Andy Burns is used to moving around. On the field, he has played all over the infield since being selected by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 11th round of the 2011 draft. His route to prospect status has been equally circuitous.
Originally drafted in 2008, the former two-time Colorado Baseball Player of the Year bypassed an opportunity to sign with his home-state Rockies, and opted instead to play collegiately at the University of Kentucky. Two years later, he transferred to the University of Arizona, but eligibility issues prevented him from seeing game action. Since signing a professional contract, he has hopscotched between minor-league outposts in British Columbia, Michigan, Florida and New Hampshire.
But this year he emerged as legitimate prospect. Splitting the season between High-A Dunedin — where he was voted the best defensive third baseman in the Florida State League — and Double-A New Hampshire, the 23-year-old hit .288/.346/.470. His right-handed stroke produced 56 extra-base hits, including 15 home runs. He also swiped 33 bases.
Burns continued his hot hitting in the Arizona Fall League, batting .312 for the Salt River Rafters. He talked about his path to prospect prosperity — including an adjustment to his hitting approach — during the final week of the AFL season.
Burns on playing in the Arizona Fall League: “It’s an opportunity to get better and play against good competition. That’s the focus, to continue to progress toward being a big-league player. I don’t think there’s anything special [the Blue Jays] want me to work on. They just want me to continue to fine-tune my game.
“The competition here is pretty comparable to Double-A. There are definitely some talented hitters. You’re around guys from other organizations, so you can kind of bounce your ideas off their ideas. That’s another thing that helps you progress.
“I watch all these great hitters and try to figure out what their approach is. I kind of match those to mine and use what I like. I talk to pitchers, too — guys with great stuff — about how they’re going to attack hitters. I get as much information as I possibly can.”
On knowing yourself as a hitter; “There’s always room for growth, but I think I’ve finally figured out what makes me good. I’m understanding what I’m doing when I’m doing well, and recognizing when I get outside of that. I’m starting to really come into my own in that sense, knowing what I’m trying to do at the plate.
“The more at bats you get, the more you start to recognize pitches, and the better feel you get for how you‘re being pitched. The year before, my power numbers might have been better, but there were a lot of times I took way too aggressive swings in counts where I could have put a good swing on the ball and taken a single. Instead, I fouled it back, got behind in the count and maybe struck out on the next pitch.
“I’ve learned that in certain situations, if the pitcher is going to give you a hit, take the hit. Don’t try to do more than what’s given. I think that was the biggest difference this year.
“Our hitting coordinator, Mike Barnett, is a big approach guy. There’s nothing I’ve done swing-wise. It’s more approach-wise; it’s about what I’m looking for and refining that. Like I said, getting too big in certain counts just gets me in trouble.
“I’m a guy who’s up there looking for a fastball up and away. I feel if you’re looking for that, you can adjust to hanging breaking balls pretty well. I think that’s where I’ve been most successful. When I get outside of that, or try to sit on pitches, I end up chasing. I’m a good fastball-away hitter, so I have to stick with that approach and build off of it.”
On defensive versatility and positional value: “Versatility only helps. Being able to play a lot of positions opens up different opportunities. I think at some point in my career I’ll settle into one position, but right now, being able to move around is a benefit for me.
“It’s a process to learn multiple positions. Each one is unique in its own way. I’m going to continue to work to get better in all of them, because I want be a solid infielder wherever they put me.
“It’s really hard for me to say what my best position is. The most time I’ve had in minor league baseball is at third, and this season I got really comfortable over there. I think second is a great possibility for me. I’m comfortable anywhere. [Positional value] is something the organization looks at more so than me. I can only control what I can control.”
On his background: “I’m a true believer that everything happens for a reason. I also feel everything that happens is a learning opportunity. Looking back, it would have been really tough had I signed out of high school. At that age, I just wasn’t ready. Going to college was invaluable. There were parts of my game that had to progress if I hoped to have success at the professional level.
“As for the Kentucky situation, it just didn’t work out. I learned from that. I went to Arizona and learned there as well. They had a great coaching staff that really helped me progress, even though I wasn’t able to play.
“It continued to be a learning curve in pro ball. I really struggled in short-season. I hadn’t played in over a year, so it was tough. I had to learn from what happened, and I feel I did. [In 2012] I put up some pretty solid numbers, but I wasn’t where I wanted to be. I also broke my hand and missed the entire second half.
“This year, with all of the help I’ve gotten from my coaches, I’m getting to a spot where I… I’m never satisfied, but I’m getting closer. That said, you have to realize just how quickly this game can be taken away from you. The second you take any day for granted, you’re cheating yourself.”
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