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Texas notes: Burns building on strengths

Midland outfielder brings his speed, discipline to A's organization
July 15, 2014

You're not going to see Billy Burns trotting leisurely around the basepaths with his head down very often.

Burns lives his baseball life 90 feet at a time.

In his first year as a member of the Oakland Athletics organization since his trade from the Washington Nationals, the Midland RockHounds center fielder has raced to the top of the Texas League in steals with 44 and has only been caught three times.

"My plate approach just revolves around getting on base," said Burns, batting .252 from the leadoff spot but among the team leaders with 35 walks. "I don't ever try to hit a home run. I just try to put the ball somewhere the defense is not."

Burns has two career homers -- a grand slam that came Aug. 1, 2011, as a member of the short-season Auburn Doubledays, and one just Monday night with Midland -- and isn't planning to wear himself out trying for another. Instead, the 5-foot-9, 180-pound Burns is focused on his development as a switch-hitter, something he only started to attempt seriously since turning pro.

"I guess it's the confidence level and just learning how to hit all over again really, just from a different side," said Burns.

A natural righty, Burns is hitting .273 against left-handed pitchers and .244 when he turns around to face righties.

Burns easily could have viewed switch-hitting as an unwelcome task that could harm his on-base percentage and cut into his steal attempts, but he embraced it from the beginning.

"When the Nationals approached me about doing it, I was ready to try anything they wanted me to," Burns said. "I trusted them, and I just put my commitment into it and never really looked back from there."

A menace on the basepaths, Burns isn't shy about taking a big lead when he gets on, which he says is key to his success as much as getting a good jump.

"It's just always kind of been like that," said Burns. "If I ever shorten up my lead, I just feel off. I feel less confident out there."

A 32nd-round pick in 2011 out of Mercer University in Georgia, Burns split time between Class A Advanced Potomac and Double-A Harrisburg in the Eastern League last season, finishing with a .315 batting average, 74 steals, 72 walks and just 54 strikeouts in 444 at-bats. In 2012 he hit .322 with 38 steals, 65 walks and 68 strikeouts at Class A Hagerstown.

The Nationals traded Burns, one of their top prospects, to the A's for left-handed reliever Jerry Blevins in December. While the trade caught Burns by surprise, he feels he fits the mold of A's players in the Billy Beane era.

"I was shocked at first," Burns said of the trade. "It kind of all hit me at once. Once it settled in, I was pretty excited because I think I fit into the 'Moneyball' game."

Burns may be more in tune to the business decisions of baseball thanks to his father, Bob, who played football for the New York Jets in the 1970s. Though Bob, a running back, played before Billy was born, he's dispensed valuable advice about life in pro sports.

"It definitely has its perks that my dad has been through a lot of the stuff, and my mom because she went through it with him," Burns said. "They both give me advice on the background and the business side of things. That definitely helps, and then just the attitude and training along with that, of being mentally ready."

In brief

Seeing Siegrist: St. Louis Cardinals reliever Kevin Siegrist made a rehab appearance with Springfield on Saturday and worked two-thirds of an inning with two walks and a strikeout in an 8-0 victory over Northwest Arkansas. Siegrist was 1-1 with a 3.60 ERA through 23 appearances with St. Louis before going on the disabled list with a forearm/wrist injury.

Up and down: After dropping eight in a row, the Arkansas Travelers showed signs of life with a modest three-game winning streak that was capped by Sunday's 6-4 victory over Springfield and kept them within a game of North Division leader Northwest Arkansas. The Travelers snapped the skid with a 7-3 victory at Tulsa on Friday before beating the Drillers again Saturday with a 3-1 win that featured two homers by Mike Bianucci.

Rolling sevens: Kansas City right-handed pitching prospect Jason Adam pitched seven scoreless innings and struck out seven to win his second straight start as Northwest Arkansas beat Springfield, 3-1, on Friday.

Todd Traub is a contributor to