DUNEDIN, Fla. — As usual, last year’s Futures Game rosters were dotted with the game’s brightest young prospects. Tigers righthander Beau Burrows was originally among the lesser-known names on the roster, but by the time the game was over he’d stolen the show.
Burrows took over in the fourth inning against the meat of the World Team’s lineup—Dodgers outfielder Alex Verdugo, Mets shortstop Amed Rosario and Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers—and set them down in order, including swinging strikeouts from Rosario and Devers. Burrows’ fastball touched 98 mph that day, furthering his case for a spot among the game’s most talented pitching prospects.
The 21-year-old Texan was on the mound again Sunday, this time on the road at the Blue Jays’ minor league complex in Dunedin, and once again facing a lineup chock full of top-tier talent. Though they only stuck around for one at-bat apiece, Toronto’s lineup featured a pair of players—shortstop Bo Bichette and third baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr.—who joined Burrows last year in Miami at the Futures Game.
Burrows struck out Bichette and got a loud flyout from Guerrero during the course of four shutout innings. He sat between 92-94 mph with his fastball, and mixed in a heavy dose of curveballs, sliders and changeups before yielding the mound.
Like most pitchers his age, Burrows spent his spring training continuing to refine command of his arsenal.
“It’s my third spring training, so I think I’ve got more feel than I’ve had in the past two years,” the Tigers’ 2015 first-round pick said. “I’m just trying to go out there and get better every day somehow and stay healthy.”
Despite being just 21 years old, Burrows has moved quickly through Detroit’s system. He spent his first full year in 2016 at low Class A West Michigan, then split last season between high Class A Lakeland and Double-A Erie.
The Futures Game came between his stops last year, and sticks out as an obvious highlight of his young career.
“That was awesome. That was one of the best experiences of my life,” he said. “Going out there with all those great players—and also pitching well made it a lot better—it was just a blast being out there with some friends I’d played with in the past and some all-around good players.”
One of those friends is White Sox fireballer Michael Kopech, whom Burrows relieved during the game. The other is Rockies shortstop prospect Brendan Rodgers. And while Burrows and Rodgers were teammates for the Futures Game, they faced each other when Erie and Hartford met during last year’s Eastern League schedule.
“I threw him one pitch,” Burrows recalled. “It was a high changeup and he hit a double.”
The slider, which behaves like a hybrid with a cutter, is a relatively new offering for Burrows. It’s thrown roughly 10 mph harder than his curveball, and features sharp, violent break down and in on lefthanders. He added the pitch a year ago at this time and has seen immediate benefits.
“It’s a good pitch when it’s good, but I’ve just got to keep working on it and get it better every day,” he said. “It’s just a harder breaking ball. The curveball is a little bit more 12-to-6, and now I have the hard slider. It’s better to have both of those, I think.”
Burrows dominated in the early portion of last season, going 4-3, 1.23 with 62 strikeouts in 59 innings at Lakeland. Once he got to Double-A, however, he learned quickly that upper-level hitters are more refined and will require more command to retire.
He made 15 starts with the Seawolves, going 6-4, 4.72, allowing 79 hits in 76 innings. Likely to return to Erie when the season starts next month, Burrows will continue working to command his explosive arsenal in the lower half of the strike zone.
“Obviously the hitters are a little more experienced and better overall,” he said. “I just need to get the ball down in the zone, and that will make me a better pitcher.”
Another X-factor at Burrows’ disposal is his delivery itself. Taught to him by Flint Wallace at the Texas Baseball Ranch when he was 9 years old, Burrows begins every pitch by rocking his weight onto his back leg before vaulting forward quickly. This also flashes his glove in front of his body, creating a little bit of deception as well.
Combine that with a fastball that already features an exceptionally high spin rate, and you’ve got a pretty solid recipe for plenty of swings and misses.
“I was told use my lower half and get my hips out there as well as my legs,” he said, “and my arm will follow.”
Burrows showed at the Futures Game that he has more than enough stuff to get top-tier hitters out. With a little more command of that stuff, he can jump even further up the list of the game’s premier pitching prospects.