With Winter Warm-Up in the rearview mirror and pitchers and catchers reporting next month, I’ll be taking a look at prospects (not named Jordan Walker) who could make an impact in 2023.
Has Alec Burleson become the forgotten man in the outfield?
Jordan Walker (understandably) has all the hype. Lars Nootbaar has become an instant fan-favorite, with his infectious personality and now viral swing video. Juan Yepez, fresh off his stint as the unofficial Albert Pujols Intern, looks primed for a DH/occasional outfielder role. Tyler O’Neill and Dylan Carlson return as incumbents, with team officials repeatedly stressing their importance.
Where is Burleson?
It’s easy to forget now but Burleson, the 70th overall pick from the famed 2020 draft class, has consistently hit at every level he has spent significant time at.
Over 888 minor league at-bats, Burleson has hit an even .300, with a .842 OPS and 42 homers. Those numbers have also improved over time. In 2021, he hit .270 over three levels as he rapidly rose to Memphis. He slugged .454 that year with a .783 OPS. He struck out 101 times but flashed considerable power with 22 homers.
He continued that impressive rise with his breakout last year. In AAA he hit .331 with a .904 OPS. He nearly halved his strikeouts, finishing with 67, and still muscled up for 20 long balls.
Those numbers pop off the screen, as a recent MLB.com scouting report noted:
"“The left-handed-hitting slugger had a solid case as the most productive hitter in Triple-A last season. He won the International League batting title with a .331 average over 109 games and was one of only two hitters at the level to finish with a .300 average and 20 home runs (exactly that amount in his case). The other was Wynton Bernard, who played in the high elevation of Albuquerque. With a 14.3 percent K rate (ninth-best in Triple-A), Burleson protected the plate by relying on his stellar bat control to spray line drives with two strikes. His typical exit velocities point more toward average pop in the end.”"- MLB.com
A piece last year on Burleson’s fantasy value was equally effusive in its praise:
"“He's such a fun hitter to watch, reminiscent of an early Brian McCann but in a way that won't fall victim to infield shifts given how he sprays the ball all over the field.”"- Scott White, CBS Sports
Yes, his cup of coffee in the majors last year was not what he had hoped for. He managed only nine hits in nearly 50 at-bats, with one home run. The power he flashed in the minors seemed to sizzle, as did his prospect glow.
But some context is needed. As noted, Burleson was only given 48 at-bats and his playing time was sporadic. He never had the opportunity to consistently play, making a hard adjustment for a rookie nearly impossible. And let’s not forget he’s only 24, with just two full professional seasons under his belt.
Seems a little early for him to disappear from the radar screen, no?
Burleson, who still remains a Top 100 prospect according to MLB.com, has a lot going for him this spring. For starters, he bats lefty, something this team (and, with the new ban on shifts, every team) could use. And he’ll have plenty of opportunity this spring with so many Cardinals leaving for the World Baseball Classic. He also doesn't need to wrestle away an outfield spot when DH opportunities are available too.
His name may not be the first one that comes to mind when we think of who might make the most of that opportunity. But don’t be surprised if he reasserts himself as a key piece of this team moving forward.