With the 70th overall pick in the 2020 MLB draft, the St. Louis Cardinals select Alec Burleson. Those words echoed across TV sets on Thursday, touching off a slew of congratulatory messages and well-wishes for the Pirate standout.

For Burleson, who was watching the occasion with his friends, family and teammate Jake Kuchmaner at his home in Denver, North Carolina, the moment washed over him in extraordinary fashion.

“It was an unbelievable experience,” Burleson said. “It happened so fast between getting the call, hearing my name called out and stuff like that. I didn’t really know what to do, I kind of froze up for a second. Just to have my family and my friends there from high school and ECU and stuff like that, it was just an awesome experience. It hasn’t really sunk in yet but I’m sure it will at some point.”

With the pick, Burleson became the fourth-highest drafted Pirate in East Carolina University baseball history, behind only Jeff Hoffman (9th overall in 2014), Pat Watkins (32nd overall in 1993) and James Snyder (38th overall in 1968). For the Cardinals specifically, Burleson represents the fourth ECU product drafted by them since 2011. That group includes Seth Maness, Chris Holba, Evan Kruczynski and now Burleson.

“It means the world to me (to be drafted),” Burleson said. “I’ve put so much work into it, starting from a young age. Just being able to have the opportunity to play college baseball and then all the opportunities in between there. I just thank coach Godwin and the ECU staff for putting me in the best position possible to have this moment

Heading into this year’s draft, which was shortened from its normal 40 rounds to just five due to the COVID-19 pandemic shuttering the sport, there was a lot of buzz surrounding Burleson’s possible selection.

On draft prospect boards across the country, Burleson was consistently ranked in the 130-180 range, making him a third to fifth round lock. Well, in the second round, compensatory portion, with the pick the Cardinals received for Marcell Ozuna signing with the Atlanta Braves, St. Louis picked Burleson.

“I knew there was interest from a lot of clubs,” Burleson said. “The Cardinals — I didn’t find out that they were really interested until a day before. Day one of the draft, my advisor had been calling me and telling me that they were pretty interested. I hadn’t heard much from them specifically towards me, but apparently they’ve been talking through my advisor and we were able to work out a deal.”

While there was at least one player announced as a two-way guy on Thursday, Burleson was tabbed as an outfielder. At ECU, Burleson has played all over the place, holding down both left and right field and first base and displaying, at times, above-average defensive prowess.

Despite being recruited to ECU primarily as a pitcher, Burleson amassed a career slash line of .341/.387/.496 as a hitter, and was unique in the sense that he would serve as the designated hitter when he started games on the mound.

To fans and coaches that have watched Burleson play, his versatility is off-the-charts. That should give the Cardinals plenty of room to operate in deciding where they want the ECU standout to play moving forward. Nevertheless, Burleson said he would continue to prepare like a two-way player and stay ready for anything the Cardinals throw at him.

“We didn’t get to really talk too much yesterday just because they were still doing the draft,” Burleson said. “If they want me specifically as a hitter, I’m all for that. If they want me to get up there and get three outs, I can get three outs. There hasn’t been really much — because I don’t think anybody knows what’s going to happen with all of this stuff going on. I guess we’re just going to wait it out and see what happens.

“Whatever they ask me to do, I’m going to do. Just like anywhere else I’ve been. Coach Godwin asked me to start on Friday night’s and hit in the three-hole, I’m going to do it. If he goes and asks me to play shortstop, I’m going to do it. Whatever the Cardinals need me to do, I’m going to do.”

Burleson said he had yet to explore the financial side of things with the Cardinals, but he would remain in contact with his financial advisor and the club. In somewhat of a unique situation, Burleson’s pick is worth $906,800, but there is no indication as to whether St. Louis is willing to sign him for that much. With three high school picks before Burleson, it would make sense the Cardinals would be looking at a below slot deal for their new outfielder.

However, Burleson did say he fully intends to sign with the Cardinals before the Aug. 1 deadline. Not letting that get in the way of his progression, though, Burleson said he does not plan to change his routine as far as workouts go.

“I’m going to continue doing the same thing I’ve been doing,” Burleson said. “Working out everyday, hitting everyday, just stuff like that. I’ll probably have some more conversations with people within the Cardinal organization and they may need me to do some different things…Prepare like it’s the off-season and be prepared for anything if something does come up here in the next couple of months.”

What the next few months hold for players in Burleson’s position is anyone’s guess. There is likely to be no minor league season this year, meaning players selected earlier this week would be forced to workout on their own in most cases. There has been whispers of an extended Fall League for prospects, but those details are few and far between at this point.

All that aside, Burleson is one of 160 players that moved one step closer to having their childhood dream of playing in the big leagues realized. For Burleson, a guy who was played in multiple Regionals, a Super Regional and owned a slew of accolades during his collegiate career, the realization of what it has taken to reach this level is coming into focus.

“My three years at ECU have been unbelievable,” Burleson said. “I don’t think I would be able to have the moment I had last night without becoming a Pirate. The fans, the way they took me in as a family. The way they took my family in, my parents have life-long friends now because of ECU. I can never repay them for that.

“I just want to thank them for giving me the best three years of my life. Being able to play in front of them and being able to see the joy on their face when we win, and being able to do all those things in front of them was awesome.”

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