The Cubs selection of Burl Carraway in the second round came as a bit of a surprise. After selecting prep shortstop Ed Howard in the first, a surprise in its own right, there was much speculation the Cubs would begin a run of drafting starting pitching to revitalize the arms in their farm system.
Instead, they drafted a potentially elite reliever that will likely see action out of the Cubs ‘pen in 2020.
“He’s a phenomenal athlete,” raves Dallas Baptist Pitching Coach Hopper. “He’s always had an explosive body. His ability to transfer energy and produce power is exceptional. He has an elite vertical — he has a 40″ vertical — and he was the second fastest guy on our team. Very fast twitch, moves well, moves explosively.”
Recruited as a two-way player, Burl played center field along with developing on the mound. That athleticism showed both on the field and toeing the rubber, even if he was lightly recruited out of high school, throwing 89-91 at the time — and hardly showing the complete physical tools that would make him an elite relief arm.
Burl’s development is certainly a testament to the pitching infrastructure at Dallas Baptist, but it’s his hard work and determination that made him the 51st pick in the draft. “Knowing [his natural athleticism] we tried to take what he didn’t naturally have and actually condense that, giving him that approach on the mound to let him use what he already did well.”
What happened in his two-plus years at Dallas Baptist is the development from a little-known, lightly-recruited high schooler to a player with perhaps the best pure stuff in the 2020 MLB Draft.
While Coach Hopper wasn’t a part of the recruiting process of Burl, he’s witnessed over the last couple of seasons the development of a player that can not only quickly reach the majors, but have an immediate impact when he does. The most celebrated aspects of Burl’s repertoire are certainly the mid-to-upper 90’s velocity with elite spin rate on his two offerings, but it’s his athleticism beyond that spin rate that suggests an ability to become a prominent member of the Cubs ‘pen.
“As far as spin rates and different things we did different drills to try to help his ball path, ball flight. His spin rate itself is not elite as much as his spin efficiency. When he first started climbing, velocity-wise, his spin rate was actually kind of average — but the spin efficiency was really good. He got vertical movement and as he got more and more comfortable, and the velocity picked up more and more, the spin rate came with the movement and the spin efficiency.”
That pitch data wasn’t lost on the Cubs. Cubs VP of Scouting, Dan Kantrovitz, glowingly speaks of Burl’s stuff: “We hadn’t seen anything like it from a draft perspective in the last 10-plus years when it comes to his pitch-data profile. There are dominant characteristics of both his fastball and breaking ball that are elite, even when it comes to major league standards.”
Coach Hopper agrees. “If you compare his data, right now, to big-leaguers, he is not only elite for a college player or in comparison to the draft, he’s even elite when compared to big-leaguers in certain categories. As far as vertical rise, spin, as far as the breaking ball — you’re talking about an elite weapon. I know there were multiple teams that had him graded out as the best fastball in the entire draft, the best breaking ball in the draft — from a pure stuff standpoint — and the best athlete on the mound… when you think that’s what you got with your 51st pick, that’s a pretty good get.”
The Cubs attacked the draft in a way I didn’t expect, and maybe I didn’t want, but Burl’s arm is so intriguing that one’s personal expectations should be cast aside. Carraway should be an impact, elite reliever, and he could do so as early as 2020.
Coach Hopper’s take on Carraway as a person is as glowing as his assessment of his physical tools. “He’s a special kid. His character and morality will add a ton of value [to the Cubs]. He has a little edge to him, especially when he’s pitching, having a high competitive drive. It’s a neat balance. This is a guy that wasn’t a high-talented guy out of high school and he had to work for what he’s got.”
“He’s so versatile because he has the ability to pitch on back-to-back days so he has the ability to be a very, very effective closer. With the way today’s game is changing in how important the aspect of an electric, dominant arm is in the bullpen to try and shorten the game, I think Burl’s value actually goes up.”
While Burl was used most prominently as a Closer, Dallas Baptist also employed him as a ‘Stopper’, inserting him into games in various positions. He would pitch back-to-back games, multiple innings at a time, in high-leverage situations — and even served as an Opener. That versatility, coupled with his ability and deceptive arm-action, calls to mind one obvious comparison: Andrew Miller.
“What sets him apart is the way his stuff plays because of a different [arm] slot. Obviously a different height as well, as far as different physical features. But I think you’re getting an Andrew Miller-type pitcher, where he could close, he could potentially set-up, he could potentially come in the fifth and run three innings. For me the Andrew Miller type comparison is the one I would draw.”
While Burl isn’t a particularly dominant physical presence on the mound, standing 6’0, 173 pounds, he has a deceptive delivery, hiding the ball well while touching the upper 90’s with his fastball and delivering a big curve ball in the mid 70’s. There’s not a lot of refinement needed in his game, the one caveat being his 14.2 BB percent at Dallas Baptist.
If Burl keeps up his already-elite K percentage (40.8) while showing greater command, those Andrew Miller comparisons will be proven sooner rather than later. And with the Cubs Pitching Lab, whatever slight mechanical adjustments Carraway needs to make should be quickly addressed, particularly given his athletic foundation.
Let’s say this without hesitation: if Burl Carraway displays the ability of Miller, the Cubs have absolutely owned their second round pick.
In concluding my call with Coach Hopper, I made the assumption Burl might have a chip on his shoulder, given how lightly he was recruited and how far he’s already come. I quickly apologized, not wanting to make assumptions or draw a conclusion about a player — and a person — I don’t know, but Coach Hopper quickly supported my assumption:
“You don’t have to apologize for saying he has a chip on his shoulder, that’s exactly what he has. He very much has a chip on his shoulder.”
Carraway possesses elite stuff, complete with the track record of earning his place in the draft. His character and makeup, coupled with that chip on his shoulder, suggest he’ll soon be a weapon out of the Cubs ‘pen.
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