Lakeland, Fla. — They loved the power right arm. The delivery, too, that, while not perfect, seemed to draw the most horsepower from the least amount of stress and strain.
But as much as the Tigers bit on a pitcher’s physical gifts in making Beau Burrows their first-round draft pick last June, something else about a suburban Dallas prep star lured them.
“Temperament and makeup,” David Chadd, then the Tigers’ amateur scouting director, and now the team’s assistant general manager, said eight months ago after Burrows was snared and later signed for $2.15 million.
Burrows, 19, is barely a week into his first full season as a professional baseball player. He is learning how to pace body and mind in adjusting to “the grind,” as he referred to it Sunday afternoon outside the Tigers’ minor league clubhouse at their Tigertown complex.
“I don’t know what to expect,” said Burrows, as he sat at a picnic table an hour after workouts had ceased. “I’m just trying to soak it all in. Everything.”
Some of that soaking took place Sunday when the Tigers’ big league team was at work on a sunny, 75-degree day. Burrows strolled from the minor league clubhouse to watch right-hander Jordan Zimmermann throw during a bullpen session.
“I’ve been told I’m a lot like him, so I watched him throw b.p.,” Burrows said, reflecting on his batting-practice notes. “I kind of critiqued myself on what I saw from him.”
Burrows was something of a surprise when the Tigers nabbed him last June, ahead of two billboard college starters: Kyle Funkhouser (Louisville) and Walker Buehler (Vanderbilt).
The Tigers had quietly been hunting Burrows all spring as he threw for Weatherford High and made dust of most hitters. They knew also the Royals had been studying Burrows hard and probably would have taken him later in the first round.
He is listed at 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, but the Tigers knew a year ago what everyone, including Burrows, knows today. He isn’t 6-2. He is 6-1, generously. He is also “205, 210,” as Burrows gauged his weight Sunday following an offseason that was big on workouts and on protein that would sustain him in 2016.
The Tigers aren’t yet sure where Burrows might begin the regular season. They’ll watch him closely during spring camp and if all goes ideally, he probably heads for Single A West Michigan. It’s also possible he would stick in Lakeland for extended spring training and pitch perhaps at Single A Connecticut when its season gets rolling in June.
But barring any setbacks, Burrows will be pitching well above the Gulf Coast League where he broke in last summer with numbers befitting a millionaire first-rounder: 10 games, 28 innings, 18 hits, 33 strikeouts, 11 walks. His ERA: 1.61. His WHIP: 1.04. Opposing batting average: .184.
One distinction, unusual for a young pitcher, is Burrows’ change-up. Most prospects throw a change in the manner they make their bed. Only if it’s ordered from above or company shows up.
“I have a really good feel for the change,” said Burrows, who turned down a Texas A&M scholarship when the Tigers came through. “I like it a lot.”
What he doesn’t particularly care for is opposing hitters. It’s the flip-side to a man who smiles steadily and brings a capital “C” to the word “cordial.”
“When I’m on the mound, I’m a different person than I am off the field,” said Burrows, who acknowledges he has no problem (“not at all”) knocking a hitter off the plate.
Chadd updated his 2015 scouting report during a Sunday conversation and repeated last June’s summary: The Tigers saw in Burrows a pitcher with a power repertoire and a competitive streak that bordered upon the nasty.
“He can get that way, for sure,” Chadd said. “Definitely. And he’s very mature for his age.”
Burrows arrived at Tigertown after a long drive from Dallas with his dad, Buster, owner of a landscaping business there. His mother, Bridget, is an elementary school librarian.
The two rode in Beau’s gift to himself that followed signing a contract for more money than he would have imagined, at least a couple of years ago. It’s a white GMC Denali, “with a lift kit, tires, and wheels,” Burrows said.
In other words, it’s got everything. So, too, in the Tigers’ opinion, a teenage pitcher is similarly equipped for the long haul.
The process has begun. The road is long. The adventure, for all parties, unfurls.