As we approach the mid-point of the minor league baseball season, it seems to be a fitting time to check in on a couple top ten prospects to see how they are progressing in their development. The Tigers’ system has a lot of good arms, but there’s a bit of a pecking order that sees five guys standing above the rest. Recent first overall selection Casey Mize, along with Franklin Perez and Matt Manning tend to get more of the ink. But this week, we look in-depth at the seasons of Beau Burrows and Kyle Funkhouser.
Burrows, now 21 and in his third full season as a professional, is having a solid, if unremarkable, campaign from a statistical standpoint. His 3.34 ERA leads the SeaWolves, a noteworthy point considering the rotation boasts other top arms Funkhouser, Spencer Turnbull, and Sandy Baez, who showed what he can do in 4-1/3 innings against the Yankees on June 4th. Burrows is the youngest of the four, with the highest ceiling, and perhaps even the most polish at present.
The recipe for Burrows is slightly different this year, as he is pitching more to contact and relying less on his ability to blow hitters away with his plus fastball. The strikeouts are down significantly, from just over nine per nine innings in 2017 to just over seven per nine innings this season. While Burrows is still a guy that can put you away with that heater, he is working on his whole assortment and it appears to be paying off. Still, he’s going to have to put the whole package together and improve on those strikeout numbers in the second half to look fully ready for the next step.
Eastern League hitters have managed just a .213 batting average against him, down significantly from the .269 clip they posted in his 15 Double-A starts a season ago. He is inducing twice as many air outs as he is ground outs, which indicates hitters are still having a hard time getting on top of the fastball. The secondaries are still a work in progress, as you can see him leave off-speed pitches up the zone quite frequently. He has good enough stuff that it generally results in a foul ball at this level. But he has paid for it at times in the form of the long ball, having surrendered one in each of his last three outings.
The control rates as average to below average, with a 3.3 walk rate per nine. I think that’s a number we can live with if and when the strikeouts tick back up and the command of the off-speed pitches reaches maturity.
Long story short, Beau Burrows is right where he should be. He’s approaching his floor already, which is that of a high-leverage late innings reliever at the Major League level. If he continues to progress with his curve ball and his change-up, there is no reason to believe he can’t reach his ceiling, which is a legit middle to top-of-the-rotation anchor.
Beau Burrows blows away a pretty darn good hitter in Daniel Johnson, from 5/23. pic.twitter.com/OXblx7fGU5— KJC at the bat (@Tiger_Lifer) June 15, 2018
Like Burrows, Kyle Funkhouser has a good enough fastball that, all by itself, might carry him to the big leagues someday. He is older, at 24, and dominated in all prior stops heading into this year. His various injuries limited him to just 100 professional innings entering 2018. With 65 innings logged already in 12 starts, Funk has already exceeded his total output from the previous two years combined. This is his first sustained experience against advanced hitters, and if Funkhouser can just stay healthy and hold his own this summer the Tigers are going to be pleased.
The mid-season report on Funkhouser is a promising one. He struggled out of the gate with control in April and early May, going way too deep into counts and getting his pitch-counts up. In his past six starts, however, Funk has really found a bit of a groove, lowering his earned run average from a hefty 5.46 down to 3.88 in the process. In his past two starts, in fact, both against a powerful Hartford Yard Goats lineup that features super-prospect Brendan Rodgers, among others, Funkhouser posted a line of 13 innings, five hits, one run, 16 strikeouts, and just one walk.
The slider appears to be a viable out-pitch, as long as he sequences and locates properly. But he has the look of a pretty mature pitcher. This is the point in 2017 when Funk was also really dialed in but had to be shut down due to elbow inflammation. So the rest of this season will be critical in terms of seeing if he can stay healthy, and seeing if he can complement that plus fastball with an assortment worthy of a starting pitcher’s role at the next level.