July 30, 2004

Whatever happened to Marlon Byrd?

The rise and fall of Marlon Byrd is either the fastest fall from grace in Phillies history, or just another case of a mishandled prospect.

To cleanse the sour pallet left by Marlon Byrd’s bitter .223 batting average with the Phils this season, here’s a refresher from former Reading manager and current Phils bench coach Gary Varsho, quoted from a Rich Scarcella column published by the Reading Eagle in 2001.

“Nobody runs the bases harder than Marlon Byrd — and I'm talking about a lot of people — or plays the game harder,” Varsho said. “He’s the closest you’re ever going to find to a perfect package as a person and player.”

With those words, it’s hard to believe there were doubts to whether Byrd was even ready for Double-A.

Despite questions, at 23, he was moved from Low-A Piedmont to Reading to compete with players closer to his own age.

He responded by finishing at the top of the EL in nearly all offensive categories: first in stolen base percentage (.865); second in runs (108); third in stolen bases (32); fourth in batting average (.315); and the biggest surprises — fifth in home runs (28), RBIs (89) and slugging percentage (.555). Byrd was also the best center fielder in the EL, posting a sensa-tional .994 fielding percentage.

At the end of the season, Baseball America crowned him “Most Exciting Player” in the EL, finishing two homers shy of 30-30. The only other EL player in history to accomplish it was Jeromy Burnitz.

Despite the impression fans may have now, the simple fact remains: Of the big-three prospects to move through Reading in the last 10 years — Scott Rolen, Pat Burrell and Marlon Byrd — only one, Byrd, was good enough to be named MVP of the Eastern League.

Following a season which he finished in the running for National League Rookie of the Year, Byrd never found his rhythm in 2004 and was deservedly sent to AAA Scranton before mid-season.

A month later, 39-year-old Steve Finley, not Byrd, was the name fans were mentioning most as the center fielder to lead the Phils to the post-season.

It’s rumored that Ed Wade has entertained offers for Byrd, despite his strong tendency to hold on to home-grown prospects.

But it seems an odd contradiction that Byrd, arguably the best prospect to come through Phils' system in 10 years, has been given such a short leash after just one full season in the majors ... such a short leash for a guy who was called “the perfect package” just three years ago.

What it means
As it stands, Marlon Byrd, part of the “big three” to come through Reading, is the third gigantic collapse of a heralded Phillies prospect in four years. Rolen’s gone, Burrell hasn’t truly rebounded, and Byrd, worst of all, has been forgotten.


At 3:03 PM, Blogger el123chico said...

solid article. i've been saying that he was on a tremendously short leash to send him down to the minors one year removed from batting .300 and being such a hyped rookie. esp. considering they didn't send burrel down and he was worse last year than byrd was this year.

At 5:04 PM, Blogger Tom G. said...

Good article. I still say that if Bowa had put Byrd in one slot in the lineup, and left him there, and stayed out of his head, he would have eventually worked his way out of it. Now at the age of 27, he should be in his prime. Hopefully he won't end up on another team and put up the kind of numbers in MLB that he put up in the EL


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