Pittsburgh Pirates Prospects: Michael Burrows Continuing to Impress

Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports /

With faith in his stuff and the addition of a changeup, Michael Burrows is off to a great start at High-A Greensboro and is quickly becoming one of the most intriguing arms in the Pittsburgh Pirates farm system

Every season there are teams across the minor leagues that are loaded with high end talent. One of those teams in the Pittsburgh Pirates farm system is the High-A Greensboro Grasshoppers. Among the prospects off to a strong start with Greensboro, one of the most intriguing starts is from an often times overlooked prospects.

Right-handed pitcher Michael Burrows has quietly become one of the more intriguing arms in the Pirate farm system. During the 2019 season Burrows logged 43.2 innings in 11 starts with Greensboro when they were the Low-A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Burrows struck out 22.3% of batters faced, allowed just 2 home runs and posted a 4.33 ERA to go with a 3.54 FIP.

While a 4.33 ERA for a then 19-year-old at Low-A is solid it did not paint the full picture for Burrows. Outside of one poor start where he allowed 6 runs in 1.2 innings of work Burrows posted a strong 3.21 ERA in 2019. Also, if you take away this start his walk rate for the season drops by nearly 2% from 10.4% to 8.9%. This start was a fine example of why you can not always judge a pitcher on their ERA, especially when they have just 11 starts under their belt.

Wednesday night Burrows made his 9th start of the season for the now High-A Grasshoppers. While Burrows pitched just 4 innings in the start, he held the Bowling Green Hot Rods to just 1 earned run on 4 hits and 7 strikeouts.

Burrows has pitched 37.2 innings in his 9 starts. In these 9 starts Burrows has posted a 2.39 ERA, 3.04 FIP and has allowed just a pair of home runs (0.48 HR/9). While his 9.9% walk rate is still a few ticks higher than you would like to see, he has more than made up for that with a well above average 34.4% strikeout rate.

FanGraphs loves both Burrows fastball and curveball. They give his fastball and future value of 50 and his curveball a future value of 55. Spin rate has always been the story for Burrows. Both his fastball and curveball have above average spin rate, making them difficult pitches for opposing batters to square up and drive. This is a big reason why he is limiting opposing batters to a line-drive rate of just 17.1% this season.

Entering the season the talent and stuff of Burrows was never in question. What was in question, however, was if he would remain a starting pitcher or if his future might be in the bullpen. This was due to Burrows leaning largely on a two-pitch mix. However, 9 starts into his 2021 season Burrows appears to be cementing himself as a starting pitcher moving forward.

Burrows is also working on adding a third pitch. “I’ve been focused on throwing my change up more often throughout the week leading up to my starts to build confidence with it,” Burrows told me when asked what he’s been working on most this season. Burrows added, “My change up has good movement and velocity difference, the only thing I needed to do was build confidence throwing it in game and it’s showing.”

By adding a third pitch, especially if it is a plus pitch as his changeup has been thus far this season, Burrows could shoot up Pirate prospect boards. It would not be a surprise to see Burrows a consensus top 10-15 Pirate prospect by the end of the season.

Burrows was also asked what has led to the big jump in his strikeout rate this season. According to Burrows it was as simple as confidence. “I made a lot of adjustments from 2019-2021 but I guess the biggest contributor to Ks has been my mentality. Playing with a bit of a chip on my shoulder and knowing where my stuff plays the best and throwing it through the strike zone.”

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Burrows could also be setting himself up for a late season promotion to Double-A Altoona. If not, the 21-year-old Burrows will be in position to start the 2022 season at the Double-A level. Burrows is a prospect that fans of the Pittsburgh Pirates should be keeping an eye on throughout the remainder of the 2021 season and beyond.