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Background: Burrell was an afterthought 43rd-round draft pick of the Red Sox in 1995 out of San Jose's prestigious Bellarmine Prep. At that time scouts felt he was a big, slow kid who had hitting potential but was best served by going to college. In hindsight, they were exactly right. Burrell approached hitting with a Tony Gwynn-like fanaticism at the University of Miami and turned himself into the best-hitting prospect in the college game by the end of his freshman season. Though he was sidelined for 28 games with a lower back injury as a junior, he came back strong and was the first pick in the 1998 draft. He signed a five-year contract with $8 million in guaranteed money--the largest sum ever given to an amateur player by the team that drafted him. Strengths: Burrell's top-end offensive potential is in the range of a Jeff Bagwell or Jim Thome. He can hit for average and enormous power, and has excellent control of the strike zone. For the contract he was given, the Phillies will expect nothing less than a .300 hitter with 35 home runs and 100 walks a year out of the cleanup spot. National League pitchers will quickly learn how dangerous it is to allow Burrell to get his arms extended. Realistically, his defense is secondary, but Burrell made a smooth transition to first base and his work ethic and natural ability should make him a competent defender. Weaknesses: Burrell's biggest weakness might be the position he plays: A power-hitting first baseman is easier to find than a slugging catcher. His range at third base, his college position, was below average. But Burrell's hands, arm strength and balance, the key elements in a defensive catcher, are all exceptional. He's just never played there. Being at first base, though, could keep him healthy. His spring back problems did not reemerge during the summer or fall, much to the Phillies relief. Burrell can be beaten under his hands on the inside half of the plate, but few pitchers can hit that spot consistently. The Future: With all due respect to 100-RBI man Rico Brogna, first base in Philadelphia is Burrell's as soon as he's had a little time to adjust to upper-level pitching. Any evaluator questions any player's ability to hit big league pitching: Witness Paul Konerko, Burrell's clone when it comes to tools. For now, however, Burrell has no major discernible weaknesses at the plate.
Background: The Phillies have moved Anderson up step by step and he rewarded them with a stellar 1998 season, leading the International League in hits and triples while amassing 62 extra-base hits. His September big league audition was impressive and he was one of the top offensive performers in the Arizona Fall League. Strengths: Anderson has the tools to be a dynamic offensive middle infielder. He has a short aggressive swing, makes consistent contact and has surprising gap power. His first-step quickness and overall speed are above average, as are his baserunning instincts. Weaknesses: Anderson is not a fluid second baseman and can look awkward in the field, but his range and defensive statistics have been outstanding. As a top-of-the-order hitter, he does not draw enough walks. The Future: On Opening Day, Anderson is expected to be Philadelphia's second baseman and No. 2 hitter. Scouts and Phillies officials alike describe Anderson as a player you appreciate more the longer you see him play.
Background: As soon as he joined the organization, Wolf showed little need for lower-level minor league baseball. He went 6-0 in 11 starts below Triple-A. Strengths: Wolf's only above-average pitch is his changeup, but his other pitches are solid big league quality. He can spot his 89-91 mph fastball on both sides of the plate, and the pitch has good life down in the zone. Wolf also helps himself defensively and at the plate. Weaknesses: The Phillies sent Wolf to the Arizona Fall League to work on his curveball and were pleased with the pitch's progress, along with Wolf's 2-1, 2.83 showing in nine starts. The Future: Philadelphia has had trouble getting young pitchers over the hump for many years, but Wolf depends less on raw ability and more on refined major league skills than his predecessors. The Phillies would like to see Wolf gain more Triple-A experience before making his big league debut.
