As a freshman, Tanner Burns watched everything the 2018 number one overall pick Casey Mize did to prepare himself for his junior season at Auburn. Now, Burns has taken those lessons and applied them to himself. Add into the equation that Burns father is in the University of North Alabama Hall of Fame, was a 10-year JuCo head coach, and professional player himself, and Tanner has the mentality and understanding of what he must do to be a successful professional.
Burns isn’t a big guy but he gets the most out of his 6’ and 215 pound frame. Burns has a strong lower half and even though there isn’t any projection left, he has been the same guy for the last three years at Auburn. Each year he puts out an improved version of himself compared to what product Burns was the season before. As a freshman, he held his own in the best college baseball conference in America with a 3.01 ERA, 77 strikeouts, and 37 walks. As a sophomore, he improved on that with a 2.82 ERA, 101 strikeouts, and 23 walks. As a junior, he was well on his way to improving those numbers again with a 2.42 ERA, 32 strikeouts, and 7 walks in 22.1 innings before the season was canceled.
Burns grabbed a share of the Auburn all-time single game strikeout record when he tied his pitching coach and Auburn alum Tim Hudson striking out 15 Cincinnati Bearcats during his sophomore season. Burns can pile up the strikeouts making it easy on his team defense. Burns also gets a lot of ground balls because he is able to use his fastball down in the zone.
Burns fastball works from 90 to 96. Burns throws the pitch downhill very well and often is in the bottom third of the strike zone. Burns does elevate when he is looking for a strikeout and can throw it by guys easily. The pitch has late life and really bores in on hitters.
Burns throws a change up well but not often. The Auburn coaching staff called all the pitches and threw over 90% of fastballs in most games. The change ups I saw in his 2020 starts all were right around 83 to 84 and had some arm side movement. The pitch is still developing but that will happen because Burns has put a focus on that very thing. Burns will need this pitch when he gets drafted and pitches professionally.
The breaking ball is what really draws people to Burns. It’s been called a spike curve or slider, but it looks more like a curve with the movement pattern. The pitch has huge amounts of spin and breaks at an 11 to 5 movement from the catcher’s perspective. Burns can throw it for strikes or as a chase pitch. Even when a hitter is able to recognize it, they do not take good swings against it.
Burns looks like a top notch pitcher when he gets on the hill. He takes a small sideways rocker step, lifts his leg waist high, and has compact, smooth delivery. Burns works over the top which allows him to get the downhill trajectory on his fastball. He shakes his glove as he gets his grip to hide it from prying eyes. Burns even has shown a desire to mess with hitters timing by pausing at the top of his leg lift and still throwing 94 at the knees for a strike. As the game moves along, Burns settles in and gets better. He is a very good draft prospect and does a good job of holding runners. He has several different pick offs but seems like his favorite is a quick pick without coming set. Burns should dominate the lower levels of the minors before really being tested at the upper levels. There is no doubt that his talent makes him a big league pitcher but like everyone else, he needs to stay healthy to maximize that talent.
I didn’t think Burns would be around for the Royals at 32 until I saw a mock yesterday that had them selecting him in that position. I don’t really expect him to be available, but he would be a really good pick adding a highly advanced arm to the Royals plethora of pitchers.
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Image from the Montgomery Advertiser and taken by Ben McKeown.