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Eyeball Scout: Officially Confuzzled By Billy Burns

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To give context, when the A's acquired Billy Burns the general consensus was that Burns would probably never amount to anything because he was so lacking in power. I was more bullish on Burns as a potential "really solid 4th outfielder" -- in fact the A's had a pretty good comp on their roster in Craig Gentry.

However, I certainly did not foresee Burns batting .323/.368/.425 in the big leagues or anything close to it. The question becomes, when Burns settles in to being the hitter he truly is, what will that look like? Will it look like a solid every day starting OFer or will the first half of 2015 look like a mirage wrapped in distant memory?

Two players keep working their way into my mind when I ponder Burns. One is Rajai Davis, partly because on defense Davis was known for getting bad reads and taking circuitous routes on fly balls only to outrun many of his mistakes, and partly because Rajai was an electric base runner who was prone to doing things like over sliding a base he had stolen easily -- something Burns has done twice.

Sure enough, Davis had one season for Oakland, 2009, in which everything seemed to bounce his way at the plate. He batted .305/.360/.423 in 2009 but could never repeat it. However, Burns and Davis are not really that comparable as hitters beginning with the fact that Burns is a switch hitter and has the pitch recognition and patience to work long counts.

The other player I flash on is Jemile Weeks, because in his rookie season Weeks busted out of the gate like gangbusters and his hitting enabled him to utilize similar tools to leg out triples, steal bases, and electrify the crowd as well as the A's dugout. In 2011, Weeks batted .303/.340/.421 in a season where it seemed like every bouncer he hit snuck fair down the RF line or snaked through the middle of the diamond for a hit.

It's an understatement to say Weeks was not able to pick up where he left off: In 2012 he .221/.305/.304 and he has never really been heard from since. In other words, you might bat over .300 in one season where everything comes up roses, but that alone will not, in fact, make you a star.

Then you have Burns, who has shown the ability to work the count and foul off tough strikes but who got into an obsession with swinging at the first pitch. He has 5 infield hits the last 2 days, but can you really sustain a batting profile of slapping balls to the SS hole and blooping them over the 1Bman but in front of the 2Bman? He has hit some line drives, but would he really punish an outfield that boldly took 2 more full steps in?

I think I would be more comfortable if Burns settled into an approach of working long counts, and spraying strikes to all fields, rather than chopping at so many balls and putting so many first pitches in play. It just seems awfully hard to sustain an approach that reduces walks and line drives and relies so much on speed. But we have seen evidence of Burns' ability to work the count, to draw walks, to spray line drives -- so those skills appear to be there.

So one could suppose that Burns has shown the ability to draw walks, has shown the ability to spray line drives, took advantage of pitchers trying to get ahead in the count by punishing some first pitches, is currently riding a string of balls successfully slapped around the infield, and is ultimately a versatile and dynamic triple-threat: walk, slap, spray.

One could also suppose that like the blurs-turned-mirages before him, Burns' batting will go the way of Davis and Weeks as pitchers jam him more to prevent him from extending his arms, and force him hit into what might increasingly look like a 7-man infield. Those adjustments might be difficult to adjust back to just due to Burns' physical limitations.

Honestly, I just don't quite know what to make of Burns at this point. In early June I predicted (offline) that a 2 for 30 skid was coming soon and it sure hasn't come yet -- although it would also not be hard to take Burns' recent 9 for 19 surge and see how it might well have been something like 2 for 19. (Is it not difficult to see how Burns could have been 0 for 10 in the Angels series so far instead of his actual 5 for 10?)

If you had to prognosticate (don't worry, you won't go blind), right now what kind of a slash line would you predict for Burns in 2016? This one has the Eyeball Scout pretty confused.