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 Minor League News & Autograph Blog Home

Top Prospect Alert - Chris Burke

By Schuyler Dombroske

DOB: 3/11/80, Age: 23, Height: 5’11’’, Weight: 183, Bats: R, Throws: R. Acquired: Astros - Drafted in the 1st Round of the 2001 Draft (U. of Tennessee). 2002 Stats: (AA - Round Rock) .264 AVG, 481 AB, 19 2B, 8 3B, 3 HR, 16 SB, 39 BB, 61 K, .330 OBP, .356 SLG. 2003 Stats: (AA - Round Rock) .368 AVG, 117 AB, 7 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 6 SB, 11 BB, 9 K, .426 OBP, .470 SLG.
    Chris Burke was probably one of the few people in the Houston organization that was not terribly excited about the Jeff Kent signing, since I’m sure he had designs on the very job that Kent now possesses. A first rounder out of Tennessee in 2001, Burke is a compact middle infielder built, to some extent, in the Craig Biggio mold with which the Astros are reasonably familiar. Burke is a line drive hitter with enough pop to hit some doubles and triples, but not enough to be a true home-run threat. Then again, Biggio only had 30 homers in his first 4-plus seasons, so there is always hope for “growth” in the power department. His plate discipline was a bone of contention last season when he only averaged a walk every 13.3 plate appearances, but he already appears to be addressing that deficiency by reducing it to an 11.6 figure so far this year. (with much better numbers in every other category as well) With his “all-fields” approach to hitting and his abiity to make contact, continued development in his batting eye could definitely result in a leadoff role with the Astros down the road. On the bases, Burke has very good foot speed but struggled terribly stealing bases last year, finishing 16 for 31, which would probably be unacceptable for Mo Vaughn. He’s off to a 6 for 9 start in 2003, which is still subpar for anyone with good speed, but improvement of any sort is of some value. In my opinion, Burke’s best shot at a meaningful career in the bigs will likely involve “small guy skills”, so continued improvement in his base stealing and batting eye are more critical to his chances at future big league paychecks than anything else. On defense, Chris Burke has gone from being an adequate shortstop with a subpar arm to an excellent second baseman in the course of one season. He is sure handed, has tremendous range, and has proven himself to be rather adept at turning the double play. His arm, which was not really adequate for shortstop, won’t be an issue at second. In sum, Burke is a neat little player that would be pushing for a big league job in many organizations within a year or so (especially given the current situation league-wide at second base), but probably will not be in Houston.
    The Astros are an interesting mix of youth and experience, with an offensive core that is past its prime mixed in with a rotation that is still getting better and a few important offensive cogs that are right around their peak years. This mix, incidentally, is one that you would expect from a playoff caliber team, which the Astros have been in four out of the past six seasons. Unfortunately, the Cubs are on the verge of passing them by if they haven’t already, and the Cardinals have battled them vigorously for the past few years and show few signs of ceasing or desisting. Not only is there intense competition in the NL Central at present, but the Astros are not extremely well-positioned to compete past the next few seasons, because replacement parts for their batting order are seemingly in short supply in their system. Out of their hitting prospects that could be reasonably considered to be potential major leaguers, two of them are catchers (Buck and Gimenez), one is 26 years old (Lane), and three more are questionable middle infield prospects (Burke, Whiteman, and Everett). None of them, in my opinion, have the potential to replace someone like Jeff Bagwell in the Astros lineup, which is the primary concern, so to some extent the future is at hand for Houston. However, the pitching side of things looks a lot better for the next five years, so if they can scare up some bats (even just one big bat to go with Hidalgo, Berkman, Buck, Burke, Whiteman or Everett, and Ensberg), they could still compete. Burke could help, but he probably won’t be a lifesaver. He may or may not have had his development slowed down by having to jump to AA (because of the Astros’ lack of a High-A affiliate last year), but he seems to be back on track this year. A good comp for Burke at this point would be Jerry Hairston Jr. of the Orioles, who in fact needs to make the same improvements in his game that Burke does in order to best assist his club, and really is in a similar stage of attempting to do so. (the O’s are just not in a similar stage as Houston in an organizational sense) Peak performance for Burke would probably be 280/375/425 with 10 HR and 30 SB, but finding the time to get to that at the big league level might be difficult with Kent hanging around for the next few years. I expect that Burke will see Houston by the middle of next year, but in what capacity is the question. Jeff Kent was somewhat serviceable at third base earlier in his career, and no one in Houston has nailed down the hot corner just yet, so that could be an option if Burke continues to make strides. Just a thought. I would expect, however, that Burke remains stuck behind Kent until 2005 at least, at which point he might be able to secure the second base job if Kent skips town after the 2004 campaign.


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