Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. “Beau Burrows is a great under-the-radar prospect.” Overshadowed by fellow top-end pitching prospects Casey Mize, Matt Manning, and even Franklin Perez in the Detroit Tigers’ farm system, Burrows has built an impressive résumé while climbing the ranks in the minor leagues without drawing much attention. Entering 2019, Burrows has fallen from being MLB Pipeline’s No. 86 prospect to being unranked. Similarly, he has fallen from No. 4 on our 2018 list to seventh on this year’s edition.
I know what you’re thinking. “Oh, so he must suck now.” Slow down, now. Burrows may not be a Big Baller, McDonald’s All-American, future perennial all star, top-20 future ace type prospect (that’s Casey Mize!), but he is nevertheless a fantastic young pitcher with relatively low risk going forward.
Burrows has seemingly been in the Tigers’ farm system forever, after being taken 22nd overall in the 2015 MLB draft (back when Yoenis Cespedes was still on the team). Four years later, Burrows has moved through the minors with impressive results. After pitching 28 successful innings in rookie ball in 2015 and posting a 1.61 ERA and 2.34 FIP there, Burrows pitched 97 innings in 2016, all at Single-A West Michigan. While his underlying numbers for the Whitecaps were not fantastic — he only managed 6.22 strikeouts per nine innings that year — he moved up to High-A Lakeland in 2017.
Lakeland was a turning point for Burrows as a pitcher in many ways. He struck out over a batter per inning in 58 2⁄3 frames there. He also limited batters to only 1.69 walks per nine innings, resulting in a 1.23 ERA and 2.58 FIP through 11 starts. Burrows earned a midseason promotion to Double-A Erie, where he had his fair share of struggles. He still struck out 8.84 per nine, but his walks skyrocketed to 10 percent. Paired with his strand rate falling from 91.2 percent at Lakeland to 68.6 percent in Erie, and his ERA inflated to 4.72 over 76 1⁄3 innings for the SeaWolves that summer.
Burrows’ high 2017 ERA at Double-A Erie led him to spend more time there in 2018. Over 134 innings there this past season, he posted a 4.10 ERA and a 4.03 FIP. His 0.81 home runs allowed per nine innings in Double-A Erie in 2018 was the highest of his career to date, but still an impressive figure considering the offensive prowess of the Eastern League. Additionally, he struck out 8.53 batters per nine (solid) and walked 3.76 per nine (a more worrisome number; more on that shortly).
It’s hard not to love Burrow’s repertoire. Do you like 98 mile-per-hour fastballs? Cool! Burrows has one of those, at times. It sticks more in the 93-96 mile-per-hour range during starts, but he maintains his velocity deep into outings, as we mentioned in an earlier write-up on Burrows. That fastball grades out as a plus pitch, with 60 Future Value (FV) from both FanGraphs and MLB Pipeline. Our friends at Baseball Prospectus reported that it slowed down a tick last season, but it should still carry Burrows through plenty starts at the major league level.
Of course, any starter worth watching in the big leagues has strong secondary offerings. Burrows doesn’t have a devastating second pitch, but he does have three solid off-speed offerings. Depending on the source, you may hear either his curveball or changeup touted as a plus offering, so that is an encouraging sign moving forward. His slider doesn’t grade out quite as well (45/50 FV per FanGraphs), so he probably won’t go full Max Scherzer, but his arsenal is deep enough to slot into the back end of a big league rotation.
One more plus for Beau Burrows has been his health over time. He hasn’t missed any major time to date, and has a clean, easy delivery — though it can lead to command issues at times.
Command has not been a big concern for Burrows in the past, but he has struggled a bit since reaching Double-A Erie. He walked 3.89 batters per nine in 76 1⁄3 innings for the SeaWolves in 2017, and then walked 3.76 batters per nine this past season. That said, his highest FIP at any stop was his 4.03 mark in 134 innings of Double-A this past year. Even then, Burrows is only 22 years old and did this against hitters that were about three years older than him on average.
Unfortunately, that minor concern became a bit larger in 2018. As mentioned, Burrows walked nearly four batters per nine last season. FanGraphs grades his command as below average at present, with an average (50) future value. Moving forward, that will be something to watch. The issue very well may be his mechanics, which can be inconsistent at times. Burrows is young, and could iron his mechanics out over time, which will be something to watch going forward.
Overall, Burrows doesn’t have many other weaknesses right now. This time last year, we wrote that he simply needs to refine his game and be a more consistent player. That still rings true, though he did put up better numbers in Double-A while still being young for the level. Consistency will be the key to whether Burrows works out as a major league starter or whether he gets sent to the bullpen. If he continues to get innings in, he has solid odds of correcting his issues, especially given his young age.
Projected Team: Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens
While it would be cool for the Erie SeaWolves to roll out a starting rotation with all five of the Tigers’ big five pitching prospects — Mize, Manning, Burrows, Perez, and Alex Faedo — Burrows should start the season at Triple-A Toledo. He is the furthest ahead of his aforementioned peers in his development, and there seems to be no need to give him another season’s worth of innings in Double-A. They still may start him in Erie, but he will almost surely move up at some point this season.
Make no mistake, Toledo will be a big test for Burrows. Should things go well, he might warrant a late-season call-up. He will be Rule 5 draft eligible next winter, and could even compete for a spot in the Tigers’ rotation this time next year.