Corbin Burnes was about 10 days from the end of spring training in 2017 when a life-changing meeting set his career on a new course.
It didn’t seem like a big deal at the time as he was set to begin his second professional season. High-A pitching coach Dave Chavarria, observing Burnes’ command issues in camp, suggested some tweaks to his delivery.
Chavarria wanted to see Burnes move to a slightly higher release point and utilize a full, square-to-the-plate windup to leverage a strong, athletic lower half and ease the pressure on his arm.
When the boss says jump, you jump. And Burnes’ has yet to stop ascending as a result.
“It was frustrating at times right away, but something clicked on opening day,” the Sky Sox pitcher said. “Ever since then, things have stuck.”
The changes were helped along by Burnes’ background as a versatile middle infielder and by a love of golf that has taught him how to make physical adjustments. The love of golf, in fact, runs so deep that prior to reporting to Colorado Springs this week, his only previous visit to this area came about 10 years ago with his family as spectators for the PGA’s International held at Castle Pines Golf Club near Castle Rock.
Burnes was already enjoying extreme success in the minors before the deliver tweak. Over his first year he posted a 2.02 ERA over 35 2/3 innings. But he also walked 18 batters, or roughly one walk per 8 batters faced.
Utilizing the modified delivery last year, he posted a 1.67 ERA (second-best in the minor leagues) over 145 2/3 innings against more seasoned competition and issued a walk to every 16 batters he faced – cutting the free-pass rate in half.
The 6-foot-3, 205-pound righthander went 5-0 with a 1.05 ERA in 10 starts under Chavarria at High-A Carolina, then cruised through 16 starts at Double-A Biloxi with a 2.10 ERA and a .212 opponents batting average over 86 innings.
“No prospect made a bigger leap in the organization in 2017 than Burnes,” Baseball America reported.
The publication now rates Burnes as the pitcher with the best control in Milwaukee’s system, as well as the one possessing the best curveball.
“I was always the effectively wild kind of guy in high school and college,” Burnes said. “I look back now and think, ‘How was I so wild in those days?’”
When Burnes makes his debut for the Sky Sox this weekend, it will mark the sixth team he has played for in less than two years – and that doesn’t count time with the Brewers in spring training.
Making that quick progression from St. Mary’s in California, where he was a fourth-round pick in June 2016, through five levels in the minor leagues exposed him to a slew of managers and pitching coaches and ultimately brought him in front of the coaches who spotted the necessary tweak.
His story is further proof that there is no right way to handle a prospect’s progression. Had he stayed at one level longer he might have had continued success but not developed a repeatable delivery that has produced big-league ready control.
And now, here he is, with just one more step left to take.
“It could be a really good year for (the Brewers),” Burnes said. “It was definitely a cool experience to be in that clubhouse (in spring training) and feel the excitement, knowing I could be up there at some point this year.”