It is not uncommon to see baseball organizations draft players from the same collegiate program in the same year or over a handful of years, especially from top-tier teams like […]
It is not uncommon to see baseball organizations draft players from the same collegiate program in the same year or over a handful of years, especially from top-tier teams like East Carolina University.
On Thursday, Alec Burleson became the fourth Pirate selected by the St. Louis Cardinals since 2011 when they took him off the board with the 70th overall pick. Just four days later, Burleson signed with St. Louis for $700,000, giving the Cardinals three ECU products in their system.
Chris Holba, an 11th round pick by the redbirds in 2018, and Evan Kruczynski, a ninth round selection in 2017, both played their college ball in Greenville, North Carolina and have both already reached out to Burleson to congratulate him.
“They both reached out to me last night (Thursday) congratulating me,” Burleson told Patrick Johnson on 94.3 The Game on Friday. “I’m sure I’ll have more conversations with them once we kind of get everything settled in the next couple of weeks. From what I’ve heard from them, the organization is great and I’m excited to start my journey. They’ll be more conversations with them just to get a feel for what I’m about to go into and I’m glad to have those guys as resources.”
Burleson played with Holba during his freshman campaign with the Pirates in 2018. The two-way standout at ECU also spent time learning from Kruczynski who came back to campus in the fall of 2017 after getting a taste of pro ball in Peoria.
“I had just finished up my first half season of pro ball and I went back to finish up my degree and he was a freshman,” Kruczynski said. “He was a standout right away, I mean two-way star. I knew he was going to be a good player for ECU.”
Kruczynski, who, like Burleson, earned his fair share of accolades and achievements while wearing the purple and gold, could relate to Burleson as he himself is a southpaw pitcher who throws a curveball and changeup.
“I didn’t want to mess anything up pitching-wise, he had a good changeup, good curveball,” Kruczynski said. “All we really did was kind of work on his pick-off move a little bit and more of the mental aspect of the game. What kind of stuff he would run into in the college game compared to high school.”
Recruited to ECU as a pitcher-first two-way guy, Burleson was drafted by the Cardinals as an outfielder, a position he often filled when he was not DH’ing on days he pitched. While Burleson’s career numbers on the mound are nothing to shake your head at (3.47 ERA in 137.2 innings), there is no doubt his bat is what propelled him to be a second round pick in the 2020 MLB draft.
During Burleson’s freshman fall, Kruczynski received an up close look at just how advanced the future Cardinal’s approach was at the plate.
“One thing I remember was a weekend where (pitching) coach (Dan) Roszel was out of town and I was calling pitches,” Kruczynski said. “I just remember I called like a 1-0 changeup and he made a little adjustment in the box before the pitch was thrown and moved up toward the pitcher, basically anticipating changeup.
“When the pitcher threw the changeup, he smacked it in the gap for a double. I asked him why he — we call it a box check — and he said he saw the pitcher give a little tip. That’s something, as a freshman, is impressive for him to come in and have that kind of approach.”
As a freshman, Burleson slashed .252/.325/.282 with no home runs and 18 RBI, a solid performance for a newcomer that did not get to play everyday. Well last year, Burleson tapped fully into that standout potential Kruczynski saw in 2017 as he hit .370 at the plate with nine home runs while posting a 3.28 ERA on the mound.
Burleson’s 2020 offensive numbers before the shutdown only continued to improve his draft stock and impressed the Cardinals enough that they made him the fourth-highest drafted Pirate in program history.
Now, the next step for Burleson, like so many other minor league players, is unknown. It is unlikely there will be a minor league season in 2020, meaning players will have to stay in shape on their own and any way possible. For the recent draftees, they must now begin building relationships within their respective organizations, a task that has been made difficult with social distancing rules and restrictions on group sizes.
Nevertheless, Burleson has the advantage of having two familiar faces in Holba and Kruczynski ahead of him in the Cardinals organization, people that can give him advice and guidance throughout this process.
“Those are two guys that I’m definitely going to lean on going through this process,” Burleson said.
Listen to Patrick Johnson’s full interview with Alec Burleson that first aired on 94.3 The Game on Friday below: