Top Prospect #50: Gary Burnham

On our Top 50 Phillies Prospects, we always give the final spot on the list to a player who isn't necessarily thought of as a prospect, but deserves some recognition. Call it the Chris Coste Award. This season's recipient is Gary Burnham.

Last season, Chris Coste was the toast of the town when he became a 33 year old rookie and succeeded at the major league level. Well, Gary Burnham is only 32, but his life in baseball has been much like that of Chris Coste, although he does have one distinction that Coste doesn't; Burnham was actually traded for no compensation. Ouch!

Just a look at Gary Burnham's transaction sheet gives you a hint into what kind of player he is. There's the line that says: March 29, 2002 Traded by the Phillies to the Toronto Blue Jays for no compensation. And, there's the line that has him leaving affiliated baseball to sign with the independant Bridgeport Blue Fish of the Atlantic League. That was in 2005 when it looked like Burnham's days in affiliated ball were over.

Originally, Gary Burnham was drafted in the 22nd round of the '97 Draft out of Clemson University. He signed immediately and was a fixture in the organization until being dealt to Toronto at the end of spring training, 2002. Burnham thought that a change of scenery might do the trick, since he had put up solid stats in the Phillies' organization and gotten no higher than Double-A .318 the season before the trade. The Blue Jays kept him at the Triple-A level for two seasons before he became a minor league free agent after the 2003 season and signed with the Reds. The Reds wound up trading him to the St. Louis Cardinals and when he became a minor league free agent after the 2004 season, there were no takers and he wound up in Bridgeport, Connecticut, close to where he grew up. In the middle of last season, the Phillies needed some help in the minors and Burnham got the call.

Playing all or part of four seasons at Triple-A, Burnham has put up 35 homeruns, 190 RBI and a .279 average, but has never gotten a sniff of being in the majors.

Who knows, maybe this will be the year.

Acquired: Was originally drafted and signed by the Phillies, but was later dealt to the Toronto Blue Jays. The Phillies purchased his contract from the Bridgeport Blue Fish of the independent Atlantic League.

Batting and Power: Burnham's power numbers have fluctuated, but in each of the last two seasons, he's hit a career-high 18 homeruns, although much of that time was spent in the independent Atlantic League. There is still some power there, but it's not a huge part of his game. Burnham has a good stroke at the plate and has consistently shown good plate discipline and the ability to simply put the bat on the ball to make things happen. His career on-base percentage of .373 is impressive.

Baserunning and Speed: Forget it; there's not any speed to talk about. To help make up for that, Burnham does have decent instincts and will take an extra base here and there.

Defense: With the ability to play both at first base and in the outfield, Burnham provides some versatility and he's able to play both positions well defensively. Since he doesn't have any speed, he's limited to corner outfield positions and doesn't have overly impressive range at first base. He also doesn't have a great arm and can't be counted on to throw runners out from the outfield.

Projection: At this point, the best that Burnham can hope for is to find a utility role with a club at some point. It's too much to ask that there can be another Chris Coste-like success story in back-to-back seasons, but Burnham deserves a major league audition at some point, even if it's just with a September call-up. He's not going to be any more ready to play in the majors than he is now, so there is no reason to wait for him to move up to Philadelphia (or any other major league city).

Comparison: The Chris Coste comparison is too easy, but the truth is that the two players have similar strengths. Burnham and Coste both have some strength, no speed and a huge commitment to the game of baseball. There is no reason to believe that Burnham couldn't do for a team basically what Coste did for the Phillies last season.


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