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Saturday, January 20, 2007

Transaction ketchup: Jared Burton

After the Reds made the deal with the Cubs to get Josh Hamilton, they selected Oakland minor league reliever RHP Jared Burton, 25, with their own rule-5 pick. Burton was an 8th round selection in the 2002 draft. He was primarily a starter in college, but has been a reliever the past two seasons for Oakland. Given that he was a college pitcher, he has not exactly skyrocketed through the minor leagues, most notably spending two seasons in the A+ California league before finally being promoted to AA last year. Recent stats:
Team IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP ERA FIP
2004/OAK-Rk 21.2 6.4 1.7 0.85 0.281 4.15 3.58
2004/OAK-A+ 32.0 7.0 5.6 1.69 0.283 4.78 5.95
2005/OAK-A+ 55.1 10.9 3.3 0.33 0.299 2.60 2.33
2006/OAK-AA 74.0 8.0 3.3 0.85 0.291 4.14 3.74

In Trent Rosecrans' story, Reds' front office man Scott Nethery claimed that Burton had a 93-94 mph fastball, along with a good slider and cutter. Consistent with those claims, Burton has put up good strikeout numbers over the past three years, along with (generally) low HR-allowed rates. It does appear that he can get a bit wild at times, but generally posts average walk rates. At 25 last season, he was a little bit old to be in AA, but nevertheless performed well. I like him.

It's hard to predict how much that success will translate to success at the major league level, of course, especially when trying to make the jump from AA to a middle relief role in the big leagues. Strikeout rate, especially when accompanied by scout praise for his stuff, would seem to be a better indication of success in the big leagues than a low walk rate, for example. But I think we'll have to see how things go for him in spring training against big league hitters to have any idea about whether he's ready for The Show.

The other question, of course, is whether there's room for him. Coffey, Weathers, Bray, Cormier, Majewski, and Stanton would all seem to be locks for the bullpen. If the Reds go with 12 pitchers, that leaves one open spot, which Burton will compete for along with players like Matt Belisle, Elizardo Ramirez, Brian Shackelford, Mike Gosling, Jon Coutlangus, and Phil Dumatrait. The latter four on that list are all lefthanders, which puts them at a disadvantage given that the Reds already have three lefthanders in their pen. Ramirez is likely going to be starting for either the Reds or the AAA Bats, as I doubt the Reds will want to convert the 24-year old to relief yet after his early success in the starting rotation for the Reds last year.

But Matt Belisle would seem to be a tough guy to beat. Belisle has had good success the past two years out of the pen ( though his peripherals last year were a bit scary--4.2 bb/9 and only 5.8 k/9). Unless someone gets hurt, or Belisle gets tapped for the #5 starter job, I'd be surprised to see Burton make the squad. But, on the other hand, neither of those two conditionals are out of the question, so the guy does have a chance.