For lack of a better word, Billy Burns is fast. Extremely fast.
Based on his considerable speed it wouldn’t be surprising at all if the 24-year old talks, thinks, and acts fast because time is always a factor. Take for instance, his ability to steal a base. Despite logging just 244 games of professional baseball since being drafted in 2011, the Georgia native has efficiently stolen 125 bases in 142 attempts, good for an 88% success rate. Last season’s total of 74 (91% successful) over two levels, registered as third best amongst all minor league players and combined with his on-base ability (.421 lifetime) made him an attractive commodity to the Athletics brass and worthy of an exchange for lovable reliever Jerry Blevins.
“We like Billy Burns a lot,” Assistant general manager David Forst said. “We talked to Washington about him before, and he fits very well for us. He’s one of the best runners in the Minor Leagues, from both a speed and stolen-base standpoint.”
Before visions of Brett Gardner comparisons begin to float the boats of A’s fans everywhere be aware that Burns is very much work in progress. Last season represented his first taste of upper level minor league baseball, and even that was only 30 games of play for Double-A Harrisburg. While his eye-popping stolen base totals and high batting and on-base percentage slash line (.312/.421/.379) may one day pave the road towards a fruitful major league career, it must not be ignored that Burns’s skill set comes with it’s fair share of caveats that led to him falling to the 32nd round of the 2011 draft.
For one, the man possesses less power than Juan Pierre. In 1,155 minor league plate appearances, Burns has connected for a grand total of one home run. It was hit sometime during a 32-game stint shortly after being drafted in 2011. I’d like to think it was a sunny day, with a stiff wind blowing out.
As a true center fielder, Burns adequately utilizes his blazing speed to cover an ample amount of ground but reportedly lacks the arms strength desirable at the position. If that sounds familiar, look no further than his potential predecessor Coco Crisp whose arm has been a non-factor since undergoing shoulder surgery shortly before joining the Athletics.
While Burns will likely offer a preview of his services this spring, barring injury he’s not expected to challenge for a spot on the Opening Day roster this season. He should however, find himself playing a major role on the roster of the Double-A Midland Rockhounds or if the A’s are daring…a place on the Sacramento River Cats depending on depth moves. Alongside his speedy reputation, Burns carries the title of the 2013 Washington Nationals Minor League Player of the Year, and with that comes high expectations for 2014. It will be up to the Athletics to ensure he continues on the fast track to a big league career.