Friday, May 20, 2011

Sean Burroughs is Back in the Majors

Remember Sean Burroughs? I wouldn't say I'd forgotten about him, but I'll admit that I hadn't thought about him in years, when I read in spring training that the Arizona Diamondbacks had signed him to a minor league contract. He last appeared in a major league game on May 4, 2006 with the Rays, then spent the next year and a half in the minors with Tampa and Seattle, before falling out of affiliated baseball.

For anyone who needs a refresher, Burroughs was the can't miss prospect who did. The son of Jeff Burroughs, the 1974 MVP, Sean was first introduced to a national audience as the pudgy-faced star of the Long Beach team that won the 1993 Little League World Series, even appearing on the Dave Letterman show.

Burroughs continued to star throughout high school, and was drafted 9th overall by the San Diego Padres, who gave him an impressive bonus in order to convince him that he didn't need to go to USC. Burroughs' combination of ability to make solid contact and his good batting eye shot him to the top of prospect lists - #7 before 2000, #6 in 2001, and up to #4 in 2002. His power hadn't yet developed, but the power is always last to develop, and 3B who get on base at a .390 clip have a value anyway.

At 21, Burroughs broke camp with the Padres in '02, and struggled. Perhaps it was the pressure of expectations, or maybe the fact that he just wasn't quite ready, he had a .221/.261/.282 line through two months, and was sent back to AAA for seasoning. Where he continued to do what he had always done - hit lots of singles and walk a lot. After a September callup, Burroughs was fantastic, .377/.433/.410, leading to increased optimism going into 2003.

In 2003, Burroughs had his best season going .286/.352/.402 as a 22 year old. He hit only 7 home runs, but again, power is the last skill to develop, right? Burroughs was a big guy, 6'2", 200 pounds - he HAD to develop power. Things started going backwards, though. In 2004, perhaps wanting Burroughs to prove that he could hurt them, teams started pitching him more aggressively, and the result was .298/.348/.365, with only two home runs. His batting average had improved some, but he was seeing too many strikes to keep his walk total up. In '05, tried to lengthen his swing to generate more power. What it generated instead was more strikeouts, a .250/.318/.299 line, a demotion back to the minor leagues, and a complete loss of any confidence in his hitting mechanics.

After the 2005 season, hoping that a change of scenery might help him, the Tampa Bay (then Devil) Rays traded their own frustrating failed prospect Dewon Brazelton for Burroughs. He didn't hit in the majors there, and didn't hit in the minors either, being designated for assignment in late June. In 2007, he had a very short stint with the Mariners AAA affiliate before again being released, and he then fell out of organized baseball.

Until last fall. Burroughs contacted his agents, who had assumed he was retired, and told them he was interested in making a comeback, and to see if he could get a workout with anyone. His agents contacted Kevin Towers, the man who originally drafted Burroughs 12 years earlier, who now is the GM of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Towers sent scout Tom Schmidt to conduct a workout for Burroughs. Sufficiently impressed, Towers signed him to a minor league contract. Burroughs reported to the Padres AAA affiliate in Reno, where he hit .386/.434/.571 in 77 plate appearances, before having his contract purchased on Wednesday.

Last night, Burroughs finally made it back. In the 6th inning, Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson called on him to pinch hit. With two outs and men on first and third, Burroughs came to the plate for the first time in five years and 16 days. He hit a grounder up the middle that was fielded by Dan Uggla, and Burroughs was out 4-3--just about the most satisfying 4-3 groundout you'll ever see.

It is, of course, impossible to predict what kind of production Burroughs will produce - we don't even know how much chance he'll get to play. Still, after all those years away, his comeback should already be considered a success. Everything from here is just gravy.

1 comment:

James Dunne said...

Really nice piece by Jim Caple: