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PHOENIX – Speedy A’s outfield prospect Billy Burns is still in the developmental stage as a switch-hitter, but he’s found an excellent model to pattern himself after.
Burns is often assigned to the same hitting group as Coco Crisp, and Oakland's veteran center fielder has been pro-active in dishing the switch-hitting advice.
“Coco has been one of those guys who’s been very welcoming to me,” said Burns, perhaps the fastest player in camp. “There’s been times when he’s come up to me and talked about switch hitting, and that’s really awesome being the new guy in the organization.”
The A’s acquired the 24-year-old Burns from Washington during the winter meetings in exchange for reliever Jerry Blevins. Burns is a natural righty who didn’t take up switch-hitting until 2012, his first full season in the minors. The Nationals wanted him to learn to hit from the left side to give him an extra step toward first base and take advantage of his speed.
Burns, who plays center, adjusted well enough by last season to be named the Nationals’ minor league player of the year. He hit .315 with 74 stolen bases and 96 runs in 121 games split between Single-A and Double-A. But his left-handed swing is still a work in progress.
One piece of advice Crisp relayed was not to worry about making his swing identical from both sides of the plate.
“That’s something I learned about myself,” Crisp said. “Once I finally came to the conclusion that both sides were gonna be different in some way or another, I gave them their own identity and trained them differently. I have strengths and weaknesses from both sides of the plate, and I have to realize what they are. Once I realized what they were on both sides it made me a better hitter.”
Manager Bob Melvin said the A’s will be patient with Burns’ hitting from the left side.
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“I think you have to give that some time because he’s so fast,” Melvin said. “On the left side, he doesn’t have to really square a ball up. He just hits it on the ground and makes the shortstop move the other way.”
Burns’ father, Bob, played with the New York Jets in 1974. Bob was a 6-foot-3 fullback who weighed well over 200 pounds. That’s a different body type than his 5-foot-9, 180-pound son.
“I take after my Mom,” Burns said with a smile. “I’m shorter, more compact.”