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Michael Burrows Thrives In Pirates' New Development Strategy

The 2021 minor league season offered the first look at the Pirates’ new development system under general manager Ben Cherington and farm director John Baker.

One of the biggest differences under the new front office has been a more individualized approach to player development. In the past, the Pirates had top-down direction for the development paths of their players, with the players getting very little say in their career path.

“There was no collaboration,” 22-year-old righthander Michael Burrows said. “It’s was just, 'This is what you’re going to do,' and you can’t really ask why.”

Burrows was one of the standouts in the Pirates’ system in 2021. Drafted in the 11th round in 2018, he signed out of Waterford High in Connecticut for an over-slot $500,000.

Burrows showed some promise in 2019, but the results were nothing like his 2.20 ERA and 66-to-20 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 49 innings for High-A Greensboro in 2021. His season was shortened by an oblique injury.

The new individualized development plan may have helped Burrows. It gave him the freedom to move away from certain system-wide running and weight-lifting programs that were causing him to lose too much weight.

Burrows describes the new development approach as being treated like “an adult” and “a professional player.”

“Before, it felt like you were being babysat, essentially,” Burrows said. “Just a bad way to go about someone’s career, really. It’s not focusing on individuals.”

From an individual development standpoint, Burrows made some changes to his pitch mix. He was previously throwing a four-seam and two-seam fastball, along with a curveball, slider and changeup. The overall five-pitch mix was difficult to maintain.

During the down time in 2020, Burrows focused on improving his four-seam fastball and getting his curveball to play off the pitch. Once the offseason hit, he started working on the changeup, using this three-pitch mix throughout the 2021 season.

“Instead of being a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none, I feel like I’ve mastered two really good pitches and a third one that’s really come a long way in the last year,” Burrows said.


— The Pirates are expected to sign Dominican shortstop Yordany de los Santos to a bonus north of $1 million. De los Santos would become the sixth international prospect signed to a seven-figure deal by the Pirates, with half of those signings coming since 2020.

— The Pirates hired their first in-uniform female coach in their franchise history, adding Caitlyn Callahan as a development coach. Callahan spent the previous two years as an intern for the Reds and played softball at Boston University.

Henry Davis (Mike Janes Four Seam Images)

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