Billy Burns is the human equivalent of unassuming. At 5'9" and 170 pounds, he barely looks like a professional athlete, but as soon as he steps onto the field he turns into a superhero.
A bloop hit to right and he's on first before the outfielder can collect the ball. Don't blink, or he'll already be twiddling his thumbs on second. Don't hit anything in his vicinity, or he'll be under it like a magnet. No show-boating, no flash, Burns embodies the gift of speed and utilizes it to its full potential.
The 26-year-old Burns hails from the northern part of Georgia in a city called Marietta (no, not the singer, Marietta, cause that's what you were thinking, wasn't it?). He attended Mercer University and was snagged by the Nationals in the 2011 draft. Two years later, he was named the Nats 2013 Minor League Player of the Year before being traded away to the A's for Jerry Blevins later that year. It only took 51 stolen bases before the A's called him up for the first time in 2014.
It seems as though athleticism runs in the Burns family. Billy's dad, Bob Burns, was a running back for the New York Jets in 1974. His uncle, Jack Burns, was a wide receiver at Auburn before taking on 15 years of assistant coaching in the NFL, up until 2007. His sister, Abbey Burns, is a swimmer for the US Paralympic team.
Burns isn't the kind of guy to sit around and bask in his natural abilities. No, Burns loves running, Burns loves being fast. He excels because he's doing what he naturally enjoys doing, so he runs every chance he can get. He runs sprints and trails, anything to keep his feet moving. (Our Nico did a great AN Exclusive interview with him a couple years ago)
And who better to help Burns on his constant mission to improve his flying feet? Rickey, of course!
To prove he wasn't a one-trick pony, Burns jumped into form in 2015 when he was called up from AAA Nashville. He crushed five homers (more than double his career total of two in the minors), 42 RBI and amassed himself a .294 BA. Oh, yeah, and he stole 26 bags to top it off. And that's just on the offensive side.
If Burns gets a good read on a ball (which admittedly, he doesn't always), there's barely anything that he can't catch. I was lucky enough to see him play in Arizona, sitting amongst the sunburned families and displaced beach bums in the outfield grass. He looked like he was actually flying when he made a diving catch early on in the game. He managed to make two more of those and also beat out a throw to first when he knocked the ball just over the first baseman's head. It was unreal, almost supernatural.
Since power isn't his main ability, Burns has become a more dangerous player by beating out a throw to first that another player may never dream of beating, or stretching anyone else's single into an easy Burns double. He does more with what he's given, based on his ability to read plays and of course, his ferocious speed. And as his time in the majors goes on, Burns will only gain more knowledge to propel his attack. And, maybe, hit a few more dingers, too.
(He's #1! He's #1! I mean that literally.)