Background: Valent has been a fixture on U.S. national teams since he was a junior in high school. He broke Angels prospect Troy Glaus' career home run record at UCLA, including 30 in 1998, and had one of the most impressive debuts in the 1998 draft class. Strengths: Most hitters are better with aluminum bats than wood, but Valent may be the exception. He was overly pull-conscious in college, but the heavier wood bat forced him to hit to the opposite field and make better use of his mechanics. The Phillies feel he is a pure ballplayer with plus-plus makeup. Weaknesses: Valent has played center field in the past but is more suited on the corners. He'll probably be slotted in right field, where his arm is slightly above average. He is a below average runner and not a threat on the bases. The Future: The Phillies admit they may have bumped Valent up quicker than they planned. but he gave them no choice when he overmatched the South Atlantic League. Valent originally drew attention as the compensation pick for not signing J.D. Drew. Now he's making a name for himself.
Background: The towering Baisley was better known as a basketball player before last spring, when his fastball jumped from 87 to 93 mph. He was a first-round pick on many teams' draft lists. Strengths: Baisley is a surprisingly agile athlete for someone his size. He has loose, easy arm action and is able to get an excellent plane to all his pitches. While he pitches aggressively with his fastball now, the Phillies think his curveball could become his best pitch in the future. Weaknesses: Baisley will never remind anyone of Mark McGwire physically but he'll need to gain a few pounds of muscle as he matures. He needs to gain more consistency with his fastball and work more on refining his changeup. The Future: Because of his athleticism and sound pitching mechanics, Baisley will be able to compete and advance right away--unusual for a tall, projectable pitcher. Phillies officials try to moderate their enthusiasm for Baisley by citing his age and lack of experience, but it is evident they are thrilled about his potential.
Background: Taylor was considered to be the closest thing to a five-tool outfielder in the 1995 draft, but he has been slow to develop as a hitter. In 1998 he missed time with a broken little finger on one hand, came back and broke the little finger on his other hand four days later. He'll work on sliding feet-first in spring training. Strengths: Taylor still excites scouts with his raw ability, especially on defense, where he has Gold Glove-winning potential. He has plenty of natural power but when he tries to go deep, which is frequently, he pulls off the ball badly and is easy pickings for most pitchers. Weaknesses: The big question with Taylor is whether he will hit or not. His other offensive fundamentals, such as base running and pitch selection, are also weak. The Future: In fairness to Taylor, the Phillies have moved him quickly through their system, especially for a raw player with limited experience. He will repeat Double-A in 1998, where the Phillies new development team will continue to stress his offensive approach.
Background: Coggin was a highly acclaimed high school quarterback who would've played two sports at Clemson University had he not signed with the Phillies. After making steady progress in his first three minor league seasons, he took a step backward last year, by his own admission. Strengths: Coggin has the best pure stuff of all the Phillies upper-level pitchers. His fastball is in the 91-94 mph range, he has an above-average changeup and curveball at times and he has learned to cut his fastball effectively. Weaknesses: When he struggled at the start of last season, Coggin may have become his own worst enemy. He became mentally and emotionally tough on himself when he wasn't able to throw strikes consistently and lost his focus. The Future: Many of the Phillies internal changes were in response to the problems their top young prospects experienced in 1998. Coggin still has the ability to become a premium starting pitcher and it wouldn't be a surprise to see him jump forward this season.
Background: Brannan has become an enigma to the Phillies. Their top prospect entering 1998, he struggled all year with his mechanics, was demoted to Double-A and couldn't correct his problems in the Arizona Fall League. Strengths: When he is on, Brannan has a mid-90s fastball with hard, late-sinking action. He also throws a sharp slider, giving him a perfect two-pitch combination for a late-inning reliever. Weaknesses: Brannan has lost all feel for his arm angle and release point. In the AFL, his fastball was in the mid-80s and his slider was flat and up. Brannan is not a good athlete and he's had trouble getting comfortable with his delivery. The Future: At least Brannan's been in this jam before. He endured the same problems at the University of Miami before transferring to Long Beach State University and finding his groove for coach Dave Snow. This year, Brannan will be pet project No. 1 for the Phillies' overhauled minor league staff.