Profile: RHP - 6'1" - 185lbs -BT:R - TH:R - 2011 Age: 23
• FB 86-89: Side-arm action is tough on righties, will run and cut. (45-55)
• CV 76-78: Has flashes, but isn't well commanded and inconsistent. (40-45)
• CH 80-82: Get's some depth to it, didn't see great differential, good feel. (45-55)
An 8th round pick out of the University of Arizona, Burns spent four years with the Wildcats, almost exclusively in a relief role. Before his senior season he made the switch from an overhand slot to a side arm one that helped propelled him up the Indians draft board. Still, he signed for a nominal 30k, a huge bargain.
As a professional Burns has utilized his delivery to confound hitters at two levels of A ball, and this year, in AA. He combines his old, traditional drop and drive delivery with an accentuated back turn and high reach. His delivery keeps him low over his knees and hips, with a pop up release that slings his arm to the side, and sees him finish tall. He carries an aggressive attitude to the mound and attacks hitters. Despite a somewhat complex delivery, he repeats his motion extremely well, helping to give him plus command of the strike zone.
I've seen some reports of his fastball in the 88-92 range, but I observed it lower at, 86-89 and he'll both cut and run the pitch, though he doesn't get great movement on either. Thankfully, his release point makes it difficult on right handers regardless.
His off speed offerings include a developing spike curve which he doesn't seem to get on top of very well from his slot. When he does however, the pitch gets good depth with late break. When he doesn't it'll get slurvy without the late action you want, making it rather hittable. He also throws a changeup which I think has better promise. The pitch lacks ideal differential, but it gets some depth and it'll run back against his arm, making it an effective offering against lefties. Most importantly he maintains the same release point on the pitch, helping to add to it's deception.
Given his funky delivery and rather advanced age for his levels, I was hesitant to read too much into Burns' early success in the lower level of A ball, but he's stepped up to AA this year and suffered no ill effects as he continues to confound his opponents. While the GB rate has dropped I'm ready, at least for the time being, to chalk that up to a small sample size fluke as he's always maintained plus ground ball rates prior to this year.
Other than that, little has changed. He's continuing to use somewhat below average raw stuff to dominate hitters. That certainly has something to do with his delivery, but that doesn't entirely explain his results either. He strikes me as one of those somewhat rare guys who uses a combination of plus command a guile to play above his head - he's better than the sum of his parts, as they say.
He's a tough project for me. I don't love his stuff but I see room for growth in his curve if he can ever figure it out and he seems like a safe bet as a middle inning righty specialist, but his changeup is solid vs lefties too. He's got setup upside, but for now I think he's a much safer projection as a 7th inning arm.
Corey Ettinger is a Senior Writer for Baseball Digest as well as a proud contributor to both 612Sports.net, 312Sports.com, and 313sports.com. He also provides extensive analysis of the American League Central Division at his own blog, AL Central In Focus. Be sure to follow me on Twitter @Coreyettinger for the latest updates, random thoughts and general tomfoolery.