What to expect from Alec Burleson

September 7th, 2022

Brendan Donovan, Nolan Gorman, Juan Yepez and Ivan Herrera have all made their Major League debuts as prominent Cardinals hitting prospects this season. Alec Burleson is joining the club Wednesday.

St. Louis is calling up MLB Pipeline’s No. 92 overall prospect to the Majors, the club announced. He replaces Dylan Carlson on the active roster following the fellow outfielder’s move to the 10-day injured list with a left thumb sprain. Outfielder Conner Capel was designated for assignment to make room for Burleson on the 40-man roster.

A 70th overall pick out of East Carolina back in 2020, the left-handed-hitting Burleson was a midseason addition to the Pipeline Top 100 ranks because he’s plainly hit everywhere he’s played, including Triple-A Memphis. In fact, he has been one of the level’s most productive and consistent hitters in 2022 and likely would have been in the Majors much earlier if not for a crowded St. Louis outfield.

At the time of his callup Wednesday, the 23-year-old led all Triple-A qualifiers with a .331 average through 109 games for Memphis. None of his fellow International League qualifiers have hit above .318 this season. Across all four full-season Minor Leaguers, he’s one of only four players to hit at least .330 while striking out less than 15 percent of the time (14.3 percent in his case) over at least 400 plate appearances. He’s played exactly to type of late too, going 11-for-22 (.500) with more doubles (three) than punchouts (one) over his last five games before Wednesday’s promotion.

Batting from a fairly open stance, Burleson transitions from a slight leg raise to more of a toe tap with two strikes, thus helping him stay behind the ball while being on time. Burleson's improved approach has also kept him from being pull-heavy in 2022; his pull rate has dropped nearly 10 points in one season with more batted balls going up the middle.

Burleson has typically prioritized contact through his first two Minor League campaigns, but he hasn’t done so at the expense of his power. He slugged .532 over his 109 games with the Redbirds, placing him second in the IL in the category, and he was in the midst of his second 20-homer Minor League season, having hit 22 last year and 20 this time around.

The power, however, does not play quite the same way against righties and lefties. Eighteen of Burleson’s 20 homers -- and 36 of his 46 total extra-base hits -- this season have come off right-handers, though he’s still batting a mighty healthy .325 over 138 plate appearances against fellow southpaws. Still, those splits (call them a Reverse Pujols) might be something Cards manager Oliver Marmol and his staff might want to consider in getting Burleson looks while the switch-hitting Carlson remains out.

Defensively, well-below-average speed limits the North Carolina native to a corner outfield spot, and he’s made 71 of his 76 defensive starts in left field, his likeliest future Major League home. Burleson pitched 137 2/3 innings in college too, so he has enough arm for right should he be pushed there on occasion.

Corey Dickerson (left), Tyler O’Neill (center) and Lars Nootbaar (right) have settled in as the Cardinals’ main three outfielders lately as the club has gone 18-5 in its last 23 games, extending its NL Central lead over the Brewers from a half-game to 8 1/2 in that span. Burleson is unlikely to crack that group now and instead joins Ben DeLuzio as fourth/fifth outfielders. Depending on how much fellow rookie Donovan starts down the stretch, Burleson could be the club’s first left-handed hitter off the bench, too.

Depth doesn’t get much better than a prospect hitting over .330 at Triple-A waiting in the wings to lengthen your lineup at a moment’s notice.