Milwaukee Brewers: Corbin Burnes’ potential as a starter

The highly touted pitcher Corbin Burnes came up from the minors in the middle of last season for the Milwaukee Brewers, and was a huge success, giving the team another weapon in an already stacked bullpen. However, Burnes came up as a starter, and many expect him to join the starting rotation in 2019.

Particularly in the postseason, the Milwaukee Brewers showed the world how great their bullpen truly was, and they used it to their advantage every game. The regular season will be a different story, though, due to Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff, two pitchers who really stepped up in the playoffs, most likely not being in the bullpen for the long haul.

Woodruff, while very talented and a part of the Milwaukee Brewers plan is more of a question mark in terms of the rotation at this point. With Burnes coming up as one of the organization’s top prospects and showing everyone how talented he is last season, it would be surprising to see him back in the bullpen again.

How successful was Burnes’ 2018 campaign?

Burnes pitched 38 innings in 30 appearances in the regular season, and posted a 2.61 ERA and 35 strikeouts. In the playoffs, he pitched four scoreless innings in the NLDS, and five innings with two earned runs in the NLCS with a grand total of 11 strikeouts across the two series.

How should the Brewers use Burnes in 2019?

Similar to Woodruff, he would typically be brought in in the middle of the game after the starter to give the team some length out of the bullpen. That was probably the most important part of the Milwaukee Brewers success was that they had guys in the bullpen who could go multiple innings, so nobody was overused or worn out.

But in terms of being a starter, his experience as a long reliever should be a good segue into going deeper into games. He is used to starting in the Minors, and his short time in the majors so far hasn’t changed his whole mindset into being strictly a reliever.

How does Burnes’ repertoire compare to Hader?

Many compare Burnes’ situation to Josh Hader, but if you look into it, it makes much more sense for Hader to be a reliever than a starter. While Hader also came up as a starter and can go multiple innings, he has a very violent delivery, and with only two real pitches, his style is much more suited to being a dominating reliever rather than starting.

Burnes, on the other hand, is much less aggressive with his delivery and has a few pitches he can work with including a great fastball, great slider, as well as a cutter/cutting fastball, changeup, and curve.

His fastball averages 92.5 MPH, which may or may not be affected by a move into the rotation, and he can put some cutting action on it. However, his slider might be his best pitch, as seen in the video by ‘PitchingNinja’ above. He threw the same pitch three times in one at-bat, and they all had great movement while ending up in distinctly different locations, that’s special.

Although, his fastball has caught the attention of many, including MLB.com’s Mike Petriello who recently included Burnes on a list of five pitchers who will breakout in 2019. He specifically mentioned the spin rate on Burnes’ fastball that makes him so successful. His spin rate is marked at 2560 RPM, good enough for 10th best in baseball in terms of 4-seam fastballs.

This spin rate on his fastball along with the movement on his other pitches allows him to play around with his arsenal and work around at-bats to dominate hitters. He has movement and finesse while at the same time he can reach back for a blow-by fastball or a hard cutter/slider.

What does the future hold for Burnes?

The Milwaukee Brewers and their fans were awaiting the arrival of Burnes for a long time, and now he is here and has not disappointed, but there is so much left in store in terms of the direction of Burnes career. If Burnes comes into the rotation next season and continues his success but in a different role, that is an immensely impactful addition compared to the rotation last season.

Especially when you consider that the team’s best pitcher in 2017, Jimmy Nelson will return, and rumors still swirl about potentially trading for or signing a pitcher such as Dallas Keuchel, this rotation that is typically looked at as the weak spot on the team could be much improved.

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The expectations for Burnes in 2019 should be for him to continue to impress with his stuff and his drive to succeed. Though, he’ll have work to do in terms of developing into a starting pitcher at the big league level who can go deep into games, and still maintain velocity and sharp break throughout the entirety of the start.