The results haven’t been there for Mike Burrows in Triple-A.
The key to tracking development sometimes is to look beyond the results.
Burrows has emerged over the last two years as one of the top pitching prospects in the Pirates’ system. He’s got a high spin fastball that sits mid-90s. His ability to spin the ball gives him one of the best curveballs in the system. He has improved his changeup this year to give him a solid third offering, and has also seen improvements with his control.
I’m not a big fan of player comps, but it’s very difficult to not make an A.J. Burnett comp here.
Maybe it’s the simplified fastball/curveball combo. Maybe it’s the intensity on the mound, the confident attitude off the mound, and the sleeve tattoos. Mostly, it’s about what Burrows can do on the field.
The Pirates sent Burrows to Triple-A after very little time at each previous stop. He had 49 innings last year in an injury shortened season in High-A Greensboro. This year he opened in Altoona, lighting up the Double-A level for a 2.94 ERA over 52 innings, before getting a quick promotion to Triple-A.
There, Burrows has a 4.93 ERA. The surface numbers aren’t good through 34.2 innings, but Burrows was expected to struggle at some point in his minor league career.
I spoke with Burrows for my feature last month in Baseball America. We also talked about the mindset of being a pitcher, and how the upper levels have impacted his approach. Our conversation happened after the first two starts for Burrows in Triple-A, so he’s had a lot more experience since this discussion.
When in your approach do you switch the focus away from mechanics to mindset?
“I think that comes with the outing. When you go out there, you want all of that about mechanics and feel to go out the window. If anything changes, it’s going to happen in the offseason. Just building that mindset, and realizing once that ball leaves your hand there’s nothing you can do about what happens, because there are so many intangibles with baseball, and different things that can not go your way, or go your way. It’s really about knowing what you can control and what you can’t, and having a good mindset through those times.”
How have the upper levels impacted your mindset approach?
“It’s really confirmed that you need to be consistent, with a good mindset, and consistent with your pitches and what you’re doing with them. Games and at-bats can spiral pretty quick. If you’re taking pitches off, or if your mindset is not at 100 percent, where you can control being consistent with that. It’s easy to see, I’ve already seen it just watching, and even playing. It’s not taking a pitch off. It’s really just kind of not letting your mind get away from your mindset. If it does stray away, that’s when damage happens. Being more consistent with where you’re at mentally, and doing your best physically, and throw your best pitch over the plate, it’s tough. It’s hard. Baseball is hard.”
When is it most difficult to maintain focus on the mound?
“I’d say the hardest starts are the ones where you see guys still get through seven innings, giving up eight hits and five runs. It’s very hard to keep going and pushing through those tough innings that you have. Making it out of those, those are impressive starts. When everything is going good, that’s when it’s easy. That’s when it’s really fun. When it gets nitty and gritty, and you’ve got to bear down and make pitches and get your innings up, those are the games you have to almost pat yourself on the back for.”
The origin of his mindset.
“I like to think I’ve always had a really good mindset when it comes to all of that. Sticking through that stuff and realizing that there are so many ups and downs. Some guys it takes a while to understand it and really push through and not lose where your mindset was just over a couple of bad starts, or even just a couple of bad pitches. It’s hard, man. It beats you up mentally. I’d like to believe that my dad kind of passed down a unique mindset, since I was in high school. Those bad starts means nothing, because this game changes so fast. You could have a whole bad year, and be lucky to play long enough to have a whole bad year.”
THIS WEEK ON PIRATES PROSPECTS
Tim is the owner, producer, editor, and lead writer of PiratesProspects.com. He has been running Pirates Prospects since 2009, becoming the first new media reporter and outlet covering the Pirates at the MLB level in 2011 and 2012. His work can also be found in Baseball America, where he has been a contributor since 2014 and the Pirates' correspondent since 2019.