CLEVELAND -- The Indians have showcased their starting-pitching depth over the past few seasons with right-handers like Shane Bieber, Zach Plesac and Aaron Civale, and they still have arms like Triston McKenzie working their way to the Major League level. On Wednesday, that depth may have expanded.
In their second pick of the night during Competitive Balance Round A, the Indians selected right-handed pitcher Tanner Burns from Auburn University with the 36th overall pick of the 2020 MLB Draft. Earlier in the evening, the Tribe drafted high school shortstop Carson Tucker -- younger brother of the Pirates' Cole Tucker -- with the 23rd overall pick.
“There are a lot of things to like about Tanner,” Indians amateur scouting director Scott Barnsby said. “Some of the things that stand out: just an incredible growth mindset. He is constantly, after every outing, heading into the coaches’ office, talking, trying to figure out how he can get better, figuring out how he can improve specific pitches, figuring out his attack plan. So those things, combined with his raw ability, give us a lot of excitement for what Tanner’s going to end up being for us at the Major League level.”
The 21-year-old Burns was selected by the Yankees out of high school in the 37th round of the 2017 Draft, but he decided to go to Auburn. There, he joined the top pick of the '18 Draft, Casey Mize, and they became a dominant duo. In his freshman year, he ranked second on the team behind Mize in innings (86 2/3), strikeouts (77) and wins (seven), while posting a 3.01 ERA.
“He’s been a mainstay in the rotation there for the last three years,” Barnsby said. “He’s been a workhorse for them. Not only has he been a workhorse, he’s been an extreme competitor. He always takes the ball.”
In his sophomore season, Burns tied the Auburn record for strikeouts in a game (15), and he joined Mize as the only two Auburn pitchers over the past 20 seasons to fan at least 100 batters in a season (101).
“In terms of his stuff, he pitches comfortably at 92-93 [mph]. He’s been up to 96 [mph],” Barnsby said. “Two different breaking balls. Both of them have the ability to miss bats.”
Burns ran into some shoulder trouble last year, as tightness caused him to miss a start last May and limited him during Auburn’s playoff run. Though the hope was to see whether he’d be able to remain healthy and maintain his stuff in 2020, the season lasted just four weeks. However, the Indians don’t seem too concerned that the shoulder will be a lingering issue.
“He really has been a workhorse,” Barnsby said. “We evaluate everything. And one thing I'll tell you is that we have an incredible amount of faith in our medical staff and we've worked through -- we just put every player through a systematic process both on and off the field and working through the medical, and we're really comfortable with everything that we have on Tanner. Not much more to add there besides we're pretty confident he's going to go out and throw a lot of innings for us and have some success.”
Burns entered his junior year on the Golden Spikes Award preseason watch list and as a preseason All-SEC Team member, but his season was cancelled after he went 3-1 with a 2.42 ERA and 32 strikeouts in 22 1/3 innings. He ended his collegiate career with a 14-9 record, pitching to a 2.86 ERA with 210 strikeouts against just 67 walks.
“Well, we have a lot of experience with him, too,” said Vanderbilt head baseball coach Tim Corbin on MLB Network. “… [His fastball] spins really well. And he has great success when he throws that thing up in the zone. You’re starting to see a little bit of his breaking ball, too, and the third pitch being a changeup. But he’s a bulldog. He’s a max competitor.”