In the past, the Detroit Tigers have generally leaned towards a specific kind of player to draft in high rounds: pitchers that throw a high octane fastball, a breaking ball with hard bite, and little idea of where either is going. That trend is one that has paid big dividends at times. It has resulted in a pair of Cy Young winners, Justin Verlander and Rick Porcello. However, it has also resulted in far more heartbreaks and washouts, like Jacob Turner and Andy Oliver.
In 2015, though, Detroit’s brass took more of a middle-ground approach to their selection. This time, they nabbed high schooler Beau Burrows with the No. 22 overall pick. He made his mark in his first year as a professional in the Tigers organization, cutting through opposing lineups with ease. He compiled a 1.61 ERA and 2.34 FIP in 10 outings. This spectacular performance was fueled in no small part by the huge amount of strikeouts he was able to put up, with 33 strikeouts in 28 innings.
Like most Tigers pitching prospects, Burrows’ fastball is a real weapon. He is a true fireballer, and can run his heater up to 99 miles per hour at times. He sits around 95 mph in most starts. That kind of velocity alone is enough to earn it plus consideration. If he can improve his command of the offering, it could merit an even better grade.
His power arsenal extends beyond his fastball; his curve is another high-octane option. It has consistently been the best secondary offering at his disposal, and functions as his out pitch. It sits at 76-80 mph and has good deception. It looks like a fastball coming out of the hand and has late bite, but isn’t as deep as one might hope.
Most scouts have considered his changeup to be a clear third pitch. It has less projection than his fastball or curveball, with the potential to become an average offering. However, recent reports are much nicer. Burrows’ changeup has more movement than deception, but that still earns it an above average grade.
One intangible that sticks out about the young right hander is how coachable Burrows is. Whitecaps pitching coach Mark Johnson said of him: “[What we] see is a young kid who is willing to learn, willing to listen, ask questions and be a student of the game. There is a value to his character that is great. He wants to get better.”
Burrows himself commented on his improving arsenal, saying: “I have a lot more trust in my off-speed. I'm throwing that more than usual, which is nice to see when it works... I'm learning a lot, and it's fun."
“Why,” you may ask, “was he available to the Tigers at No. 22 overall?” The answer to that question lies in his size. Burrows is listed at 6’1 — a measurement that has been described by some as generous — and lacks physical projection. Despite an electric arsenal, his stuff actually plays down because of his size. Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs explained why:
Part of why Burrows’ fastball may not play quite as well as its velocity suggests could be due to poor extension. He’s short-limbed and has a three-quarter arm slot, but it functions as an over-the-top delivery due to spinal tilt. Hitters pick up the ball fairly early. He doesn’t consistently get on top of the baseball and essentially works up in the zone with a heavy fastball, two things that don’t work well in concert together.
Not only that, Burrows’ 2016 season was very different than his 2015 season. He ended the year with a much lower strikeout rate, managing just 67 strikeouts in 97 innings. If you prefer percentages, then you’ll see that they tell the same story. Burrows struck out 29.7 percent of hitters in 2015, but managed just a 16.5 percent K-rate in 2016, a drop of 13.2 percentage points. This could turn out to be nothing, but it looks like a major issue.
Part of what effected his strikeout numbers is that Burrows changed his approach to facing batters. He explained that in an interview with MiLB.com, saying:
In high school, I was more of a blow-it-by-guys type, but now that I'm in pro ball, I'm more of a pitch-to-contact guy. I thought to myself: “I need to start pitching to contact and getting outs by getting the ball put in play.”
Pitching to contact is a legitimate strategy, but there is no way that Burrows can be successful long-term if doesn’t strike hitters out. If he hopes to move up the ladder and pitch in the big leagues one day, he’ll have to marry his two objectives and come up with a happy medium.
In 2016, Burrows started throwing a slider. This is no small feat, considering the fact that he has never used a slider before with any regularity. It lacks projection, however. The way he delivers his pitches makes it difficult to get around the ball in such a way that he can create horizontal movement on his pitches. Earlier this year, FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen explained that Burrows has a lot of spinal tilt in his delivery. This produces easy downward movement, but works against him in movement along the x-axis.
Jacob’s Scouting Report
Projected Team: High-A Lakeland Flying Tigers
Burrows is a long way off from the majors, and may even require some extra time with West Michigan in 2017. He was drafted out of high school as an 18-year-old, and still has plenty of time to become the player that the Tigers were hoping for when they drafted him in 2015. While he has a realistic future as a No. 3 starter if everything works out, his future could be even brighter if he is able to craft his slider into a weapon or is able to develop fierce control of his pitches. We’ll just have to wait and see.