MICHAEL BURGESS is the nation's best high school power-hitting prospect, and he's expected to go among the top 10 picks in the June draft not only because of his big stats but also his Bunyanesque home runs. Last year, in Florida's state 5A championship game, the outfielder-pitcher from Hillsborough High in Tampa hit a blast that cleared the 40-foot centerfield wall at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota—a feat previously accomplished by only Ken Griffey Jr., Bo Jackson and Frank Thomas. Last August at the Aflac All-American Classic home run derby in San Diego, Burgess smacked a home run that cleared an adjacent six-story building—while using a cracked bat. "He has that pop you just can't teach," says Hillsborough coach Kenny White. "When you hear the ball come off his bat, it's just a different sound."
At 6 feet, 210 pounds Burgess might also be delivering pops on the football field—as a freshman he excelled at running back and safety—but he quit the gridiron at the urging of his grandfather Sylvester, who was concerned that Burgess might get injured. "The coach really wanted me to play football," Burgess said. "But he understood." Michael says he's very close to Sylvester, 65, who retired seven years ago from his job at an aluminum manufacturing plant to help look after him. (Around that time the career of Burgess's mother, Temeka, who works as a Chase sales representative, became more time-consuming.) Sylvester says, "He comes to me when he needs advice—or when he needs pocket change."
After hitting .511 with 12 home runs and 48 RBIs in 35 games last year, Burgess is at .410, with three homers and 22 RBIs in 24 games this season. The dip is largely a function of Burgess's not getting many pitches to hit; he has been walked 34 times, and when White briefly moved Burgess to the top of the order, hoping to force teams to pitch to him, Burgess drew leadoff walks in three straight games. That's the down side of clubbing moon shots: word spreads fast.
The Hillsborough Pipeline
TWELVE PLAYERS from Hillsborough High have gone on to the majors, including:
• Dwight Gooden
(class of '82)
After throwing 130 strikeouts in 74 innings his senior year at Hillsborough (left), Gooden was the 1984 Rookie of the Year and won the 1985 Cy Young with the Mets, and in 1996 he threw a no-hitter with the Yankees.
• Gary Sheffield
The Tigers outfielder, and Gooden's nephew, was a Terriers pitching ace with a 1.81 ERA; he has 456 home runs in the majors.
• Carl Everett
A .519 hitter his senior season in high school, Everett hit .271 with 202 home runs for his career; he now plays in an independent league.
• Chris Ray
The Baltimore Orioles reliever, who didn't attract national attention as a starter at Hillsborough, had 33 saves in 2006 and has six this season.
• Elijah Dukes
The Devil Rays rookie outfielder, who also played linebacker at Hillsborough, was named USA Today's 2002 two-sport athlete of the year.
BRUCE HOSKING/THE TAMPA TRIBUNE (BURGESS)
SWITCHED HITTER Burgess chose baseball amid family concern about football injuries.
JIM REED/THE TAMPA TRIBUNE (GOODEN)