Getting Stronger

Offseason workouts had Burgess ready for daily grind

KINSTON, N.C.—For most 20-year-olds, September means a return to college. For those playing in the minors, it's a welcome change as the grind of a 140-game season comes to a close.

But September has a different ring for Michael Burgess. He's ready for more.

"It takes its toll," Burgess said. "But man, I feel like I could go for another month or two."

That's because Burgess trains with Gary Sheffield five or six days a week in the offseason. Sheffield, a nine-time all-star and 500-home run club member who is known for his intense workout routine, offered Burgess an opportunity to join him a year and a half ago. Burgess accepted, but didn't know what to expect. What he found out is that Sheffield goes non-stop for an hour of sit-ups, push-ups and cardiovascular drills. A two-mile run and 100-yard sprints follow before he moves on to batting practice.

"It's intense, but it pays off at the end of the season," Burgess said. "(Sheffield) has been a major part of my career, a mentor. I've learned a lot from him. He always tells me no matter what to stay focused. Good or bad, stay on an even keel."

Burgess met Sheffield as a sophomore at Hillsborough High in Tampa, where both were prep stars. It's also the alma mater of 1985 Cy Young award winner Dwight Gooden, two-time all-star Carl Everett and 2002 third-round pick Elijah Dukes. Burgess followed in the footsteps of the stars before him at Hillsborough, but slipped in the draft to the 49th overall selection in 2007.

The Nationals took Burgess knowing he struggled during his senior year but had early first-round talent. After a dominant junior year, Burgess' swing got too long and he struck out too often, but his raw power was still there.

Now, more than 300 games and 1,110 at-bats into his minor league career, Burgess is still working on the kinks that scared some scouts away three years ago.  

"It's a work in progress and an every day thing," Nationals farm director Bobby Williams said. "It's a slow—I don't know if that's the right word—but a process that's going to take time."

Burgess hit .235/.325/.410 for Potomac (Carolina) with 135 strikeouts and 54 walks. Still, Nationals officials opt to look at the progress he has made: He had smacked 23 doubles, 19 home runs and 71 RBIs.

Hitter In Progress

The numbers aren't what matter most.

"He's making real progress—he's actually learning how to hit. In the past, he was just going off of his raw talent. Now he's getting away from being a swinger and becoming more of a hitter," Potomac hitting coach Jerry Browne said. "He's hitting the ball hard, getting better pitches to hit, making more consistent contact and cutting down on his strikeouts."

Burgess eliminated an over-exaggerated, violent load with his hands from his swing, and has cut down on his two-strike hack. The results are evident. Burgett hit .277 through 94 at-bats in August, his second-best monthly average of the season. He also struck out 24 times, his second fewest in a month this season (he had 20 strikeouts in 75 April at-bats).

"It's turned into if he gets one pitch to hit, he's going to hit it," Browne said.

Burgess went 3-for-3 with three singles and a walk in a late-August game against Kinston. He saw four fastballs for strikes. Three went for hits. He did not swing at an offspeed offering or a pitch out of the strike zone.

'No Mercy'

Burgess' calling card has always been his mind-blurring bat speed and light-tower power. That was most apparent at the low Class A  South Atlantic League home run derby last year, when Burgess blasted 16 long balls in 38 swings to win the contest.

"His power is impressive. He's going to be a home run hitter and a run producer as a big league right fielder," Williams said. "I think he's going to figure everything out. He's got a very high ceiling, a bright future."

His 5-foot-11, 195-pound frame, barrel-chested nature and athleticism remind Browne of a lefthanded Kirby Puckett, but Burgess said he models his game after another power-hitter.

"Just straight hit line drives like Prince Fielder," Burgess said. "Just get those infielders and outfielders out of the way. There's no mercy when I'm up there."

Burgess' progression has come not only at the plate. He has committed just four errors while starting nearly every game this season in right field. In 2008, he led all professional players with 26 outfield assists.

"His nature is one that's much closer to being complete," Potomac manager Trent Jewett said. "He's much more balanced and solid at the plate. For as thick a guy as he is, he's got a very strong arm with well-above-average carry and well-above-average accuracy. He's stolen 12 bases this year. But the biggest thing is that I see a guy with grit, determination and perseverance, and that's vital."

Burgess will get to play at least a few more months before going back to Tampa to team up with Sheffield. Washington will send Burgess to instructional league this fall. He will be on a strict strength, conditioning and nutrition program while working on his swing.

Burgess realizes 2010 will be an important season. He also knows next season starts with this offseason. And with more hard work, the success he's looking for are there for the taking.

"It's right there, it's close," Burgess said. "When the time comes, everything is just going to blow up. It's going to be a wonderful thing."