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Burroughs pursuing bigger game

Sean Burroughs spent the winter on the prowl. He fished for huge tuna off the coast of Mexico, stalked wild boar in the hills of Hawaii and chased gnarly waves while bodyboarding in southern California.

He's back to his more mundane day job of playing baseball now, but is hunting for something even more elusive: the stellar career he never quite had.

Ever since he was a pudgy Little League World Series star, ever since he was the ninth overall pick of the 1998 draft, ever since he was the Padres 2002 starting third baseman at age 21, Burroughs has been projected for stardom.

But four relatively disappointing seasons and one extreme change-of-scenery trade later, Burroughs instead finds himself trying to win the Devil Rays third base job and - at age 25 - salvage his career.

"I'm not really in panic mode, but, really, this is it," Burroughs said. "I know this is the shot that I get right now and I've got to really take it and run with it. It's kind of time to respond to be an everyday guy. If you don't get it done, you don't want to become a platoon player at 25, 26 years old."

If it's a shock that he's in this position, it's not a much bigger surprise than why - a stunning lack of power that goes against projections, profile and pedigree.

Sean's father, 1974 AL MVP Jeff Burroughs, hit 240 home runs during a 16-year big-league career, including five seasons when he hit more than 20. In two full seasons and parts of two others, Sean Burroughs has hit only 11 home runs in 1,516 major-league at-bats.

The lack of power, especially for a third baseman, can be concerning. It can also be consuming, something to frequently be asked about, wonder about, wrestle with.

"I can't really lie when I look at the stats; I can't shy away from it," Burroughs said. "I just need to go out and put it together."

Father and son talk often, and about a lot of things, but hitting is a common topic. Jeff told Sean he understands that every hitter is different whether they are related or not, but he has also tried to help.

Jeff has suggested mechanical changes ("He wants to see me load a little more on my backside and cock my hands a little more," Sean said), a more aggressive approach at the plate ("He said if he sees me take another 2-0 fastball down the middle he's going to come down and strangle me"), and increased confidence from playing in a more-hitter friendly Tropicana Field ("He always says how this ballpark is so much more to my advantage than Petco" Park in San Diego). Jeff plans to come down for a week or so next month to watch Sean's swing.

Sean Burroughs said there are other legitimate reasons for optimism, specifically because, unlike last spring training when he was coming off knee surgery, his legs are strong and should allow him to build the solid base most power hitters rely on. Also, he felt he made significant adjustments to his swing after being sent to Triple A in late July, and carried them through his offseason workouts.

The Rays are hoping Burroughs, acquired for Dewon Brazelton, benefits from the changes in team, league and situation. New Rays manager Joe Maddon said he is confident Burroughs can, and will, do better.

"I know there's been some question about his bat in regard to the power situation but we've done some research about that and we hear some really good things about him making some adjustments," Maddon said.

"I'm just curious to see what's going on. There's different things I heard about his stroke and everything; we'll see if we can't coax just a little bit more out of him. I think there is."

As if Burroughs didn't have enough of a challenge trying to re-establish himself, he arrived in camp to find the competition at third base intensified, with Aubrey Huff expressing interest in moving back to the infield.

But no matter who else is out there, Burroughs realizes it is up to him to prove he can still be an everyday player in the big leagues.

"People always ask me that," Burroughs said. "There's no doubt in my mind."

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