One “slight” change during spring training has made the biggest of differences in Corbin Burnes’ rapid ascension through the Milwaukee Brewers farm system.
Instead of facing third base, the Biloxi Shuckers right-hander is more square to the plate now. To most it may seem like a minor tweak, but Burnes firmly believes the shift is largely to credit for his most recent success.
And it’s hard to argue with the results.
Following Monday’s start against the Birmingham Barons, Burnes is 2-1 with a 1.27 ERA with the Shuckers. He has 37 strikeouts and five walks while boasting a 0.76 WHIP and holding opponents to a .175 average.
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In 35 1/3 Double-A innings, Burnes is striking out a healthy 9.42 batters per nine innings with an improved walk rate of 1.27 per nine. He also has yet to surrender a home run in Double-A.
“In spring training, we made a slight delivery change and that change has been everything so far. It has helped my command and helped me use my legs more, which helps with velo (velocity) and takes pressure off of my arm,” Burnes said. “It’s the slightest change of squaring me up to the plate instead of starting me on the side. It has done a lot for me this year.”
Where Burnes, 22, appeared to pitch more out of the stretch before, now his shoulders face forward and, in his words, his altered delivery is more “step, turn and go.”
He said it puts emphasis on his legs and stride so that he’s not “all arm” when he throws.
The change is pretty evident when watching old film, like from his collegiate career at St. Mary’s, and contrasting it to current highlights.
“It has added some cut to my fastball and the break on my breaking ball is later, tighter,” he said. “Just that one little thing has made a huge difference.”
Burnes said the Brewers similarly tweaked the stance of former Shucker Brandon Woodruff.
“It worked out for him — he’s in the big leagues now,” he said. “It’s working for him and has worked for me.”
MLBPipeline.com currently has Burnes as the No. 20 prospect in the Brewers system, but that ranking is sure to drastically improve if he continues to produce at his current clip.
Burnes utilizes a four-pitch mix, which the website grades on a 20-80 scouting scale as anywhere from 45 (changeup) to 55 (fastball).
“If I have three pitches going I’m do just fine. If I have two pitches, I’m doing just fine,” he said. “The special nights are when I can get all four pitches going.”
Considering it took Burnes 27 professional appearances over four levels before he was finally saddled with his first loss, it’s clear he has had plenty of special nights.
Burnes likes to be aggressive his mid-90s fastball and then mix in his breaking pitches, with his slider as his out pitch.
“My slider is pretty hard. When I’m throwing it right it’s 85-86 off of a 93-94 mile-per-hour fastball,” Burnes said. “Grip-wise, I hold it almost the exact same as my fastball. I try to disguise it as much as I can with my fastball and then at the last second it’s a slider instead of a fastball. It comes out of the same slot and arm angle but at the last second it dives hard away from a righty.”
Brunes didn’t exactly burst onto the scene as a freshman at St. Mary’s in 2014. Fresh out of Bakersfield, California, Burnes posted a 6.18 ERA with an 0-4 record.
But things got incrementally better. Following a 7-5, 3.74 sophomore campaign, Burnes was invited to play for the Orleans Firebirds in the prestigious Cape Cod Baseball League. The summer spent on the Cape in front of legions of professional scouts helped transform Burnes from just a dude into a bona fide MLB Draft prospect.
D1Baseball.com’s Aaron Fitt called Burnes performance a “coming-out party.”
Although Burnes’ 5-3 record and 3.78 ERA weren’t particularly noteworthy, the future Brewers fourth rounder lit up radar guns with electric stuff.
“I think it was huge. For my coach at St. Mary’s to give me the opportunity to play there was awesome. I had gotten some exposure at St. Mary’s but it’s not a big school so you don’t get a ton of scouts or big names coming out of there,” Burnes said. “But going to the Cape, performing well and getting to play in front of big scouts and playing against the best competition in the country definitely helped. I got a little bit of exposure and then took off my junior year.”
Burnes returned to St. Mary’s and posted a 9-2 mark with a 2.48 ERA, striking out 120 in 101 2/3 innings while walking just 33. It was enough for the Brewers to select the Gaels RHP 111th overall.
Moving on up
Burnes has moved quickly through the minors. After making just three appearances with the Arizona League’s Brewers in 2016, Burnes joined Class A Wisconsin. He was 3-0 with a 2.20 ERA in nine appearances and five starts and opened 2017 with High-A Carolina. Despite jumping up a level in competition, Burnes was 5-0 with a 1.05 ERA. He struck out 56 in 60 innings and held opponents to a .181 average. The Brewers clearly saw enough in 10 starts, promoting Burnes to Biloxi on May 30 after he had just allowed one run in six innings while striking out six.
“I was coming off the mound after the sixth inning of my last start in Carolina when Joe Ayrault, the manager, met me at the top step and said, ‘this will be the last time I’ll shake your hand. You’re going to Biloxi,’ ” Burnes recalled of finding out about his promotion. “It was pretty cool for it to happen right at the end of the start.
“I wasn’t expecting to come out that early, but it was pretty cool for him to do it like that.”
With the Shuckers, Burnes realizes Milwaukee is within reach if he continues to perform.
“It was unbelievable. To tell people I’ll start in Double-A, family and friends back home, it was exciting. A lot of people dream of getting to that point so it was definitely cool to get my opportunity,” he said. “It kind of sunk in the last couple of days with Jorge Lopez getting called up. You feel like you’re one phone call away. If one thing happens in the big leagues, now to know you’re right there is pretty special.”