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Expectations high for Astros' Burke - if he can make team
Chris Burke, a St. Xavier High School product, has been tabbed as a Rookie of the Year candidate but might start the season in the minor leagues. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Chris Burke's name keeps popping up among preseason candidates for 2005 National League Rookie of the Year. Baseball America and FoxSports.com predicted he will win the award.
But Burke would much rather see his name on another list: the Houston Astros' opening day lineup card.
"Obviously, I'm flattered," the St. Xavier High School product said of the forecasts. "But it's kind of funny because I don't even know if I'm on the team yet."
A few months ago Burke seemed destined to become Houston's latest "Killer B." He hit .315 with 16 home runs and 37 stolen bases in Triple-A, earning 2004 Pacific Coast League Rookie of the Year honors. The 25-year-old was all but anointed as the Astros' second baseman when Jeff Kent left as a free agent in the off-season.
But now, through no fault of his own, Burke faces the possibility of beginning the season on Houston's bench or being sent back to the minors. That's because 17-year Houston veteran Craig Biggio may return to second base after spending two years in the outfield.
Astros manager Phil Garner said yesterday he has decided upon his starters but won't announce them until Sunday. Indications point to Biggio, who played the first six innings of yesterday's Grapefruit League game against Cleveland. Burke came in for the final three innings, slapping a game-tying RBI single in the ninth.
"Biggio had a good year last year, and he's had about 15 good years in a row," Garner said. "It's hard to unseat him."
Garner likes the way rookie outfielders Willy Taveras and Luke Scott have played alongside Jason Lane this spring, and All-Star outfielder Lance Berkman should return by May from off-season knee surgery. If Garner decides to go with Taveras and Scott, that would keep Biggio in the infield and maybe send Burke to Triple-A.
"The downside to (Burke) staying on the team is him not getting playing time," Garner said. "He's not a part-time player. So it's going to be a tough call to sit him on the bench."
The uncertainty of the situation is making the final week of spring training nerve-wracking for Burke. As other Astros players loaded their equipment on a moving truck bound for Houston yesterday, he didn't know his destination.
"I'd be lying if I said I didn't think about it and think about it a lot," he said. "My family, my wife and I try to sit down and figure it all out. But what it really comes down to is, I don't really know if they even know at this point."
Burke has done nothing to hurt his cause this spring, batting .356 with 11 RBIs in 20 games. On Monday he went 4 for 5 with a home run against Detroit. He also possesses more range defensively and a stronger arm than Biggio.
The only thing he lacks is experience.
"I'd love to see him make the team because I think he could really help us offensively and defensively," Berkman said. "It's hard for a guy who's clearly ready to play at the big-league level like Chris is to be put in a bind with the numbers game."
The pressure has been on Burke since camp started. Unlike veterans who can work on new things while getting themselves ready for the season, he has had to try to impress with every outing.
"At first I was looking at it as an obstacle," he said. "Recently I've kind of accepted it and tried to thrive through the adversity.
"Luckily I've always taken my play very seriously and have always put a lot of pressure on myself. So I feel like that's prepared me well for a high-pressure situation like this."
Burke has sought the advice of several teammates who have been in similar situations. Berkman told him about his 2000 season, when he thought he had made the team in the spring only to be shipped back to the minors. Berkman quickly returned and has been a star ever since.
"I'm sure it's frustrating for him," Berkman said. "But I think it can actually help him down the road. It helps make you mentally tough, realizing that this is a tough egg to crack. And once he finally makes it, that toughness can help him stay in the big leagues for a long time."
saxeT1979 wrote:Rotowire seems to think Biggio will win the job and that Burke will be sent to the minors.
"Burke could be sent to the minors if he doesn't win the starting second base job outright, the Louisville Courier-Journal reports. Burke has done nothing to hurt his chances of making the Astros, hitting .356 with 11 RBI in 20 games. Manager Phil Garner seems to be unwilling to hand the job to Burke for lack of experience, and may opt to start Biggio at second with Luke Scott in left and speedster Willy Taveras in center. Burke certainly has more range, a better arm, and more power than Biggio but will likely lose the job battle to the lifetime Astro. Even if Burke ends up in the minors, keep an eye out for him because he definitely has the skill set to be an impact player in the big leagues. "
Pogotheostrich wrote:As a baseball fan, I think sending Burke down to the minors is a waste of his talent, makes the Astros weaker and completely ludicrous.
As a Cardinal fan I say nice move and we will see you Monday.
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