Cardinals sign Draft picks Burleson, Jones

June 17th, 2020

ST. LOUIS -- The night Alec Burleson was drafted was a whirlwind for the East Carolina outfielder, but he knew one thing for sure. His intention was to sign with the Cardinals, who drafted him after Round 2 on Thursday, a pick they had as compensation for Marcell Ozuna leaving as a free agent.

His intention became a reality. The Cardinals announced signing Burleson after he passed a physical Monday. The club also announced it signed fifth-round pick LJ Jones IV on Tuesday. Jones, an outfielder and the 152nd overall pick in this year’s Draft, was a Draft-eligible sophomore at Long Beach State.

Per MLB Pipeline’s Jim Callis, Burleson signed for $700,000. The slot value for No. 70 was $906,800, giving St. Louis money to move to another Draft pick. Missouri right-hander Ian Bedell, the Cardinals’ fourth-round pick, is reportedly expected to be signed for over the $469,000 bonus assigned to his spot. MLB Pipeline's Jonathan Mayo reports that Jones signed for $100,000. The slot value for the No. 152 pick is $350,300.

Burleson was a two-way player at ECU, and his .341 career batting average and 3.47 career ERA reflect his success in both roles. But the Cardinals will develop him as a hitter, hoping to unlock some power potential by having his focus be solely at the plate. The Cards drafted him as a corner outfielder, but he can also play first base.

“Being a two-way [player] in college was exciting, because you had control of the game on both sides of the ball,” Burleson said Thursday after being drafted. “But to be drafted as a hitter, that’s kind of what I wanted to do throughout this whole process, so I think my ceiling is pretty high as a hitter. From a strength and conditioning aspect, I’ve been lifting as a pitcher just to take care of my arm. I think there’s a lot more in the tank. I’m just looking forward to focusing on one, and if they want me to get up there and get three outs, I’ll get three outs.”

In describing his game, Burleson said he takes pride in his two-strike approach. In 17 games before the 2020 season ended, Burleson went 24-for-64 (.375) and struck out just three times while drawing eight walks.

“For me, the thing I really take pride in as a hitter is not striking out,” Burleson said. “That’s been something I’ve carried ever since I started playing baseball. It’s not so much the fear of striking out but not letting the pitcher beat you where you weren’t able to put the ball in play. That’s something I’ve always taken pride in, and when you get to college, you’re facing higher-up arms.”

Burleson is the fourth ECU player to be drafted by the Cardinals, joining Seth Maness (2011, 11th round), Evan Kruczynski ('17, ninth round) and Chris Holba ('18, 11th round).

The Cardinals hope to unlock Jones’ power, too. The 6-foot, 225-pound outfielder hasn’t played a full season since his freshman year in 2018, when he hit .312 with 22 RBIs. He missed his sophomore season after getting hit in the hand by a pitch after two games, but he was off to a thunderous start in this year’s shortened season.

Jones hit .327 and safely in 12 of 14 games played before the coronavirus cancelled the Dirtbags’ season. He went 5-for-11 (.454) against then-No. 17 Wake Forest in a series win and 4-for-12 (.333) against then-No. 6 Mississippi State -- including two RBIs in the series-clinching win.

It’s Jones’ potential at the plate that the Cardinals liked, and player development is now tasked with turning that projection into production.

“We really have time on our hands,” Cardinals director of scouting Randy Flores said Thursday after the Draft concluded. “There isn’t baseball going on right now. So there is continued time for recovery, but our scouts who saw him both live and on video really liked the passes that he took at the baseball. There is a chance at power there. And with his age being what it is, with time on his side, I think that we’re in a good spot to make that bet in the fifth round.”

The Cardinals hope to finalize contracts with all seven of their Draft picks, pending physicals, and the club has more than doubled its Draft class by agreeing to terms with eight undrafted free agents since Sunday.