LAKELAND, Fla. -- It was an early outing on the back fields at Tigertown, a Minor League game set up before the formal schedule gets going. But with general manager Al Avila, manager Ron Gardenhire and coaches watching, it was a chance for Beau Burrows to make a statement.
With two scoreless innings on one hit with four strikeouts, Burrows gave a reminder of his potential. His fastball sat in the mid-90s, setting up an effective change of speeds. Now, he has to keep doing it.
“Just working on repeating my delivery,” Burrows said. “That’s my main thing is being more consistent in my mechanics and my arm action, release point, everything.”
Though Burrows was part of the Tigers’ Minor League media availability earlier in camp, the former first-round Draft pick has arguably become the overlooked prospect in the club's collection of talented young arms. He was the second-ranked prospect in the organization by MLB Pipeline in 2016, and he's now sixth. That’s partly a result of the Tigers’ stockpile of prospects; all five players ahead of him entered the organization later.
Burrows ranked No. 77 on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 Prospects list a year ago, but he was left off the list after going 10-9 with a 4.10 ERA in 26 starts at Double-A Erie. He had top-prospect outings, including seven innings of one-run ball with nine strikeouts against Altoona in mid-July and another seven-inning gem in late August. He also had eight starts of fewer than five innings, including 100 pitches over 4 1/3 innings in his season finale.
His 8.5 strikeouts per nine innings ranked second-best among Eastern League pitchers with at least 110 innings, but Burrows' 3.8 walks per nine were also third most.
“I know the stats weren’t eye-popping or anything like that,” he said, “but I feel like I got better as a pitcher. I learned a lot from my coaches, from [pitching coach] Willie Blair and [manager] Andrew Graham. They were great to me and the team, and they teach you how to be a better baseball player and pitcher, even a better person, too.”
Now, Burrows has to learn how to translate those successes into more reliable results. With a strong fastball and a four-pitch arsenal, he’s a more talented pitcher than the numbers. His challenge is to string more strong outings together.
“I’ve seen the good pitches be there,” he said. “It’s just trying to repeat that delivery and repeat the pitch. That’s coming, hopefully.”
So too, Burrows hopes, is his time. He rose at Erie quickly at age 20, and was about 3 1/2 years younger than the Eastern League average last year, according to baseball-reference. He’s four months younger than Casey Mize, the top pick in last year’s MLB Draft.
Still just 22, Burrows could be back at Erie when the regular season begins. If so, he could be part of a super rotation with possibly Mize, Matt Manning and Alex Faedo. And yet, the goal seems tantalizingly close for Burrows.
“I feel like wherever I go, I’m going to pitch and do my thing and get better and just make them do what they have to do,” Burrows said. "Just go out there and pitch. ...
“The goal is the big leagues this year. That’s my goal. Hopefully wherever I start, I can just come out of the chute firing and pitch well, and get a chance."