Coming into the 2011 season, Cory Burns had one goal in mind -- make the Major Leagues. He did not reach The Show this season, but he certainly made inroads.
The Indians prospect posted a 2.11 ERA over 59 2/3 innings and recorded 35 saves in 37 chances for the Akron Aeros to earn the MiLBY as Best Double-A Reliever.
"Obviously, the goal is to get to the big leagues," Burns said. "You've got to take it step by step, but that's your end goal. You can only do so much and it's pretty much all based off performance. I think I set myself up decently to get my name on the map and get noticed a little bit. We'll see what happens next year."
Burns' 35 saves easily led all Double-A pitchers, 11 more than Noah Krol of the Eastern League-rival Altoona Curve. The only Minor Leaguer who racked up more saves was Giants prospect Heath Hembree, who totaled 38 between Class A Advanced San Jose and Double-A Richmond.
Burns also impressed with his consistency and ability to buckle down in the most stressful situations. The 24-year-old right-hander put together the same ERA before and after the All-Star break while limiting opponents to a .194 batting average with runners in scoring position -- 26 points below his season mark.
"I don't try to think about a whole lot," Burns said, explaining his mentality as a closer. "I just have the confidence within myself to go out and do what I can do."
Selected in the eighth round of the 2009 Draft, Burns quickly established his ability to miss bats, striking out better than a batter an inning over his first two seasons. The story was the same this summer as he fanned 70 in a shade under 60 innings.
Burns boasts a varied arsenal for a reliever, throwing two- and four-seam fastballs along with a knuckle-curveball and changeup. He credited his secondary pitches for his dominance on the mound this season.
"I've always had pretty decent off-speed stuff," he said. "When the next level comes around, we'll see how that translates there. I've always had good command with my off-speed stuff. That always helps."
"It's really hard for a team to go out there and look for one pitch," Aeros pitching coach Tony Arnold said. "He's able to command his off-speed pitches so well, it makes his fastball that much better."
Moving past his strikeout rate, Burns also ranked among the league leaders with a .220 batting average against, a 1.04 WHIP -- tops among relievers -- and 1.96 unintentional walks per nine innings.
Perhaps even more remarkable is the fact that Burns put up those numbers despite being one of the busiest pitchers in the league. He ranked first with 52 games finished and second with 54 appearances.
"He was one of the reasons were were able to do so well, as with any team when their closer shuts the door consistently throughout the year," Arnold said. "He did a very good job coming in and attacking hitters."
Burns is getting even more work in the Arizona Fall League, where he's facing some of baseball's best prospects. He hopes to put the finishing touches on his repertoire and become Major League-ready.
"I'm just trying to work on my fastball location and I'm not too worried about results here," he said. "I just know that, for one thing, the Indians want to see me work on it. I believe that's the only thing really holding me back from the big leagues, being able to get outs with my fastball. Really, that's all I'm here working on."
When he heads back to Arizona in February, Burns will have the same goal as this season. Is 2012 going to be the year he makes it to the big leagues?
"We'll see how Spring Training goes," he said. "I don't know. I'd like to think so, yes. But that one's not my call."