Marlon Byrd doesn't want to hear the theories of why he had such a horrible 2004 season. He doesn't feel the need to blame anybody and he also isn't looking to prove anybody wrong. He's just looking to be the Phillies' starting center fielder. That's a tall order for a guy who has Kenny Lofton, Jason Michaels and possibly, even Shane Victorino ahead of him on the depth chart. While discussions linger about whether or not Byrd can make the team, Byrd concentrates only on getting better and winning back his job.
Last season, the Phillies brought in Doug Glanville as a "mentor". While that was the reasoning, the move was construed as a move to give the team insurance against a shaky Marlon Byrd. Rumors that it tainted Byrd's moral floated around Philadelphia and almost like an omen that had come true, Byrd was eventually on the bench and finally back at AAA Scranton. Charlie Manuel was dispatched to make Byrd his personal project, but even that didn't work out too well. "I fired a lot at him in a short time," remembers Manuel. Perhaps, it was too short of a time. This winter, Byrd worked with people at the Bucky Dent Baseball Academy and feels that the changes that they made have paid off. "I see more quickness in his hands and a more aggressive swing," reports Manuel on what he has seen of Byrd this spring, compared to the hitter that he tried to reconfigure in a short period last summer.
One of the big changes was to widen Byrd's stance to give him a stronger base to hit from. It should help improve his timing and restore some of the power that the Phillies thought would be a part of Byrd's game. If batting practice is any indication - and it isn't always an accurate indication - the move has worked. Byrd has been one of the more impressive specimens in the Phillies' camp this spring. He was also one of the first to show up. Manuel remembers his first discussion with Byrd this spring, when the deposed center fielder told his new skipper "I came here to win a job." "He said exactly what I wanted to hear him say," said Manuel.
Part of the problem, believes Byrd, was in his approach to the game. "I was just trying to single up the middle in every at bat. There was no aggressiveness to how I approached my at bats," remembers Byrd. "I was hitting like a girl." Now, he's swinging with more authority and has put on true power displays in BP. At one point this spring, Byrd launched about a dozen shots in a row into the left field seats at BrightHouse Networks Field. He has also been peppering the ball to other fields and looks even better than the young hitter that first won a job coming into the 2003 season.
The scenarios are interesting. It's unlikely that Byrd will take away a job from either Lofton or Michaels. He could make Victorino's stay in the organization short by taking his potential bench spot away from him. Since Victorino was a Rule 5 Pick, he would have to be offered back to the Dodgers if the Phillies don't keep him on the major league roster all season. For now, Byrd is lumped into a group somewhat at the end of the line. It's that usual group of players that are combined into one patch, all fighting for one or two jobs with a club. Talk of Placido Polanco or Jose Offerman learning to play some outfield could cloud Byrd's potential spot with the club. If Pat Burrell struggles, or if his sore wrist starts causing problems, Michaels could be called upon to help in left field, opening a spot in the center field platoon with Lofton. "He could help us a lot. The better he hits, the more he'll get to play," admits Manuel.
Another potential outcome of a resurging Marlon Byrd is that some teams that passed on trading for him over the winter may suddenly be interested. There will likely be a number of scouts watching Byrd once spring games begin to gauge how he may be able to help their club. Over the winter, Arizona, Los Angeles and Milwaukee were the main contenders for Byrd's services, but all backed off for one reason or another. Certainly, the numbers that Byrd put up in 2004 didn't help his chances of drawing interest from elsewhere. Byrd doesn't worry about that. He would prefer to stay in Philadelphia and contribute to the organization that he grew up in. He would prefer to win back a job that was once his and he believes can be again.
Marlon Byrd's Career Stats
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