For a former first round pick who has done nothing but succeed as a pro, Beau Burrows has flown under the radar a bit. He is currently ranked 77th on MLB Pipeline’s top 100 list, but slid off just about every other major list this season. Little in his 2017 season explains the lack of love from the prospect hounds, and it isn’t likely to be the case much longer. After three seasons of steady progress and a relatively successful jump to Double-A ball, the righthander is poised to see his draft stock boom in 2018.
Burrows hails from Weatherford, in the midst of the hotbed of pitching talent that is the Texas high school circuit. The Tigers paid him full slot value to sign after selecting him with the 22nd overall pick in the 2015 draft. Burrows doesn’t quite have the towering frame the Tigers prefer, but he is 6’2 and has built up his leg strength over the past two seasons. More importantly, he has been a picture of health thus far in his pro career, and ticks just about every other box for a starting pitcher of high potential.
After a stellar stint in rookie ball in 2015, Burrows moved to Single-A West Michigan in 2016, where he posted good, but not quite dominant numbers. For the only time in his career, he didn’t strike out at least a batter per inning, and had some minor issues with walks. Hitters didn’t miss the high-powered fastball as often as they did in high school and rookie ball. Burrows took a little time to adapt his arsenal to feature his off-speed pitches as more prominent whiff generators.
In 2017, he put any minor concerns to rest. A blistering start earned Burrows the nod as the Florida State League’s Pitcher of the Month for April, and he didn’t slow down from there. Burrows allowed just eight earned runs in 11 starts, dominating Advanced-A hitters until his Double-A call up at the beginning of June. The Double-A jump, of course, is the real proving ground that separates MLB-bound talent from the rest of the pack. Few pitchers reach Double-A ball before they turn 21, but Burrows handled it without any major issues. All in all, his results were solid considering the aggressive promotion. He had outings where he struggled and his walk rate spiked, but he continued to punch out a healthy share of hitters and mixed in several dominant outings as well.
Burrows has just about every attribute teams look for in a starter, including the ability to really spin the baseball. He can touch 98 miles per hour with his riding four-seam fastball, and has consistently sustained velocity between 93-96 mph deep into his outings. He went from 97 innings in 2016 to 135 in 2017 without a hitch. The fastball features nice rising action and late tail, and Burrows is very effective at the top of the zone and inside to hitters as a result.
His feature secondary pitch is a plus 12-to-6 curveball that he can locate for strikes or for whiffs. His changeup has excellent velocity separation from his fastball, and Burrows shows real feel for the pitch at times. Consistency is the key to it becoming a plus offering. He has also added a two-seam fastball — which he will mix in occasionally for a ground ball — and a slider to his arsenal over the past year. Neither features prominently yet, but the slider flashes potential for average future grades.
John Sickels of Minor League Ball singles out Burrows’ fastball and curve as plus pitches, while reserving judgement on his command and changeup.
...another possible workhorse, fastball 90-96, flashes plus curveball and average change-up but older hitters exposed command issues, normal for his age of course; if change-up develops further he’s right there with Perez and Manning; ETA 2020.
Burrows’ command isn’t fully refined, but even when he gives up walks, they tend to be of the nibbling or over-throwing varieties rather than true wildness. The organization has made a few mechanical changes with him to diminish the spine tilt he had coming out of high school, and to get him throwing out over his front foot more effectively. The results didn’t really alter his arm slot much, but the diminished spine tilt has him throwing from a traditional three-quarters arm slot, rather than the slightly over-the-top motion he produced when he was younger. His extension has benefited from the adjustments, and long-term his delivery should be more repeatable with less strain on his lower back. Thus far, Burrows appears to have taken to the changes, and they have helped him to develop his short slider without losing the touch on his curve.
Burrows doesn’t really have any major issues. He has progressed well ahead of his age curve. Modest concerns need be moderated by the fact that most pitchers drafted as teenagers don’t reach Double-A until they are at least 21. Many college picks don’t get there until they’re quite a bit older.
Still, there is work to be done. Burrows pitches with the kind of aggressive mindset you expect from a Texas product, but he will still overthrow at times and try to dominate with raw power rather than commanding his full arsenal. A little more maturity on the mound is in order, naturally. However he does show the ability to raise his game in a tight spot, and the task this season is to smooth out the peaks and valleys to develop better consistency.
More than anything else, Burrows just needs refinement to reach his ceiling. He made progress on that front in 2017. Now, it’s just a question of gaining experience, learning to set up hitters, and fine-tuning command of his arsenal. His Double-A manager, Lance Parrish, indicated as much in August.
”He’s been hot and cold, more or less. Obviously he’s got tremendous ability, but it’s just the consistency that holds him back. Once he fine-tunes things, I think he’s going to be much better. He demonstrated what he’s capable of doing. He’s obviously very talented. He just needs some work, that’s all.”
Projected 2018 team: Double-A Erie SeaWolves
Burrows progress has been excellent thus far in his pro career, but don’t be surprised if he spends the full season in Erie. The Tigers have to balance the need to challenge Burrows while thinking hard about his future trajectory. There will probably be no rush to the big leagues this year, even if he throttles the Eastern League the way he handled the Florida State League in 2017. There isn’t necessarily a ton to be gained by a mid-season move to Triple-A ball either. Still, a strong campaign in 2018 could see Burrows graduate from Erie this summer, with a late season cup of coffee or spot start a possibility.