Burke makes seamless transition to the mound

Burke makes seamless transition to the mound

As a prep player at Ooltewah High School in Tennessee, Kyler Burke was a star two-way player. He was ready to go to Vanderbilt as an outfielder/pitcher when the San Diego Padres made him a supplemental first round pick in 2006 and lured him away from college life and the mound. Most teams seemed to prefer him as a pitcher but the Padres liked his athleticism and power potential in the outfield.

A year after he was drafted, the Padres dealt him to the Cubs for catcher Michael Barrett. He continued to struggle as a hitter, particularly when adjusting to each new level. He hit .209 in his first season in rookie ball, .211 in his first season in Short-Season A ball and then .206 in his first go round at Class A Peoria.

And then in 2009, Burke had an apparent breakthrough season. He developed a patient approach at the plate and the kind of power both the Padres and Cubs had expected of him. Overall he hit .303/.404/.505, a line that included 78 walks, 43 doubles, and 15 HRs. He also stole 14 bases and was considered a good defensive outfielder with the best arm in the organization. He was named the Cubs 11th best prospect after that season by Baseball America.

Then 2010 came along with a promotion, and once again Burke struggled. He hit .212/.279/.328. His HRs, SBs, and walk rate dropped in half. The one thing that didn’t go south was that lightning bolt of a left arm. So after that season, Farm Director Oneri Fleita approached him with an idea.

Go back to the mound.

You see, Burke didn’t just have a strong arm. It was accurate. In fact, his throwing accuracy ranked 80 out of 80 on the scouting scale. Is it possible he could take that velocity and accuracy to the mound? The Cubs seemed to think it was worth a shot. They’d had success with the conversion in the past, most recently with current pitchers Carlos Marmol, Rafael Dolis, and Randy Wells. But Burke needed some time to think about it.

“It almost got to be his idea. You can’t get in with one foot in and one foot out”, said Fleita. Burke didn’t just agree. He bought in to the idea 100%.

And now, Burke is again an intriguing talent with a realistic shot of reaching the big leagues.

On the mound, he already shows good command. It’s not surprising considering the accuracy he showed from the outfield. He’s also an extremely athletic player, one of the best all-around athletes in the Cubs system, so repeating his delivery came more naturally to him than it has with other pitchers. He walked a respectable 3.68 batters in his first year of pitching and this year his control has been getting better, cutting it nearly in half to 1.87.

But don’t get the idea that he’s some kind of finesse arm who hits his spots. In a system loaded with smoke and mirrors lefties, Burke has a bit more smoke. I was told by one source that he has hit 94 mph this season and has what is considered to be an above average curveball. I later had the chance to speak with Fleita and he told me he’s usually at 88-92 mph. When I got the chance to see Burke pitch in person, he did indeed throw 88-92, although he did hit 92 in the 7th inning. Being able to sustain peak velocity into the late innings bodes well for Burke’s chances to remain a starter.

Burke has struck out 8.2 batters per 9 innings in his (second) career so far. This season he has a 2.41 ERA (2.87 FIP). His strikeout rate has dropped to 6.42 this year which is a reflection of him starting and facing more advanced hitters. Despite the lower K rate, Burke’s improved control has helped him improve his K/BB ratio. It has risen from 2.61 to 3.43 over the past year.

There are also some nice intangibles beyond the numbers.  When I got the chance to see Burke personally, I noted that he had  a good presence on the mound and has a fluid, easily repeatable delivery.  He also fields his position well.

“It’s gone real smooth so far,” said Burke. “ Things are working out pretty good and I’m pretty excited about it.”

I’d venture a guess that Fleita and the Cubs front office is pretty excited too.

This article has been updated and republished from an article I wrote for miCubs.com

Filed under: Minor Leagues, prospects

Tags: Kyler Burke

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  • Ahh yes, Michael Barrett. Ok ballplayer, involved in two of the most famous punches in club history.

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    missed the game so far. why did they take shark out so early? He's not hurt is he? how many pitches did he throw?

  • In reply to Gary Kueper:

    He was at 90+ pitches. Cubs are trying to be smart about this since he was a reliever last year. They want Samardzija to be good beyond the first half of this season. He's a big strong guy but this is going to be a big jump in workload.

  • In reply to Gary Kueper:

    He was laboring through much of the game today too. The stats don't bear it out, but he had a lot of deep counts, had to work from the stretch a lot.

