clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Mariners 2020 draft preview: RHP Tanner Burns

The program that produced Casey Mize has another talented righty hurler

HIGH SCHOOL BASEBALL: JUL 30 East Coast Pro Showcase

Even though following the MLB draft can feel like getting invested in a snail race, it is fun to see prospects you started following in high school progress through their college careers and eventually become eligible for the MLB draft again. It’s a little like tucking away a favorite pair of winter pants, forgetting about them, and then finding them at the back of the closet the next season, sometimes with a twenty tucked in the pocket.

Way back in 2017, I wrote up then-highschooler RHP Tanner Burns as a possible draft candidate for the Mariners to take 17th overall (they of course picked Evan White, who now sits poised to make his MLB debut). What I liked about the Decatur (Alabama) HS grad was the advanced feel for his curveball and changeup, plus excellent command on his low-to-mid-90s fastball, which he could throw to both sides of the plate. He also repeated his delivery well even as a high school arm and was one of my favorites at the Perfect Game All-American Classic. However, teams passed on the righty, until a courtesy selection from the Yankees in the 37th round, so Burns headed off to Auburn.

Burns hasn’t gotten taller at Auburn, and his fastball hasn’t jumped into a big burner, but he’s still the same solid pitcher he was in high school. Burns entered the Auburn rotation and made an immediate impact as a weekend starter, striking out 77 in 81.2 innings with an ERA of 3.01, impressive numbers for any freshman, but especially one in his first exposure to SEC competition.

As a freshman, he tied a school record (held by 2018’s number one overall pick Casey Mize, among others) by striking out 15 batters in a game. Burns was even better in his sophomore campaign, boosting his strikeout numbers to 101 in 79.2 innings while lowering his walk rate from around 10% to about 7%. Unfortunately, some shoulder tightness limited him late in the season, and added to concerns about his durability, a question that will always hang around shorter pitchers until they have an established track record.

In addition to the fastball, which in addition to mid-90s velocity has some tail and run, Burns has a slider (81-84) that functions as a putaway pitch, although some scouts say it can get slurvy, especially as he works deeper into games.

Burns also possesses a changeup (81-84 mph) with the potential to be a plus pitch thanks to some hard late fade, although he doesn’t have to throw it too often against college competition.

You want intangibles? We got your intangibles:

As far as how Burns could fit for Seattle, it’s a little tricky, Both MLB Pipeline and FanGraphs have him in the 20s, and Baseball America has him just outside the top 10 among all collegians. The chief knock on Burns is questions about his durability, although supporters are quick to point to poor field conditions in a game in late April that might have triggered his shoulder injury. Some scouts also see a high-effort delivery, even though Burns repeats his mechanics well and has since arriving on the showcase scene in 2013. Ultimately, at a listed 6’0” and maxed-out physical projection, Burns might be (unfairly) working against his own physical limitations. Assuming Burns is valued by clubs similarly to where he’s ranked by various outlets (a very big, huge, enormous, gigantic assumption), he’s likely a mid-to-late first rounder, perhaps slotting in around his hometown team, Atlanta, at 25. Perhaps with another season of Mize-adjacent work he could creep into the low teens, but it’s currently difficult to see the Mariners taking him at 6 given the other talent on the board. If, however, Burns has a down year due to either injury or ineffectiveness in a draft especially rich on college pitching, he’s a name to watch in the second round as a potential draft steal.