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Young Pitcher Symposium: Ambiorix Burgos

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Ambiorix Burgos (photo by Dave Sanford). Notice pitch grip

Young Pitcher Symposium: Ambiorix Burgos

The Kansas City Royals signed Ambiorix Burgos out of the Dominican Republic in 2000. He spent 2001 and 2002 pitching for the Royals in the Dominican Summer League, and pitching rather poorly, with a combined ERA over 5, a 2-14 record, and shaky peripherals. But he was young and had a live arm, his original mid-to-upper-80s fastball gradually increasing as he matured physically. By the time he reached North America in 2003, his heater was into the mid-90 range.

Burgos pitched 2003 for the Arizona League Royals, posting a 4.00 ERA in rookie ball but impressing with his fastball, and fanning 43 in 36 innings. He'd rate as a Grade C prospect, someone flashing potential but with some question marks and a long way from the majors.

Moved up to Burlington in the Midwest League in 2004, Burgos went 7-11 with a 4.38 ERA. He also walked 75 guys in 134 innings. But he struck out 172 and allowed just 109 hits, posting very strong K/IP and H/IP ratios on the strength of his 94-98 MPH fastball. His slider, changeup, and splitter were all erratic, good at times but not consistent. I gave him a Grade B- heading into '05.

The Royals converted Burgos to relief work in '05. Reportedly, this was done at least partially at Burgos' on request, but the Royals also felt that his control problems would be less of a handicap in relief. He ended up getting just a handful of Double-A innings, spending most of the season in the majors. He held his own, with a 3.98 ERA and a 65/31 K/BB in 63 innings, not bad at all given his lack of experience at higher levels. His splitter showed particular improvement compared to '04.

Where does Burgos stand for the future? The Royals like the late-inning combination of Burgos, Andy Sisco, and Mike MacDougal, giving them three overpowering (if erratic) arms in the pen. Burgos has enough stuff to close, certainly, if his command holds up.

The list of comparables brought up by PECOTA is instructive. . .both scary and intriguing. The top three are Onan Masaoka, Scott Scudder, and Don Stanhouse. But a bit further down the list are names like Jim Maloney, Johan Santana (!), Jose Rijo, and, at the bottom of the list, Jim Palmer. Non-PECOTA-derived names include Mike Jackson, Roberto Hernandez, Juan Berenguer, and Francisco Cordero.

If he stays healthy, and if he continues to refine his command, Burgos should be/could be an excellent pitcher. You can say that about a lot of guys, of course. There is never any guarantee with any pitcher, particularly high-risk/high-reward types like Burgos. Some Royals fans believe that Burgos is being wasted in relief, but given his command problems I doubt he would have been as effective in the rotation last year as he was in the bullpen. Of course, the fact the Royals needed to call up a guy like Burgos to patch the bullpen last year shows what kind of a season 2005 was in Kansas City.