* INF Andy Burns, who shares an interesting connection with Mariners' left-hander James Paxton, is embracing his role as a versatile infielder at double-A New Hampshire in the Blue Jays system. .... 2014 Canadians in the Minors 2014 Canadians in College Letters of Intent 2014 Canadian draft list 2015 Canadian draft list
Previous weeks: Lawrence a cool cat, Scout ranks Jays prospects IV ... De Jong II, Scout ranks Jays prospects III ... Copeland picks up Janssen, Scout ranks Jays prospects II .... Pompey burning bases, Scout ranks Jays prospects I .... Matt Boyd.
By Bob Elliott
The Blue Jays' failure to sign James Paxton in 2009 was like throwing a flat stone into a pond.
The ripples spread, reaching:
- The blue grass state, as Paxton returned to the University of Kentucky for his senior year.
- The Wildcats clubhouse, as an infielder on a full ride said he had his scholarship cut to 50% to make room for Paxton.
- The NCAA ivory tower, which ruled Paxton ineligible since he had representation during talks with the Jays, between the time he was drafted and the deadline to sign.
- And inside the Blue Jays war room, as the team drafted Noah Syndergaard the next June as compensation for failing to sign Paxton.
What ever happened to that infielder?
Well, Andy Burns, who had his scholarship pulled after his second season as a Wildcat, transferred to the University of Arizona and two weeks before the season began Burns was ruled ineligible because of the transfer. Burns played 50 games at age 18 and 50 at age 19 (hitting 11 homers) at Kentucky ... and zero at Arizona for coach Andy Lopez.
Still, Jays scout Blake Crosby made the drive from Phoenix to Tucson and was impressed by Burns during fall ball, and invited him to pre-draft workout in Los Angeles before then-scouting director Andrew Tinnish and other scouts, and come June of 2011, Burns was an 11th round pick of the Jays.
“When Paxton decided to come back, they’d already given his scholarship away,” said Burns from Reading, Penn, after he and his New Hampshire teammates were edged 4-3 in 12 innings. Burns doubled and singled in three trips as the Fisher Cats took a 3-2 lead and were two outs away from winning when Brock Stassi hit a walk-off two-run homer against Blake McFarland.
Did the fact that the Jays didn’t sign Paxton lead them down the road to Burns? Or are they merely connected as being former Wildcats?
“James and I are friends, we stay in touch, I played behind him as a freshman the year he was drafted,” said Burns, of Paxton, who began the season in the Seattle Mariners rotation.
“It wasn’t my decision to transfer, they pulled my scholarship, I’d played OK, but they didn’t want me back,” Burns said. “That was tough, I didn’t have any off-field issues, it wasn’t about a lack of playing time. I appealed my eligibility to the NCAA, but lost.”
So Burns didn’t hang with the cool kids at Arizona. He could play in intra-squad games, take batting practice before home games and then ... see ya. He didn’t make road trips.
Burns said he “still got a pretty good bonus,” ($250,000 US), which he said was closer to what he would have received had he played his junior year at Arizona.
Because he signed over slot, he had to wait before making it official. He headed to Florida for a week, and on Aug. 7 on his 21st birthday he was sent to Vancouver.
Burns described the atmosphere as “incredible,” and how it helps having a Jays affiliate in a major league city. He was there for the first of the Canadians' three titles, as they averaged 4,267 fans per game and beat the hated Tri-City Dust Devils in the deciding game of the best-of-three final.
He made his 28th start at third base Tuesday and he’s started at short nine times. In four seasons in the minors, he’s played third (173 games), short (83), second (13) and DH (twice).
“The organization wants me to able to bounce around, the more positions you can play the better,” said Burns, who embraces the concept.
Born in Clemson, S.C., he lived there for four years and moved to Lexington, Ky. where his father, Ken, was doing animal sciences post-doctorate work on cattle reproduction.
And at age eight, his family moved to Fort Collins, Col., where pop now teaches at the University of North Colorado.
He credits his mother, Pat, and father as the biggest influences in his baseball life, saying: “they spent so much money growing up taking me places, I can never repay them for all that they have done.”
And the coaches who aided him the most were Leighton Thorne, his coach from age nine to high school (“he laid the frame work, showed us how to play the game right”) and high school coach Scott Bullock (“he was more positive, always happy”).
Burns hit seven homers in his 64 games at New Hampshire last season, including two in one inning in a romp over Binghamton. The right-handed hitter pulled the first to left and the second was to the left of the hitter’s eye at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium in Manchester, N.H.
This ripple effect of a Jays' non-signing hopes to move all the way to the surface, still the waters ... and face Paxton.
An American League evaluator rates the top 10 Blue Jays minor leaguers:
1. RHP Aaron Sanchez, N.H. “He was 94-97 MPH for seven innings with a heavy ball. He has an inconsistent breaking ball and good change. His fastball command is lacking. They’ve really babied his innings. I’d compare him to Justin Masterson.”
2. RHP Marcus Stroman, Buffalo. “I like the arm, but I like him out of the bullpen, not in the rotation.”
3. OF Dalton Pompey, Dunedin. “At least two of our guys have seen the Florida State League and all they do is rave about this guy. Quick hands, quick on the bases.”
4, C A.J. Jimenez, N.H. “Some guys like him, for me he’s a back up.”
5. 3B Mitch Nay, Lansing. “Starting to show some pop and will show more.”
7. OF D.J. Davis, Lansing. “If you don’t like him, you don‘t like ice cream.”
8. 3B Andy Burns, N.H. “He is struggling big time right now but a real good athlete, he’ll figure it out. He’ll get there as a utility guy.”
9. LHP Sean Nolin, Buffalo. “What’s that they say on the hoops court? ‘I got next.’ He should have next. Or the next next.”
10, Tyler Ybarra, N.H. “A great arm (93-95 MPH from the left side, but a suspect strike thrower.”
At Buffalo: RHP Marcus Stroman allowed three runs in five innings on five hits and one walk, while striking out five batters in a 3-2 loss to LeHigh Valley on Tuesday ... SS Ryan Goins is hitting .303 (23-for-76) with a .372 on-base mark in 20 games.
At N.H.: Former No. 1 pick RHP Deck McGuire pitched eight strong innings, allowing one run on four hits and two walks, while striking out nine batters but did not figure in the decision in a 4-3, 12-inning loss to Reading as the bullpen could not protect 2-1 and 3-2 leads in the ninth and 12th innings ... INF Ryan Schimpf is hitting .286 with 10 doubles, seven home runs and a 1.047 OPS in 26 games.
At Dunedin: C Derrick Chung went 2-for-4 with a home run in a 7-2 loss to Fort Myers ... OF Dalton Pompey is hitting .325 (51-for-157), with seven doubles, three triples, four home runs, 18 stolen bases, 21 RBIs and an .886 OPS in his 40 games.
At Lansing: RHP Chase De Jong allowed two runs in five innings on six hits in a loss to Bowling Green ... 1B Justin Atkinson went 4-for-4 and is hitting .330 in 31 games. The Surrey, B.C. native leads the organization in hitting. Second is Mississauga’s Pompey at .325.