Whatever your pedigree, you’re not a real prospect until you show out at the Double-A level. This is a key axiom of the prospect pipeline. Righthander Beau Burrows, currently the Tigers’ third ranked prospect, was only just recently promoted to their Double-A affiliate, the Erie SeaWolves. So far, he has had a bit of a rough start. But the progress he has made this season simply to reach that level has been impressive, and those improvements were evident on Sunday in the MLB Futures Game.
Burrows more than held his own among many of the top prospects in the game. He spun a clean inning of relief with a pair of strikeouts, flashing a 98 mile-per-hour fastball with legit life as he blew away a trio of good young hitters. It was an imposing performance, and one that puts the stamp on a fine year of development for the hard throwing young Texan.
After a good but somewhat quiet season for the West Michigan Whitecaps in 2016 —his first full season of pro ball — Burrows found his strikeout touch this season. He punched out over a batter per inning for the Lakeland Flying Tigers, taking to Advanced A-ball easily with a near-6:1 strikeout to walk ratio and an ERA of 1.23. He earned his promotion to Erie in early June at just 20 years old. That makes him one of the younger pitchers at the Double-A level in all of baseball.
More impressive than his numbers is the success Burrows has had while implementing major changes to his delivery and repertoire. Take a look at Burrows in 2015. In particular, note how far his spine is tilted to his glove side. While his arm is essentially in three-quarters position in relationship to his shoulders, the tilt turned his delivery into much more of an over-the-top motion.
The motion was always a minor concern among many scouts and observers. That’s a fairly high-effort delivery. Burrows is also falling off the mound toward the first base side as he releases, which isn’t great for his balance and consistency. It’s also not a motion that optimizes his natural ability to spin the baseball. That over-the-top motion impacts spin, negating the angle and movement on his pitches. If you’re a high spin, four-seam fastball pitcher with a good curveball? This can work, as you may get more rising action on the fastball and more 12-to-6 break on the curve.
In Burrows’ case, as a pitcher whose fastball is best with more sink and horizontal late life, this delivery didn’t match up with his stuff. It reduces the angle he gets on his pitches, with the ball coming straight toward the hitters’ eyes when released rather than from a stronger side angle. The position also makes it more difficult to get horizontal life on a slider, which is the breaking ball the Tigers organization wants him to develop.
Take a look at Burrows’ release in early April.
The spine tilt is diminished, replaced by a better body position and the arm slot to maximize his natural stuff. He is more upright and better balanced, though some of that is due to improved overall strength. Take a look at some video. This is a major transition. Burrows was a work in progress last season with the Whitecaps, but he appears to have the changes dialed in at this point. The fact that he has been able to make this adjustment while learning a new breaking ball and mowing down everyone in the Florida State League bodes very well for his future development.
Burrows’ move to Double-A has been a rocky one through 29 innings. No longer are there the breathers in a lineup that a young flamethrower exploits in A-ball to escape jams and run up strikeout totals. He still has a long way to go before we start thinking about another promotion. Now that he’s in Erie, everyone can relax and give him time to work.
The rest of the season, Tigers will have him throwing a pitch that is still definitively a work in progress, his slider, to a much more consistent and dangerous series of lineups. He’ll be working to sharpen his changeup and his command, while honing the mechanical adjustments he’s made to his delivery. He’s adapting to a new town, a new league, a new team, new catchers, and new coaches for the second time this season. Sure, it would be great if Burrows carved hitters up the rest of the way, en route to one heck of a season, but it’s really just time to settle in and put his new tools to work on a much tougher class of lineup.
When Burrows turns 21 in September, he is still going to be ahead of the curve by a fairly wide margin. A top prep prospect wouldn’t be expected to reach Double-A until he is 21 or 22 years old. Burrows has already made the major transitions with his delivery that were required. Now come the refinements. Hopefully by year’s end, we’ll be hearing about more consistently tuned command and better feel for his slider and changeup. If that progress is in evidence, we can all start getting excited about his potential.