Updated: Dec 5, 2021
WELCOME TO THE DIRTY FLIRTY.
These are my top 40 prospects in The Cardinals organization, aside from the players that I’ve already covered in The Dirty Annexes. This little ditty here is the preface to all of the post in our Dirty series. So, if you’ve read this once then you don’t need to read it again!
A warning to those looking for Lars Nootbaar, Scott Hurst, Junior Fernandez, Johan Oviedo, Jake Woodford, Edmundo Sosa, and anyone aside from Angel Rondon that has already made a major league debut: That’s not really my bailiwick, as I’m sure you’ve heard enough about those guys from more qualified outlets already. Most of those guys have exhausted their prospect status, anyway.
A reminder that this is an exercise in futility, ranking prospects. It’s a landscape that is ever-changing and developing. We are almost always talking about kids that are just starting to understand both themselves and their bodies, while learning the most difficult and nuanced sport in the land. You never know when someone is going to start doing 200 pushups per day on their way to postseason glory.
I ask for your thoughts and feedback. I ask that you have fun. I ask that you remember that I’m a moron. Most importantly, I ask that you take all of the prospect rankings from every outlet in the spirit of what they are: a snapshot of that moment, with a bent towards understanding what might come.
#: Outfielder Alec Burleson
23 Years Old Soon
Drafted in the 2nd-ish round of the 2020 draft
Memphis, Springfield, and Peoria
This guy looks like he FUCKS.
He also kind of looks like a well-adjusted version of the guy from this Arby's... thing.
I think that my favorite thing about Alec Burleson is that he doesn’t exactly fit the “look” of your average top 10 prospect in an organization. I think that this is part of the reason why he was available to the Cardinals as the 70th overall selection of the 2020 draft.
If I’m speaking honestly, this is part of the reason why I slept on his prospect status entering the 2021 season. During the draft episode of Prospects after Dark in 2020, I was quick to note that he was drafted in the compensation part of the 2nd round, in part, to help redistribute some of the funds from his slot to the two high schoolers drafted immediately ahead of him: Masyn Winn and Markevian Hence. I over-emphasized this point, and I was wrong for doing it. Remember that as you read through these fucking awful attempts at "analysis" that I'm "providing."
Since being drafted, I have come to know and appreciate this young man’s game on an entirely different level. He doesn’t look like your new age athlete, but he has athleticism in droves. He doesn’t have the smoothest running gate, but he has sneaky speed and agility on the bases and in the outfield. What he looks like is a baseball player.
This play here, one of the best plays during the minor league season from a Cardinals’ prospect, happened on the opening night of the MiLB season, and Burleson never let off the throttle from there.
To be honest, it was his work in the outfield that caught my eye at first, even though he was hammering the covering off the ball almost immediately at Peoria. You could tell that Burleson got a terrific read on the ball off of the bat, and that he was going to grind out every little bit of energy that he had to make whatever play he was capable of making. Sometimes he’ll cut a little too early at a ball in the gap and the ball will get by him and go to the wall, but he’ll grow out of that. He was already starting to be more consistent with it at the end of the 2021 season.
Keep in mind that Burleson was a two-way player at THE East Carolina University. He also played first base over his time in college and on the collegiate Team USA. He’s still getting his full-time outfielder legs underneath him.
Speaking of being a two-way player, the most underrated part of the Burleson’s entire game is that outfield arm. Again, you wouldn’t quite expect it if you were looking at him in the outfield, but he has a hand cannon out there. He doesn’t even need to get a crow hop in there to throw a seed. It’s a missile, and I love it soooooooooooooooooooooo much. It’s accurate, too. The throw in the gif below is INCREDIBLE. He might have the best outfield arm on the farm, and it might not be close.
As we’ve talked a lot, Burleson has all the intangibles en masse that the Cardinals look for in their top draft picks. Burleson is driven. He’s smart. His baseball IQ is off the charts. He was a good student. He’s a leader. He wants to be as good as he possibly can be, and he hates failure. Between talking to people that are close to him and people from the various highly decorated institutions that he's been a part of, I’ve fallen in love with this young man’s character. They’ve made me wish that I was a family member. Maybe a brother-but-probably-a-weird-uncle-that-makes-you-feel-fucking-WEIRD.
