Burke Looking to Right his Ship

Kyler Burke admittedly has been his own worst enemy at times. A top prospect when the outfielder was dealt to the Chicago Cubs by San Diego in the Michael Barrett trade in 2007, Burke, 20, hit a snag last year after being assigned to full-season Class-A Peoria to begin 2008.

Burke began the year in the Midwest League hoping for better luck at Peoria than he'd managed a year earlier as a member of the Fort Wayne Wizards, San Diego's affiliate. But he batted only .206 in 35 games with 34 strikeouts and was demoted to Extended Spring Training on May 16.

It isn't easy to figure out Burke's struggles, he says.

"There were a few minor mechanical issues, but the biggest thing was mentally I lost my confidence," says the first-round sandwich draft pick (35th overall) from Ooltewah (Tenn.) High School in 2006. "That was my biggest problem all year. I put too much pressure on myself and got into a hole early, and I kept digging myself into it instead of just relaxing and having fun.

"I was my own worst enemy when I was in Peoria. It was cold and it's always tough to start out there in that weather, but that got to my head a little bit, and then I had a few bad games and it started going downhill mentally more than anything. I think the big thing when I struggled sometimes was I'd try to make up for it in one-bat, and you can't get two hits in one at-bat."

After struggling at Peoria, Burke resurfaced at Class Low-A Boise when short-season play began in June and would get off to a rough start there as well.

But after batting below the Mendoza Line for over a month at Boise, he finished his second stint in the Northwest League with a .261 average, seven home runs, 18 doubles and 41 RBI in 67 games.

Making the proper adjustments between his shoulders went a long way toward helping Burke get on a roll late in the season.

"I got to the point where I said, ‘It's not working this way. What I'm doing now, the way I'm going about it, it's not working and I've got to change something [in his approach],'" Burke recalled.

"It took a couple of months to really figure that out and kind of relax and have fun."

Burke hopes the worst of his struggles are behind him now. He spent the off-season attempting to make a clean break from those struggles and vowing to fresh afresh.

The outfielder reported early to Mesa to get prepared for the start of minor league spring training. Although the first official report date for minor league position players isn't until March 11, Burke has already begun retooling his swing in the batting cages at Fitch Park.

"The one thing last year that I think really hurt me was that I was pulling off a lot of pitches. Pitches away and off-speed pitches I was struggling with because I was opening up a little too early, so I've really tried to work on staying up the middle.

Burke has also worked to scale back his strikeouts, which have been a noticeable part of his game early in his career. In 2007 and 2008, he fanned over 100 times in each season.

But Burke isn't fazed or worried by the strikeouts and says it's just part of his learning curve.

"Really the only way I can get better is seeing pitches and having at-bats," he said. "I think I got better with my two-strike approach last year and not being too defensive when I get two strikes because the pitcher still has to throw a strike in, and to not to change too much with two strikes because you've still got a job to do and that shouldn't change too much with two strikes."

On defense, Burke has been an asset for his teams. He finished second in the Northwest League with 10 assists from his post in right field last season and had five assists with Peoria.

During his struggles, defense was always been something Burke could fall back on, he said.

"I've been blessed with a pretty good arm," he said. "I really tried to focus on my defense when I was struggling at the plate. I talked to [Boise manager] Tom Beyers about it and he said even though I wasn't (hitting), I could still help the team out defensively if I tried to focus on that."

And while the first two seasons of Burke's tenure with the Cubs were less than memorable, he says he isn't worried about failing to live up to the expectations often stowed on a first-round pick.

"I kind of went through that when I was with the Padres," he said. "It's something I learned early on, that it makes no difference where you're drafted. If you start thinking about all that, you start making it worse. That pitcher doesn't care if you're a first-rounder or a 50th-rounder. He's still got to get outs and you've still got a job to do as a hitter."

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