Like every other team in Major League Baseball, the Cleveland Indians employ numerous players throughout their organization, from the big-league club in Cleveland to their rookie league team in Arizona and beyond. And like every other Major League franchise, the Indians add and subtract from this player pool on a regular basis. This irregular series will serve to post notice when a former Indians player has done something noteworthy with a quick look back at the player’s time in Cleveland.
Player: RHP Cory Burns
Current Team: Montgomery Biscuits (AA affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays)
Year(s) in Indians Organization: Drafted by the Indians in the 8th round of the 2009 draft from the University of Arizona; traded by the Indians to the Padres for outfielder Aaron Cunningham on December 16, 2011
Why He Still Isn’t in Cleveland: The Indians had a lot of relievers in the minor leagues (and still do), and decided to deal from a surplus. Their target was Cunningham, the former Padres and Athletics outfielder who had shown promise in the majors and was ranked as the game’s 55th-best prospect by Baseball America before the 2009 season. Cunningham only hit .175/.245/.247 in 109 plate appearances for the Tribe in 2012, and was worth roughly half a win below replacement level (-0.5 bWAR, -0.6 fWAR). He has not appeared in the majors since, and is currently a teammate of former Indians legend Andy Marte with the Reno Aces, the Triple-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks (former Indians reliever Jess Todd is on Reno’s roster as well).
Burns had risen through the Indians’ farm system as a shutdown closer, collecting 88 saves over a three-year span from 2009-2011. Over that time, he struck out 188 and walked only 35 in just under 150 innings of work, posting a 2.02 ERA in his 130 appearances as a member of the Indians’ minor league system. He also earned the MiLBY award in 2011 for being named the best Double-A reliever in baseball. However, at that time, the Indians had a shutdown (depending on your definition of the word “shutdown”) closer on the roster in the form of Chris Perez, and they considered Burns expendable.
What He Did: Despite his video game numbers in the minors, Burns has yet to translate his success to the majors. He struggled at times with the Padres in 2012, and while he posted a nice 3.18 ERA in 11 1/3 innings for the Rangers last season after coming to Texas in a trade, he had 7 walks compared to only 5 strikeouts over that time. Advanced metrics didn’t like his work with the Rangers, as he posted a FIP of 5.43 and an xFIP of 6.94. And after posting solid numbers with the Rangers’ Triple-A affiliate in Round Rock last year (in which he was the teammate of Indians greats like Justin Germano, Jason Donald, and Brent Lillibridge), he struggled there this year, and was eventually cut loose. The Rays claimed him on Monday, and announced that they will send him to Double-A Montgomery.
What Does the Future Hold: It seems like the 26-year old Burns landed in a good situation with the Rays. Tampa Bay is surprisingly struggling this year (though I would expect them to rebound next year), so the team can more easily afford to give younger players like Burns an opportunity in the majors. The Rays rank 22nd in baseball with a 3.93 bullpen ERA, and as a member of Tampa Bay’s 40-man roster, Burns should be given a chance to pitch for the Rays at some point this season — as a September call-up or possibly even earlier. With the success he’s had at the minor league level (with a deceptive delivery) and strong peripherals, Burns still has the potential to be a solid reliever in the big leagues. He should get a chance to prove himself with Joe Maddon and the Rays.
Notice a player you remember being in the Indians organization? We’re ever-vigilant, but sometimes we miss guys, too! Send us an email at [email protected] and let us know which former Indians farmhand or player is making noise elsewhere.