The Braves’ system is stacked with highly drafted arms, a byproduct of rebuilding years and taking advantage of other organizations’ win-now hankering.
Most of their contributors were rated highly from day one, though as Wes Parsons and Chad Sobotka are showing in the majors, that doesn’t necessarily matter. Surrounded by the heap of top prospects, Thomas Burrows could be the Braves’ gem.
Burrows was the “other” piece of a 2017 trade with Seattle that brought over the now-underwhelming Luiz Gohara in exchange for Mallex Smith and Shae Simmons. Gohara has fizzled, but Burrows may be able to make that trade worthy of registering on the radar.
A closer at the University of Alabama, Seattle took Burrows in the fourth round of the 2016 draft. After 20 games in the Mariners’ system, he impressed upon joining the Braves, notching 92 strikeouts in 66.2 innings at low Class A Rome. He made further strides last season, fanning 86 in 67.2 innings across three levels. His final 15 games were with Double-A Mississippi, where he posted a 1.42 ERA with 27 strikeouts against six walks. Opponents hit just .154 against the southpaw.
Burrows began the season in Triple-A, and though he hasn’t been his best (five earned runs in 5.1 innings), he’s been better as of late. Burrows is still racking up strikeouts, and four of his past five appearances have been scoreless (while issuing only one walk).
He entered the season with just 159 innings under his belt. The Braves liked what they saw from Burrows in spring training, but it’s understandable why they’d have some patience.
Like many of the team’s arms, Burrows has notable upside. His strikeouts per nine entering the year was a robust 12.2. He’s 24 years old, more physically mature than many of their arms, with a fastball that hovers in the low to mid-90s. His key is generating swings and misses with his slider.
Burrows might be a good stretch away from cracking the majors, especially with the Braves’ recurring bullpen fiascos. The team will bet on upside, as it has with arms like Sobotka and Jesse Biddle. Burrows has the makings of an under-the-radar candidate to bolster the relief core sometime in the summer.
Not bad for the “other piece.”
— Third base prospect Austin Riley homered in his third consecutive game on April 27. He’s making all the strides the Braves hoped for in the early going. His eventual callup, however, remains dependent on other factors. As Riley rakes in Triple-A, he still doesn’t have a logical spot in the majors. The Braves are comfortable with him at third and first base at the moment, with some possibility of the corner outfield. If Riley’s playing well at the time of an injury, it certainly helps his case coming up. But for the foreseeable future, it’s difficult to envision Riley fitting in until later in the summer.
— Kyle Muller is a darkhorse candidate to break into the majors later this season, but thus far his control isn’t cooperating. Muller walked 16 over his first 14 innings in Double-A. He struck out 21 and held opponents to a .167 average, but the towering Texas lefthander needs to reel it in before we discuss Triple-A, let alone the MLB bullpen. Still, Muller remains an intriguing option if he gets it together. The Braves loved what they saw from him in spring training, and the team didn’t shy away from aggressive promotions a season ago. If his performance improves, seeing Muller in September is certainly on the table.