  • In reply to Eddie:

    Agreed. He struggled to hit his spots, hung a few sliders. It was not a good day for Shark -- but it's encouraging to see that he kept the team in the game without his great stuff.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    ok, thanks for the info guys! good to know he's not injured and that he hung in there through 5 at least

  • Interesting stat. Volstad pitched more innings and threw more pitches than either Garza or Shark did in this series. Not sure what Sveum's doing there.

  • Part of had to do with Garza being sick (and struggling mightily and throwing a lot of pitches), and the bullpen being used up. Volstad had to go long and for 5 innings, he was solid. Shark struggled as well, very inefficient, worked up a lot of counts, missed his spots, hung a few sliders...he got through, but I think he was done. It was one of those days, pull him out before the Brewers caught up to him.

  • WHO?

  • I want to like Sveum, and everything about him is refreshing...until you see his management of starting pitchers. It seems he has cost the team more than a couple of games by removing the starter way too early. First two games of the season it was evident, and one would think he would learn from that, but instead he has continued to do this and it is excruciatingly painful to watch over and over.

  • In reply to kylejo:

    I don't think Samarzija had his good stuff and I'm not sure how much longer he could have gone before they finally got to him.

  • Nothing wrong with pulling Shark when he did. It was a 1-1 game and he was having issues with command and probably would have gotten lit up in the 6th, along with throwing too many pitches.

    Wood seems to be getting things together, which is a very good sign.

    I think that Soriano is destined for a 15-day DL stint soon. The knees are bothering him and would probably be good if he rested. He belongs at DH in the AL. Ignoring the lack of HR power, he has cut down on the swings and misses on pitches away, and is driving the ball lately.

  • In reply to Cameron Macpherson:

    A 6 to 2 K/BB rate is not exactly having an issue with your command.

  • In reply to kylejo:

    You're talking about control. Command is more precise. It's about hitting your spots and getting you're pitches to break when and where you want them to. Samardzija had decent control, he didn't have good command.

  • Yeah, let's let shark stay on the positive side of things right now, wasn't as sharp today obviously, get him out, let him regroup for his next start. He's been a plus so far and he put a little pressure on himself early on and has been dealing with it... look's to me like he's finding that "talent" for lack of a better word, he's getting it, no need to ride him hard and put him away wet, he's young, strong and like I said figureing it out in the mental side of the game...good things ahead if we can keep Dusty away from him.

  • In reply to daddyo:

    Agreed. He only threw 90+ pitches but he labored through it. It wasn't an easy day for him. He battled most of the way but good to see him get good results without his best stuff. It may have been only 5 innings, but they were hard fought...I'm sure he didn't have much left. Even velocity was down a tick or two.

  • No, I'm not a Baker basher, I kind of like the guy, as long as he's not handling our pitching staff.

  • The thing is, you can't pull your starters after only 5 innings and then complain that your bullpen is being overused.

  • You also can't wear out your pitchers. Shark was a reliever last year, he's going to get a big jump in workload and Cubs have to be careful not to pull a Dusty Baker. This is still about long term. He probably could have gone another inning, but sooner or later, his spotty command was going to come back to bite him.

  • First game of the season, Sveum lifts Demp and his 10 K, 2 hit performance at 108 pitches. Wood blows it. Game two, Garza has a 5 hitter going with 1 walk to 5 K’s and 91 pitches, Sveum goes to the pen early, Wood and Marmol blow it late. Game four, Volstad lifted after 87 pitches, had given up 3 runs in 5 ip, 6-2 K/BB. Not a great performance but no need to bring in Shawn Camp for his 2 ip. He gives up 3 er. April 17 vs the Marlins, Demp has gone 6 ip, at 100 pitches, 0 er and 8-2 K/BB. Time for the bullpen? Really Sveum? Dolis comes in and blows it. April 30th, Volstad gives up 4 in the first and puts up zero’s the rest of the way, Sveum lets him go for 84 pitches, despite 5 straight shutout innings, going to the bullpen early again. Even though the bullpen is clearly the weakest part of the team, Sveum rushes to use it. Maine and Dolis blow it late in a heartbreaking loss to even the series. Thursday, May 3rd was even more heartbreaking as Sveum lifts Dempster, tossing an absolute gem, allowing 4 baserunners in 8 shutout innings. He is lifted after all of 101 pitches. Marmol proceeds to meltdown. Friday, May 11th. Garza does not have his best stuff but God knows Garza at 50% is better than the bullpen. He is lifted after 93 pitches, further taxing a bullpen that would blow the game in extras.

    You would think that after all of this, Sveum would understand that his starters are better options than his bullpen, yet he is just dying to take them out of the game. He is babying the starters and leaving way too many games in the hands of the pen for multiple innings.

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