surprised if the Phillies show a little benevolence before the end of Spring Training, sending Jason Michaels to an organization where he gets an opportunity to play everyday, and giving the Phillies an opportunity to fill one of their pressing needs with a young catcher or advanced third base prospect.

Columnist's Note: I welcome your feedback. Please send any comments to dncurry@comcast.net.

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