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Burnes vying for Brewers rotation spot

February 12, 2019

PHOENIX -- Josh Hader broke into the big leagues as a reliever, found success in that role and never looked back. It looks like another highly regarded prospect, Corbin Burnes, will take a different path."They said coming into Spring Training I was a starter," Burnes said. "Obviously, as we get

PHOENIX -- Josh Hader broke into the big leagues as a reliever, found success in that role and never looked back. It looks like another highly regarded prospect, Corbin Burnes, will take a different path.
"They said coming into Spring Training I was a starter," Burnes said. "Obviously, as we get closer to the season, the need may be [different]. But I came into camp as a starter and I fully intend to be a starter."
:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::
Burnes, Milwaukee's 2017 Minor League Pitcher of the Year, made 13 starts for Triple-A Colorado Springs last season before the Brewers, believing he could best help the big league club in relief, ordered a change of roles. That paid off with a July 8 callup, and two days later, Burnes became the first Brewers pitcher since Dave LaPoint in 1980 to earn a save in his Major League debut.
He went on to pitch 30 times out of the 'pen with a 2.61 ERA in the regular season while holding opponents to a .138 average, then make six more relief appearances in the postseason. That success raised questions about whether the Brewers, who rely heavily on their stout bullpen, might keep Burnes in the role for 2019. But manager Craig Counsell said last season that the club planned to return Burnes to the rotation, and it appears that's still the plan.
The Brewers have many rotation options. Jhoulys Chacín seems set for one spot. Chase Anderson and Zach Davies have experience and are aiming for bouncebacks. Jimmy Nelson is coming back from a year lost to shoulder surgery. Junior Guerra is out of options and a candidate for the rotation or the 'pen. An outside acquisition remains possible. And Burnes is one of several highly regarded young pitchers, with Brandon Woodruff and Freddy Peralta, who have proven they can win in the Major Leagues but also have Minor League options remaining.
"There's going to be a lot of competition, but that's what you want," said Burnes, who acknowledged that it's possible he will open the year in the Minor Leagues if the organization opts to preserve depth. "The way baseball is, that's kind of how things have been going the past couple of years -- using the options.
"For me, that's something you can't think about. I'm going out there trying to earn a spot in the rotation for the Opening Day roster. That's what I've had my mindset on all offseason. That's what I've prepared for."
Tune-up
There was more to Eric Thames' performance on the Korean version of the television hit "The Masked Singer" than showing up and bursting into his best Stevie Wonder.
Thames said the connection was made through the Korean arm of New Era, one of his equipment suppliers. Someone from the company reached out to someone from the show, who reached out to Thames' agent in early December to see whether he might be interested.
Thames, mind you, had never so much as sung karaoke.
His response?
"Why not? Let's do it," he said.
He found a music coach in Las Vegas who works with big-ticket performers and set to work.
"I met with him for about a month and we went through all of the practice," Thames said. "Diaphragm breathing. Head posture. It was all of this stuff you never think about."
At first, producers wanted him to sing Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody," since the film by the same name was a hit. But Freddy Mercury proved tough, so Thames performed three other songs, including Wonder's hit "Isn't She Lovely?" The other two were in Korean.

"I listened to those songs on repeat for a month. One hundred times a day," Thames said.
His performance went viral.
"I thought it was going to be terrible, but it worked out," Thames said. "Everybody received it well. That's all that matters. Entertain the people."
On tap
Brewers pitchers and catchers formally report to Spring Training on Wednesday, but that is traditionally a quiet day on the fields. Fans interested in watching practice should target Thursday despite an unfavorable weather forecast, since that's the day of the team's first organized workout.

Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy and like him on Facebook.