BUFFALO, NY _ Spring training was a coming out party for Toronto Blue Jays’ minor league utility man Andy Burns, but the sixth-year pro is working to ensure that momentum carries on through Buffalo and straight to Toronto.
Burns was given a long look in camp, earning 42 at-bats and hitting .286 with a home run, four doubles, six walks, and eight runs batted in. On Wednesday afternoon in Buffalo, Burns launched a two-run home run, his second of the season, after working a nine-pitch walk in his at-bat prior.
“He’s been one of our hottest hitters lately,” said Bisons’ manager Gary Allenson. “I’m sure the people up an hour and a half north of us are keeping an eye on him.”
After impressing Toronto management this spring but falling just shy of a final spot on the major league roster, Burns has appeared in all 26 games with the triple-A Buffalo Bisons, starting games at shortstop, third base, second base, and both corner outfield positions.
“Being an infielder my whole life, the outfield has kind of been a tougher transition,” Burns said, who first saw outfield time in the 2013 Arizona Fall League. “But with [Tim] Leiper in spring and being with [Kevin] Pillar, those guys helped me out a bunch and I’m finally feeling like, in the outfield, I’m starting to get comfortable out there. As comfortable as I am in the infield.”
Burns is coming off a 2015 with the Bisons in which he hit .293 with a .351 on-base percentage. His bat has played well across the minor league levels, something that Burns credits to the experience he’s gained since being drafted in 2011.
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“It comes down to plan and approach at the plate,” Burns said. “Throughout my career I’ve tried to make my swing as simple as possible and I not have too many big moves where you’re susceptible to off-speed or stuff like that. It’s just about having a play and knowing what the pitcher’s trying to do. The more at-bats you get, the better that plan gets and the more breaking balls that you see throughout your career, the easier they are to recognize.”
Burns remains a potential option for the Blue Jays in 2016 should a need arise at the big-league level. His positional versatility will be a leading factor in this, as a strong summer from Burns could put him into consideration to be the “next man up” at multiple spots on the diamond.
This could prove to be especially valuable to a roster constructed like Toronto’s, with Josh Thole offering limited bench versatility outside of his regular work catching R.A. Dickey. The Blue Jays have also moved to an eight-man bullpen multiple times in the young season, leaving just three positional bench spots that need to be maximized.
“The talent that we have up at the big league level was incredible,” Burns said. “I learned so much just from watching them and listening to them talk. Collectively, as a group, they feed off of each other. They’re the best lineup in the game.”