Prospect Retrospective: Jeromy Burnitz
This is something of a blast from the past for you young'uns. Burnitz is a grizzled veteran for many of you, but I remember when he was a prospect, and kind of a weird one too. His progression through the minors was not textbook by any means.
Jeromy Burnitz was a first-round pick back in 1990, the 17th-overall selection, out of Oklahoma State. Assigned to Pittsfield in the New York-Penn League after signing, he hit .301/.447/.497, drawing an incredible 45 walks in 51 games. This was a long time before I did prospect analysis grades, but given his pedigree as a first-round pick, and the excellent plate discipline he showed at Pittsfield, I would likely have rated him a Grade A- heading into the 1991 season.
His '91 performance was rather strange. For Williamsport in the Eastern League, Burnitz hit just .225 in 135 games. He did slam 31 homers, draw 104 walks, and steal 31 bases, giving him an overall .225/.375/.508 line. His raw secondary average was an incredible .578; I don't know what the Eastern League total secondary average was that year, but that had to lead the circuit. A retrospective prospect grade is difficult given hindsight, but given his patience, power, and speed, I don't think I would have gone lower than Grade B even with the poor batting average.
If Burnitz had problems in '91, this became serious issues in '92. He hit just .243/.300/.357 in 121 games for Tidewater, having difficulties hitting breaking stuff in Triple-A. His power dropped off, his walk rate was cut by more than half. He did steal 30 bases and he reduced his strikeout total from 127 to 84, but at the expense of all of his power. I would likely have reduced his grade to C+ at this point.
Burnitz split 1993 between the Mets and Norfolk, actually hitting better for New York (.243/.339/.475) than he did in the minors (.227/.302/.404). I wouldn't have considered him a prospect beyond that season; he would not have appeared in any more books for me, having too much experience. Yet he wasn't established yet. He returned to Triple-A for much of 1994 (hitting .239/.346/.452), then was traded to the Indians. He spent almost all of '95 in Triple-A, and getting away from the Mets seemed to help his bat: he hit .284/.361/.503 for Buffalo that year.
Thanks to injuries, Burnitz's first full season as a regular didn't come until he was 28 years old in 1997, when he hit .281/.382/.553 for the Brewers. Now 35 years old, he's on the tail end of his career, though still a regular outfielder, now for the Cubs. His track record is erratic (particularly in the batting average department), and his problems making contact have infuriated managers (and fans) at times. But he's had a good career overall.
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