The Marlins don't want their prospects using the word rebuild. But that's undoubtedly what's going on with an organization that's put much of its focus squarely on its young talent in an attempt to construct the third World Series-winning team in franchise history. Miami got a good look at one
The Marlins don't want their prospects using the word rebuild. But that's undoubtedly what's going on with an organization that's put much of its focus squarely on its young talent in an attempt to construct the third World Series-winning team in franchise history. Miami got a good look at one member of that budding farm system earlier this year when it invited then-Wright State outfielder Peyton Burdick to Marlins Park for a pre-Draft workout.
Trying to stay comfortable in a Major League stadium, Burdick brought along a batting practice shirt that might have made him stand out a little more than he was bargaining for, especially with CEO Derek Jeter in attendance.
"We talked a little bit about the organization, but there were so many guys there, it wasn't a long discussion," Burdick said. "That batting practice shirt was cut a little high though, so there was a good amount of making fun of me, saying I was trying to show off my muscles. It was good to keep it kind of loose like that."
Muscles or straight-up skill, Burdick showed the Marlins enough to make himself the club's third-round pick in June. Despite that lofty status, the Marlins' No. 29 prospect isn't a typical third-rounder, although Miami might still need him to play like one if this youth movement is going to work.
The 22-year-old corner outfielder went undrafted out of a Cincinnati-area high school in 2015 and attended Wright State, where he got off a to a relatively fast start. Burdick earned Horizon League Second Team and Freshman Team honors after producing an .853 OPS over 63 games in his first spring with the Raiders. If nothing else, he at least had put himself on the map -- that is, until he underwent Tommy John surgery that knocked him out for the entire 2017 season.
By his own admission, that made 2018 all about showing his health and worrying about numbers later. Those certainly popped, however, as Burdick hit .347/.437/.569 with nine homers (more than double his 2016 total of four). Technically a redshirt sophomore, he was still eligible for the 2018 Draft -- being three years out of high school -- and there were clubs interested in adding his above-average power and strong arm. However, the player and his family felt like he still had more to prove.
"I felt better after that year, but I still didn't think I was playing my best baseball yet," he said. "We had kind of a target number going into the Draft that if a team hit it, I would think about signing. But really, we all thought it would be best for me to play in the Cape and prove myself there. That's what my dad told me at one point. Just go play summer ball."
Indeed, no teams called Burdick's name in the 2018 Draft, and the right-handed slugger headed to Cotuit in the wood-bat Cape Cod Baseball League, where he played alongside future Rockies first-rounder Michael Toglia. His numbers in the prestigious summer circuit weren't bad by any stretch. He hit .252/.351/.435 in 38 games, receiving the fifth-most plate appearance (135) on the Kettleers roster. His five homers were equal to the totals put up by more prominent 2018 picks JJ Bleday, Andrew Vaughn and Nick Quintana. But Burdick admitted he still needed the wake-up call that came with a summer on the Cape.
"The biggest things I learned that summer were from failure," he said. "I didn't fail like that in the Horizon League. The competition was so much better. Actually being away from my [Wright State] coaches allowed me to hone in more on the philosophies that worked for me on my own. Once I saw what wasn't working, I could try to figure out what actually did."
One of those strategies that Burdick continues to implement -- don't overswing. Facing impressive velocity, like Burdick does now in pro ball, the slugger had to realize that the harder he swung back, the more likely he was going to miss. His six-foot, 200-pound frame packs plenty of strength, and he needed to trust that fact more if he was going to find the results he desired.
"Going 100 percent on the swing and getting zero percent of the barrel is never going to work," he said. "I'd rather go 20 percent with the swing and get 100 percent of the barrel because what I've learned is I just have to touch it and it's going to go. With those velos, they're already bringing a lot of the power anyway. Just being nice and easy with the swing can be enough for me."
Burdick's slugging abilities certainly have popped in 2019. He broke out with a .407/.538/.729 line and career-best 15 homers in 59 games, earning Horizon League Player of the Year and several All-American honors. Perhaps equally noteworthy, he ranked fifth in NCAA Division I with 60 walks, compared to only 35 strikeouts.
The combination of power and approach caught Miami's eye, leading to the Marlins Park workout and more discussions as June approached. But given his age and late-blooming status, Burdick thought he might not go incredibly high. He even doubted his status with the Marlins after the Fish picked up Bleday and fellow college outfielder Kameron Misner with their first two selections. Yet Miami still called Burdick's name with its first Day 2 pick.
That was June 4. On June 9, Burdick's signing was official with a bonus of $397,500 -- well below the slot value of $744,200 and closer to the value of an early fifth-round selection. The Marlins used the savings on Burdick and six other senior signs from the top 10 rounds to ink high-school righty Evan Fitterer for $1.5 million in the fifth round. But his place in the organization's grand scheme didn't matter much at the time.
"I knew being 22 and coming out when I did that there was not much leverage there on my side," he said. "Once I knew that we would get a number in my ballpark, I knew it would work. This was going to be the best opportunity for me, and I was eager to start my pro career. You can't do that resting at home."
There's no doubt the Ohio native has begun his pro career with a bang. Following a brief six-game opening with Class A Short Season Batavia, Burdick has been one of the Midwest League's most productive hitters with Class A Clinton. Since his LumberKings debut on June 23, he leads the circuit with a .568 slugging percentage, 105 total bases, 18 doubles, 28 extra-base hits, 41 runs scored and 49 RBIs over 47 games. He also ranks among the top five with a .319 average, .399 OBP, .967 OPS and eight homers. He was named the Midwest League Player of the Week on Monday and followed that up with a two-homer showing that night. His current 10-game hitting streak is the third-longest active streak in the MWL.
This comes with the caveats of being about a year older than the average Midwest Leaguer, but it's still notable to see Burdick adjust so well in his long-awaited first taste of the Minors.
"What I really saw work out for me after I started hot and had a rough patch for a couple weeks is that I started working away," Burdick said. "In all my batting practices, I try to stay in the gaps because when I become pull-heavy, that's when I get in trouble. Now, I'm just taking the base hits wherever they give them to me, and that's been clicking for me."
Others are paying attention. Despite going unranked among MLB.com's Top 200 Draft prospects going into June, Burdick is now ranked by the site at No. 29 in the Miami system, in part because of his strong pro start. Successful rebuilds, or whatever organizations want to call them, need players like Burdick to go from after-thoughts to popup prospects to fill out roles. So even if there are other outfielders like Jesús Sánchez, Monte Harrison and Bleday higher up on the organizational depth chart, Burdick should be given a chance to show he can be more memorable to the Marlins franchise than just the guy with tight-cut shirt.
"Just come to any game, and you see how talented these guys are," Burdick said. "We're so strong at all levels, and I think already you can see that the competition brings out the best in all of us. It pushes you to be the best player you can be just by looking around, and it's already making me a better player."
Sam Dykstra is a reporter for MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB.