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Ellis Burks Prospect Retro

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Prospect Retrospective: Ellis Burks

Several people seem surprised about Ellis Burks showing up on a comp list with Sammy Sosa, so I thought it would be interesting to take a look at Burks, his prospect history, and how he stacks up against other players.

Burks was drafted by the Red Sox in the first round in January 1983 draft, out of Ranger Junior College in Texas. Sent to the New York-Penn League, he hit .241/.315/.328 in 53 games, not impressive numbers. But he was just 18. At this stage he would be a Grade C guy, toolsy and young but with just limited production.

Sent to the Florida State League in '84, Burks hit .256/.335/.365 with 29 steals for Winter Haven. Doesn't look hot on the surface, but there were signs of progress. He improved his walk rate substantially, while striking out just 68 times in 375 at-bats. Also, the FSL was even less friendly to power hitters then than it is now, and he was just 19 years old. Retrospectively, he would be a Grade C+ or B- prospect, due to his youth and improvement against good competition.

Moved up to Double-A for '85, Burks hit .254/.320/.399 in 133 games for New Britain. Again, this doesn't look terrific on the surface, but New Britain was a horrible place to hit back then. He knocked 10 homers and stole 17 bases, and was starting to get attention as a prospect in the national press. Retrospectively, I think he would be a Grade B prospect once you factor in park effects and his age-relative-to-competition.

Burks repeated New Britain in '86, hitting .273/.340/.420 with 31 steals and 14 homers, showing steady improvement in all categories. I don't think his grade would change; he'd be a Grade B, projecting as a regular but not a sure-fire star.

Burks earned a regular job in Boston for '87, skipping Triple-A and hitting .272/.324/.441 with 27 steals and 20 homers. Injuries plagued him for several years, and he didn't really blossom as a player until he was in his early 30s. Thin air in Colorado helped, but he maintained strong offensive production even after moving on to the Giants and the Indians.

Comparable Player to Ellis Burks, no actives listed

Reggie Smith
Bob Johnson
Duke Snyder
Jim Rice
Dick Allen
Fred Lynn

Burks' historical image as a player is hurt by two things: his erratic and injury-plagued early years in Boston, and playing in the thin Colorado air, which makes it easy to discount his numbers. But the fact remains that he also hit well in San Francisco and Cleveland, and that for several years Burks was a legitimately excellent player. His minor league career doesn't look awesome on the surface, but when you consider park/league/competition factors, his development in the Majors doesn't look that strange.