Cardinals: Alec Burleson discusses breakout minor league season

MEMPHIS, UNITED STATES - 2021/08/01: The front entrance to Auto Zone Park in Memphis.Auto Zone Park is a Minor League Baseball stadium located in downtown Memphis. It is the home of the Memphis Redbirds. (Photo by Kevin Langley/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
MEMPHIS, UNITED STATES - 2021/08/01: The front entrance to Auto Zone Park in Memphis.Auto Zone Park is a Minor League Baseball stadium located in downtown Memphis. It is the home of the Memphis Redbirds. (Photo by Kevin Langley/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images) /

St. Louis Cardinals breakout prospect Alec Burleson talked about how family, analytics and a drive to succeed are carrying him through the minor leagues.

St. Louis Cardinals outfield prospect Alec Burleson has been enjoying a meteoric rise through the minor leagues. Drafted in the second round out of East Carolina, where he split time between pitching and playing outfield and first base, Burleson has put on a show at three levels of the minor leagues after primarily focusing on playing in the field.

While solely concentrating on hitting likely aided Burleson in unlocking more of his potential, he said his experience on the mound helps him at the plate as well.

“I kind of think like a pitcher, analyze pitchers and see what they’re trying to do and what I would do in situations as a pitcher,” Burleson said, in a phone interview with Redbird Rants. “I think that’s only helped me.”

Burleson credited much of his success to focusing on specific workouts for position players instead of dividing his time between position-player and pitcher exercises. He said his time during the 2020 minor-league cancellation allowed him to focus on the weight room.

“I needed to lift to be strictly a position player,” said Burleson. “I think it was mostly the work I put in over COVID and in the weight room and being able to actually lift and not have to stay away from upper-body stuff.”

A common concern among teams was that the cancellation of the minor leagues last year would cost prospects some much-needed development time, but Burleson believes the lack of a season was helpful.

“I think it helped me because I wasn’t thrown right into pro ball and being on my own,” he said. “I have a lot of support staff here and everything, but I had a full year to get my plan together, my routines together, and I think it benefited me, having a whole year out of college and doing what I needed to do.”

Burleson said he didn’t expect be in Triple-A this early in his career and is happy with the results of his workouts, but he believes he can adjust some parts of his game to make himself even better.

“Just finding consistency in my swing,” he said. “I feel like that’s one of the hardest parts of this game and it being so long is just keeping your same approach through all 120, 130 games and just finding cues that can help me keep that consistency.”

Another effect of rocketing through the system so quickly is the constant adjustments a player has to make to be able to compete at a higher level. Burleson is still adjusting to the pitching in Triple-A, but he said he’s starting to figure it out.

“[The pitchers] are pretty tough,” he said. “You’ve got a lot of guys that have been in the big leagues and are going up and down. There’s a lot of good arms, and I think I’m still in that adjustment a little bit, but it’s starting to come easier. I’m starting to get more comfortable.”

Burleson assumed he’d have a slower route through the minor leagues and methodically move through the ranks, advancing approximately one level per year.

“I guess it was a low goal, but one I knew I could meet,” he said. “I just wanted to keep checking boxes every year.”

He isn’t complaining about his aggressive promotions, though.

“I’ve definitely exceeded my expectations for sure,” said Burleson. “I think I’ve exceeded all my family and friends’ expectations. Only in a good way, for sure.”

Burleson’s first year in professional baseball has been a learning experience, and he said the biggest lesson he’s absorbed is the need to have a short memory.

“It’s a long season, and one game in the scope of things is not going to kill you,” he said. “It’s not going to hurt. Heck, it’s not even really going to help you too much in the grand scheme of things.”

In addition to adapting to a longer season, Burleson had to learn about a new and more advanced set of analytics, such as the TrackMan and the blast sensors, and he admitted that he found utilizing them a bit much at first.

“It’s kind of like a foreign language,” he said. “I wasn’t really into that, so I need it translated a little bit.”

Burleson said the analytics play an important role, but when the action on the diamond starts, he needs to trust his instincts and not overthink everything.

“[Analytics are] useful if you know what it’s saying, but the biggest key is to only use that in your free work,” he said. “When you get in the game, you’re just going to compete. It’s you vs. the pitcher, and that’s just the biggest thing for me is just not to try and take that stuff into the game.”

Burleson puts family high on his list of the people who helped him succeed and get where he is today, and he is grateful for his family’s support no matter how he performs on the field.

“When I have a bad game, when I walk off the field, I still have Mom and Dad,” he said. “Sometimes they want to be a coach, but it’s only out of love and the support that they give me. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

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Fans can’t ask for much more from Burleson this year either. It seems he’s destined for St. Louis sooner rather than later, and if he continues to rake, Cardinals fans will enjoy watching him for a long time.