Burke Begins New Plight

The Cubs are taking on another position change project at the lower levels of the farm system this spring. Kyler Burke, a first-round draft pick in 2006 with the San Diego Padres who spent three-plus years in the Cubs' system as an outfielder, traded in his bat this spring for a chance at a fresh start on the pitcher's mound.

Just a season ago, a position change for Burke seemed unlikely. He was the reigning Player of the Year in the Cubs' farm system after batting .303 with 15 home runs in 132 games for Class-A Peoria, and was ranked the No. 11 prospect in the organization by Baseball America.

But Burke never got going in 2010 and didn't come close to match his 2009 totals at Class High-A Daytona, where he struck out 131 times and batted only .212. This spring, he was approached by Cubs Farm Director Oneri Fleita about a change in positions that would put him on the pitcher's mound.

Burke said it didn't take much prodding.

"One day toward the end of spring, I met with Oneri and we talked about everything," Burke said. "We talked about where I was hitting-wise and it was a mutual thing. We thought my best bet would be to pitch and here I am now.

"I'm going to be in extended (spring training) for a while just getting back in shape and making sure everything goes smooth. I'm excited about it, have got a lot to work and have to work hard. We'll go from there," he added.

Burke is hardly the first player the Cubs have tried to convert to pitcher. Right-handers Carlos Marmol and Randy Wells are the two most notable examples and both started out in the Cubs' system as catchers.

More recently, Jake Muyco and Luke Sommer made the transition after beginning their careers at catcher and outfielder, respectively.

"I talked to Muyco and Sommer just to see about some of the stuff they went through after converting," Burke said. "I was going to go into college as a two-way guy, so it's something I always liked to do."

Burke did some pitching at Ooltewah High School in south Tennessee and said he's about the move.

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Q: Had you given any thought to pitching until recently?

A: Not really. I was focused on hitting and was working hard to hit. I knew I always had that option. Being left-handed and having a good arm, that option was there. I never thought much about it and tried to do the best I could do hitting. It wasn't a last-resort type of thing … it was a kind of thing where they thought my best bet was to pitch.

It was a tough decision and I thought about it for several days. I talked with a bunch of people about it. I think it's the best bet for me, and the ultimate goal is to get to the big leagues. Whether I get there as a hitter or pitcher, it honestly really doesn't matter.

Q: Do you look at this as a starting-over point?

A: Definitely. Put the bats down for a while and it's a fresh start and a chance to go out there with a clean slate and see how things go off the mound. It's definitely a lot different showing up at the ballpark and knowing you don't have to play nine innings. It's a little adjustment. There's a lot more down time and stuff, but I'm excited about getting rolling.

Q: What do you like most about pitching so far?

A: I haven't really done a whole lot yet. I've been doing long-toss and actually threw off the mound for the first time (Thursday). It's totally different and it's almost more laid-back; not while you're on the mound obviously, but there's a lot more down time. I get to golf a lot more [laughs]. I haven't learned a whole lot yet. Ultimately, it was my decision and I'm excited about it and can't wait to get into some games and see how this goes.

Q: You came into last year with a lot of high expectations given the way 2009 went for you. Do you feel the pressure became too much for you at certain points?

A: I didn't really feel much pressure. Going into the spring, in the back of my mind, I knew I was Player of the Year before and wanted to have another good year, but once I got out here, (pressure) wasn't really an issue. I just never got going. I felt like my swing was OK most of the year. It was one of those things where you're taking some good pitches, swinging at some bad ones, and it's a tough league to hit in anyway as far as the parks and the air and stuff. It was just one of those years where it never got going.

Q: Have you had a chance to talk with Dennis Lewallyn and go over a lesson plan with him and what all you're going to be working on in extended spring training?

A: I talked to ‘Lew' a little. He watched me pitch and I threw a few pitches off the mound when he was here just to see my arm action and things like that. Everything went pretty good. I didn't really have a deep conversation with him about what I'll be doing, but I'm working with (Rick Tronerud) right now and we're just taking it a day at a time. He's got it all planned out. Right now, the big thing is basically getting the arm and the body back in shape to avoid injury and starting slow.

Q: Have you been clocked on a radar gun?

A: I haven't gotten on a gun yet. Hopefully I still throw pretty hard. In high school, I was 92 to 93. I've gained a lot of weight and have gotten stronger since then.

Q: What changes in your workout and diet have you had to make?

A: There's a lot more running. I have to get my legs into a little bit different shape. There's a little bit more endurance so that you don't get tired on the mound. I still have to be in good shape, so I'm going to work hard. I'm sure I'll have to tweak my workouts a little, but other than that there's not a whole lot.

Q: Is it too early to start thinking about your repertoire and what kind of pitches you're going to want to throw?

A: I haven't started throwing any breaking ball yet. But in high school, I was fastball-curveball-changeup. I talked to Tronerud a little about it. Right now, I'm just throwing fastball-changeup. I'm sure I'll develop some type of slider or curveball. It's one of those things where I'll have to play around with it just to see what works, what feels good and what I can throw for strikes.

Q: How different does it feel having to stay behind in spring training when you're used to joining a team right out of the game?

A: It's definitely not what you want to do. Obviously, you want to break camp. That's what we're all here for and you have all your fun playing games against other teams, but that's part of it and part of the process of starting over. I have to put my time in here and work hard and get out of here when I'm ready.

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