WASHINGTON—For someone who compared learning to switch-hit with "starting over in Little League," Billy Burns put together an impressive season.
A 22-year-old center fielder, Burns worked at batting lefty during instructional league last fall, but unlike his days in college summer ball, this time he stuck with it.
The payoff came with low Class A Hagerstown this season. Burns was hitting .313/.426/.375 through 371 at-bats and ranked fifth in the South Atlantic League batting race and second in on-base percentage. He had 36 stolen bases in 44 attempts.
He hit for more power and made more contact from his natural right side, but Burns' .310/.447/.354 batting line through 226 at-bats from the left side attested to his progress.
"Just being able to feel comfortable in the box and keep my balance has made so much difference," Burns said. "Having a chance to play every day has been pretty cool, so I can see if I can compete."
A 32nd-round pick in 2011 out of Mercer, the 5-foot-9, 180-pound Burns starred as a slot receiver, cornerback, punt returner and kick returner at Walton High in Marietta, Ga. He entertained offers to play for Division I college football programs—his father Bob Burns served as a reserve running back for the 1974 New York Jets—but considered baseball his better sport.
After his freshman year at Mercer, Burns journeyed to Connecticut to play for Danbury of the New England Collegiate League, where he unsuccessfully tried switch-hitting.
Burns' second attempt has gone much more smoothly, enough so for farm director Doug Harris to say, "Righthanded, he has enough strength to keep you honest. He has more of a slash-and-go style from the left side, but he has really taken to it.
"I've gotten him running 3.7-3.8 (seconds) to first base from the left side, which is off the speed charts," Harris said. "He's a very good athlete, he works hard and he's such a detailed player.
"He can fly, and it's not just straightaway speed. The way he cuts the bases, it's fun to watch."
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