Sean Burroughs, in spite of being one of baseball's most highly rated prospects, was never really a power hitter in the minor leagues. His power was to the gaps, where in the minors he was able to rack up doubles in spades. He was a terrific hitter with good plate discipline. He had a killer arm. His swing was smooth, he was as athletically gifted as anyone. And everybody loves the son of a former big leaguer.
The path before him was strewn with expectations. And who would think any differently?
Year Age Lev G PA H 2B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS 1999 18 A-A+ 128 548 163 33 6 85 17 16 77 62 .363 .467 .490 .957 2000 19 AA 108 461 114 29 2 42 6 8 58 45 .291 .383 .401 .783 2001 20 AAA 104 439 127 28 9 55 9 2 37 54 .322 .386 .467 .853
In March of 2002, ten years ago, the San Diego Padres moved Phil Nevin from third base to first base in order to make room for Burroughs. Nevin, in 2001, hit .306/.388/.588 with a whopping 41 home runs and 126 RBI. As of spring training, the Padres expected Burroughs to be their starting third baseman at age 21. Sports Illustrated ran a story called My How He's Grown: Sweet Swinging Sean Burroughs, a star since his Little League days, is this spring's can't-miss rookie.
Burroughs started strong but faded quickly and was back in the minors at the end of May. He hit well back in triple-A (.302/.380/.447) before coming back up in September and dangling the carrot that was his talent: .377/.433/.410 in 67 plate appearances to end the year. He was young. Baseball America ranked him as their numer 7, 6 and 4 prospect preceeding 2000, 2001 and 2002 respectively. Nobody would think twice about his early season struggles at that age.
In '02 and '03 Burroughs averaged 138 games and 571 plate appearances in San Diego, and hit .292/.350/.374 in that timeframe. For an above average defender that wasn't bad, and at his age it was easy to imagine what he could become with maturity and experience.
Coming out of spring training in 2005, Burroughs was once again awarded the third base job. He was just 24. And in April he tore the cover off the ball, hitting .319/.392/.377. On April 30th, 2005, to cap off a strong month, Burroughs hit his first home run of the season.
He wouldn't hit another until August 23, 2011.
Burroughs is a good story. An incredibly talented player who, for any number of reasons, didn't make the transition from star minor leaguer to successful Major Leaguer. It's not an uncommon occurrence. But it's even less common for a player to essentially disappear from the baseball landscape, like Burroughs did, and then return at the age he did last year.
No, it wasn't a particularly successful campaign in terms of numbers. But his 78 games for the Diamondbacks marked his first Major League games in five years. And that home run was his first in six.
Now, ten years removed from the glossy sheen that was put on his future, the 31-year old Burroughs continues his story with the Twins. Rob Antony seems to like him, seeing him as a contributor, saying "Off the bench, third base, first base. He’s a professional hitter who takes good at-bats." If Justin Morneau can't play first as much as the Twins might like, Burroughs will get a look. It's a long way from this...
Over the course of his three seasons as a professional baseball player, San Diego Padres third baseman Sean Burroughs—like most young phenoms—has endured countless comparisons. At first it was said that he could be a clone of his father, former big league slugger Jeff Burroughs. Then, as he continued to smoke line-drive doubles into the gaps, he was likened to George Brett, the onetime .390-hitting Kansas City Royals third baseman. Now, as a can't-miss major league rookie at San Diego's spring training base in Peoria, Ariz., Burroughs, 21, conjures up memories of Robin Yount, who debuted as the Milwaukee Brewers' 18-year-old shortstop in 1974 and went on to a Hall of Fame career.
...but that's life, sometimes.
We love sports for the narratives as much as anything else, because part of investing ourselves in the teams we love also means investing ourselves in the players. We like a little bit of the dramatic, because we can relate to it. When it comes to Burroughs its easy to cheer for him, because there's a little bit of an underdog in all of us. We like to believe in second chances, and that, if the timing is right, it's not too late.
Spring training means a clean slate for everyone. But this one probably means something just a little bit different for Burroughs. We wish him well.