RIGHT-HANDER RISES QUICKLY THROUGH THE RANKS
Marcus Young | Miller Park Prospects
What a difference a year can make. In 2016 right-handed pitcher Corbin Burnes was finishing up his junior season at St. Mary’s College of California. A year later, the hurler, who turned 23 on October 22nd, was on his way to turning in the best season of any pitcher in the Milwaukee Brewers farm system, en route to being named the team’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year.
Selected by the Brewers in the fourth round in 2016, Burnes opted to forego his senior season at St. Mary’s, signing with Milwaukee for a bonus reported by Baseball America to be worth $536,400. From there, he was assigned to the Brewers’ rookie league affiliate in Maryvale, Arizona, where he made three appearances for the AZL Brewers.
It didn’t take Milwaukee long to recognize that Burnes was light-years ahead of the AZL hitters and they present him with a more challenging scenario, bumping him up to Class-A Wisconsin in July. He finished out his first pro season by making nine appearances for the Timber Rattlers, and proved to be up to the challenge, going 3-0 with a 2.20 earned run average while striking out 31 batters in 28.2 innings of work.
With his first season in the book, Burnes went to work getting ready for season number two and he made a few offseason adjustments to his pitching style. Having pitched more from a stretch, a la Marcus Stroman of the Toronto Blue Jays, Burnes shifted into more of a traditional wind-up and the results were staggering. He added velocity to his fastball and showed fantastic command of all of his offerings. Milwaukee assigned him to High-A Carolina to begin his first full season in their system, and he hit the ground running. In ten starts for the Mudcats, Burnes went 5-0 with a 1.05 earned run average, holding opposing hitters to a .181 batting average against him.
“The biggest key for me was my command,” Burnes said during an interview with Milwaukee radio voice Lane Grindle for an episode of the Brewers’ On Tap podcast. “We were able to make some good delivery changes in spring training that I was able to take into the season and continued to build off a strong base that we had established in spring training.”
That incredible start to the season earned Burnes a promotion to Double-A Biloxi in late May. There, he was able to pick the brains of some more experienced players such as Aaron Wilkerson, Jorge Lopez and Taylor Williams, and despite making one of the toughest jumps for a young player, he continued to thrive, running roughshod through the Southern League. In 16 starts with the Shuckers, Burnes went 3-3 with a 2.10 ERA and a WHIP of 1.00. He racked up 84 strikeouts in 85.2 innings of work and barely allowed more than a run per outing.
“I was able to, from opening day to the end of the year, just stay consistent,” Burnes said. “That was the biggest thing for me, was to go out every day and give it what I had. Some days I didn’t have certain pitches working and the command wasn’t great every day, but I just wanted to keep my head on straight and continue to play the way I did.”
The success that Burnes had in 2017 didn’t come overnight as it sometimes may appear however. Burnes spent his offseason grinding to make improvements and is quick to credit the Milwaukee coaching staff for much of his success. He worked under the watchful eyes of Dave Chavarria in Carolina and Chris Hook in Biloxi and Burnes acknowledges the help he received as a factor in his outstanding season.
“I’ve put in a lot of work since being drafted, and a lot of credit goes to the Brewers for first of all drafting me and putting me in those positions,” Burnes said. “I got a lot of great instruction throughout the year and I really built based on what I did last year.”
With a mid-90’s fastball, several variations of a breaking ball and a developing change that keeps looking better and better, Burnes has the arsenal and the frame that should allow him to pitch deep into ballgames. He advances at a lightning pace in 2017 and made the jump from A-ball to Double-A look relatively easy. His next step will be to conquer the Triple-A level and it’s not far-fetched to think that Burnes could contribute to the Brewers at some point in 2018.
“There’s been a lot of progress and I just want to continue what I’ve built,” Burnes said. “I don’t know what plan the Brewers have for me yet, but I would like to continue to move up, of course, because the ultimate goal is the big leagues,” he said. “I would like to get a shot next year. The only thing I can do is control what I can this off-season, and that’s working hard to keep getting better.”