Tale of the Tape
|Age at Draft||21|
|Baseball America Rank||No. 26|
Tanner Burns might not have an imposing physical frame, but don’t let that fool you. Standing 6’0″ tall, Burns clocks in consistently with a low-to-mid 90’s fastball, a pitch that plays up because he can locate it with ease — and also rev it up when he needs it.
Burns displays neither the physical stature nor the electric stuff that scouts rave about, so while he doesn’t project as a top-of-rotation starter, he is an established arm with a high pedigree. Burns, therefore, is a safe pick: a high floor starting prospect that could quickly elevate through the minors.
Along with his repertoire, Burns has displayed keen intelligence in his young career. Opting for a college career at Auburn has established his draft status, learning under the tutelage of renowned coach Butch Thompson. While he was selected by the Yankees in Round 37 back in 2017 out of high school, there was speculation he’d have gone in the first round had he not made it abundantly clear he wanted to hone his craft in college. That gamble has paid off for Burns.
In his brief 2020 campaign, Tanner pitched to the tune of a 2.42 ERA, with 32 strikeouts (against seven walks) in 22.1 innings. The promising start to his junior year solidified his first-round draft pedigree, as he finished his sophomore season with a 2.82 ERA, and 101 strikeouts (against 23 walks) in 79.2 innings. All of this, of course, in the dominant SEC, cementing Burns’ pedigree as an elite college arm in the 2020 draft.
Along with a solid fastball and impeccable control, Burns has a curve that grades as above average, along with a change that receives average marks. Sitting at 92-94 mph with plus control and two average or better secondary offerings presents a well rounded prospect.
Burns’ smaller frame limits his trajectory. There is little room for improvement on his fastball velocity — even though it’s already of MLB caliber — which, coupled with a previous shoulder injury, limits his upside. While shoulder injuries are always a concern for pitchers, Burns dealt with tightness, not any significant injury that kept him sidelined long-term. Nagging injuries should always carry precaution, but health appears to be in Tanner’s favor long-term.
An average changeup needs to further develop in order to give Burns a solid three-pitch mix as a starter, but the ability to locate his fastball and the plus-projection of his curve suggests a quality arsenal of pitches that will play up at the big league level.
Although my Cubs mock draft has them selecting standout prep star Jared Kelley, the idea the Cubs will select an established college arm — out of the SEC no less — makes perfect sense. My colleague Daniel Shepard believes the Cubs will take a college arm as well, given new VP of Scouting Dan Kantrovitz’s draft history. (Although in our MLB mock draft Daniel has the Cubs selecting Cade Cavalli out of Oklahoma.)
Burns is a solid fit for the Cubs because he safely projects as a mid-to-bottom of rotation starter, complete with the pedigree to suggest a quick rise through the farm system. The Cubs need a starting pitcher that can join the big league ranks in expedited fashion, and while Burns doesn’t project to be a future Ace, he does promise to be a reliable #3 or #4 starter sooner-than-later.
Burns will almost certainly be available when the clock starts on the Cubs, and the expectation remains strong they select a starting pitcher with that pick. With so many high-end college pitchers available in this draft, the Cubs will have plenty of options remaining in the middle of the draft.
Given two nationally respected voices pinning Burns on the Cubs, I’d say the probability here is rather high. The Cubs are looking for a certain profile, and Burns checks off nearly every box you’d desire as a mid-round pick for a pitching starved farm system.
Cubs fans should expect no fewer than three pitchers selected by the Cubs in this year’s draft. They need to start in round one, and must hit with an impact arm that could soon be big-league ready.
The 2020 MLB Draft is rich with pitching, especially from the college ranks, giving the Cubs plenty of remaining options regardless of how many pitchers are selected ahead of them. I remain convinced that Kelley is the best pick for the Cubs (if he’s available), but should they select a polished arm out of the college ranks they could do far worse than Tanner Burns.
Be sure to follow us online and across social media at the handle @ChicagoDugout for all of our comprehensive 2020 MLB Draft coverage both live, and upcoming!