The Yankees have solid pitching depth across their minor league system. That depth is headlined by numerous prospects that have reached the upper levels of the system and are now all over the Yankees top-30 prospects list. In this year’s draft, it would not be surprising to see the Yankees once again focus on pitching in the way that they did in 2017. One of the arms that will be on their radar is Auburn University right-hander Tanner Burns who they drafted late in the 2017 draft when he was coming out of high school.
Burns was an outstanding pitching prospect coming out of high school and was projected to go near the end of the first round or early in the second round that season. Burns comes from a baseball family, as his father was a minor leaguer in the Houston Astros system and an amateur coach. He was a good enough hitter that his draft scouting report from that season notes that he has the ability to be a two way player in college.
From day one at Auburn, Burns has produced while pitching against the best competition in baseball in the Southeastern Conference (SEC). The Yankees have SEC alumni in James Paxton, Jordan Montgomery and Jonathan Holder on their roster. Their recent history of targeting pitchers from this conference is shown with top-30 prospects such as Clarke Schmidt, TJ Sikkema, and Trevor Stephan all coming from SEC schools.
One scouting report compares him to another former SEC and Yankees pitcher Sonny Gray. While this probably does not conjure up the best memories for Yankees fans, it is a very favorable comparison for a young pitcher.
With two-plus seasons of pitching for Auburn under his belt, his career ERA sits at 2.86, and has decreased each season in college. Heading into the 2020 campaign he was selected as a pre-season second team All-American by D1 Baseball.
This season Burns was off to a fast start with 32 strikeouts in 22.1 innings. This continued his trend of missing bats as he recorded a 11.4 K/9 rate during the 2019 season. He shares an Auburn University record of 15 strikeouts in a game with a handful of alumni including Tim Hudson, and the 2018 first overall pick Casey Mize.
Burns is known as a strike-thrower, with pin-point control when he is at his best. In 2019, he had a 2.6 BB/9 rate over 79.2 innings pitched, and was in that range again this season prior to an abrupt ending.
His fastball is a better weapon than the 92-94 velocity that it normally sits at due to his command. Burns was quoted in a preseason interview as recognizing what sets him apart from some of his peers, “command of my fastball is my biggest strength.” He uses both a two-seam and a four-seam fastball to attack hitters, with his peak velocity hitting 97 mph.
Burns came to college as just a three-pitch pitcher, with a curveball and changeup playing off his fastball. The curveball is considered above average, and is a go-to pitch for swing and misses. Due to his effectiveness, he has not been forced to throw his changeup extensively but when he does scouts see another above average pitch.
While at Auburn he has added a slider. The reports on this pitch indicate that it is still a work in progress,that sometimes ends up in between a curve and a slider. Finishing the development of this pitch would give Burns another tool to keep hitters off balance.
At 6-foot, he has some questions regarding his durability, as most shorter pitchers do. He missed his last start of 2019 with shoulder stiffness and did not pitch over the summer as a precaution. Coming into this season, scouts wanted to see if he could maintain his stuff all the way through the year, but he did not get that chance.
Burns is rated as the 26th-best draft prospect by Baseball America and 28th by MLB Pipeline. There is a chance that he will be available to the Yankees when they select 28th overall. The Yankees have a system chocked full of strong arms, but only Yoendrys Gomez is ranked in their top 30 prospects and projected to start the season in Low-A Charleston or below.
If Tanner Burns is still available when the Yankees select near the end of the first round he will warrant serious consideration. He is an advanced college pitcher who has the arsenal to move through the system in a starting role. The Yankees have scouted and shown interest in him dating back to high school, and nothing during his time at Auburn should scare them away.