Mike Burrows’ return could be huge for the Pittsburgh Pirates

Pittsburgh Pirates' pitching prospect Mike Burrows could soon return to in-game action, and he could be a season-changer for the Pirates in the second half of this season.
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Last year, many fans were hoping that Pittsburgh Pirates’ top pitching prospect, Mike Burrows, could play a large role for the team. After another promising season in 2022, Burrows entered the 2023 campaign as a top 10 prospect in the Pirates’ system. But Burrows’ season came to a halt before it even got started. He pitched in just two games before having to undergo Tommy John surgery in mid-April.

Burrows has been on the shelf recovering from surgery since, but according to Pittsburgh Post Gazette reporter Andrew Destin, general manager Ben Cherington said on 93.7 The Fan that Burrows is starting to throw simulated games and should be back in game action by July.

Pirates fans get hopeful update on top pitching prospect Mike Burrows

The last time we saw Burrows pitching, it was in 2022 at Triple-A Indy. During the 2022 campaign, Burrows had a 4.01 ERA but a 3.29 FIP and 1.21 WHIP. The right-hander had a 28.2% strikeout rate with a 7.9% walk rate and 0.76 HR/9. These numbers were good, but they could have been even better. He allowed six earned runs in his final game of the year, only inducing two outs. Prior to that outing, Burrows had a 3.46 ERA, 3.11 FIP, and 1.15 WHIP through his first 93.2 IP of the year.

But Burrows’ return could be huge for the Pirates in the second half of the season. Pittsburgh probably wouldn't give Burrows a full workload upon his immediate return — it’s been well over a year now since he last pitched five innings — but he could very much be an option for the bullpen. The Pirates’ pen needs as much help as it can get right now, and adding Burrows could be a massive help. Think of how well Carmen Mlodzinski helped the Pirates’ pen down the stretch last year.

There’s no question Burrows’ stuff would play out of the pen. He sits 94-96 MPH as a starter with a lot of spin, approaching 2500 RPM when healthy. His curveball is an upper-70s pitch with a spin rate upwards of 2800 RPM. There were questions early in Burrows’ career if he could remain as a starting pitcher. While his fastball and curveball had plus potential, his changeup lagged behind. But over the last couple of years, he’s made strides to improve his third pitch to make it a viable offering, and he’s been successful at it.

Moving Burrows to the pen shouldn’t completely rule him out from ever starting again. But turning him into a reliever after a few outings in the minor leagues lets him get his workload up while helping out one of the weakest parts of the team and using him in the best possible manner.

This could be a big difference-maker for the Pirates in the second half of the season. Having another reliable arm in the pen, especially one who might be able to give them two innings at a time, at least on a semi-regular basis, not only gives them someone else to use but it also gives them a lot more flexibility on how they could deploy the rest of their relievers around him.