It’s at this point that I’d like to point out just how dumb I am for not realizing almost immediately that Burleson was going to be a breakout draftee. Knowing what I know now about his character, and knowing that he was going to be committing fully to being a position player... I should have seen this coming from a mile away. That I didn’t speaks to my ignorance and under qualifications. I just wanted to be up front about it before we got any further.
As a lefty, he doesn’t have the picturesque swing of Ken Griffey Jr. or Ray Lankford or Barry Bonds. What he has is incredibly fast hands and an extremely strong lower body foundation. Burleson is also committed to using the entire field to get hits. He isn’t too proud to dump a ball over the left side of the infield to get his hits and do his damage. Burleson's ability to use the entire field in all counts against all types of pitcher is part of the reason why I am so bullish on him moving forward. The guy just wants to hit and he just wants to do damage.
"Burly" is capable of golfing a ball in the dirt, and he isn’t afraid to slap a high fastball to the opposite field. Other than the speed of his hands and his bat, the thing that I love the most about Burleson’s hitting mechanic is that there isn’t any wasted motion. His head stays still. His bat and hands stay loose. He always appears relaxed but ready to do damage. It’s clear that he is confident in the hitter that he is.
And he’s begun to add sustainable power to his profile.
As you can tell from the stats, both A+ and AA weren’t much of a challenge for Burleson. You’ll also notice that Burleson struggled comparatively at AAA. PLEASE DO NOT OVER EVALUATE HIS TIME AT MEMPHIS. Like we talked about with Zack Thompson but to a different degree, that is such a tough assignment for a prospect that was in their first full season of affiliated baseball. That he was able to stay afloat there is the real indicator of the talent that Burleson has. If you want to bury yourself into his stats at Memphis, I’ll send you to his last 17 games and 61 plate appearances there. Over this time, after a little over 100 plate appearances at AAA to adjust and learn, Burleson hit 286/344/518 with three homers and four doubles. Burleson only struck out 13.1% of the time to end the season, and he walked 8.2% of the time with a wRC+ of 128. You'll notice in the gif below that Burly finished the season STRONG.
Just think about that for a second, if you will. His last collegiate season was cut short because of COVID. He’s drafted but doesn’t get a chance to play affiliated-competitively until 11 months later. He blows through two very tough levels before getting his first taste of real adversity at the toughest non-MLB level in the world. Then, it only takes him about 100-ish plate appearances to be well-above league average there.
There are some things that Burleson is going to need to continue to work on and refine. Burly can hit lefties, and any other characterization of his hitting ability against them isn’t accurate. This is one of those situations in which the stats against lefties don't tell the entire story. However, he was trying very hard to just “stay alive” as he climbed the MiLB ladder in 2021. I can’t imagine how tough it would be to hit AA and AAA lefties two years removed from your last full collegiate season. Regardless, he still has work to do in that department. It's the weakest part of this game at the plate.
Early on in his time at AAA, Burleson was a little swing-happy, and this hurt him with some advanced heat up in the zone. I’m here to attest that it didn’t take Burleson long to understand how to adjust to it and when it was coming, which is terrific. But it’s an easy trait to pick back up for a hitter at advanced levels, and Burleson will need to continue to work to refine this part of his approach.
I don’t think that I’m speaking out of turn by saying that this young man has a chance to be special if he can continue to build on this success. He isn't the fleetest of foot and he isn't going to run around like he's being chased by a pack of wolves (wolves are scared of humans, for the record. They usually run from us. But I wanted to use the saying so taste me), but he does have those smarts on the bases that allow him to make the most of the speed and skill that he has. There's no denying that Burleson is going to squeeze every little bit of talent that he has out of himself.
At the very least, you can’t ask for much more with the compensatory pick that the Cardinals received for Marcell Ozuna. If Ozuna had a fraction of the character and dedication that Burleson has then his time in St. Louis wouldn’t have been so disappointing, and his life wouldn’t be such a fucking mess. Nothing would surprise me less than if Burleson is Major League ready by June of 2022, if Major League Baseball is being played in June of 2022.
As I just take a screenshot straight from their website, I can’t begin to stress loudly enough the important role that FanGraphs plays in the statistical side of what I do with these write-ups. Please subscribe to their service BY CLICKING THIS LINK.
In addition, you all know how important and valuable @cardinalsgifs is to the pictures that fire up these articles. He’s helped with some of the gifs along the lines, too. I wouldn’t do the write-ups if it weren’t for him.
Thank For Reading!!