Name: Kyler Burke
DOB: April 20, 1988
From Ooltewah (TN) High School, Burke hit .459 (51-for-111) with 20 home runs and 58 RBI in 45 games for the Owls, including the high school playoffs. Demonstrating the patience at the plate the Padres adore, he also finished with 49 walks.
"Kyler Burke is a good-looking, athletic player," Padres scouting director Bill "Chief" Gayton said of what they saw when they scouted him. "He's another kid we were excited about. Last summer, we saw him against some of the top competition. You always ask, ‘Well, he's from a small school?' Well, he's competed against some of the better players from around the country.
"We like his bat, we like his power potential. He's athletic. He's strong, very bright. We talk about strategy. We didn't want to lose him. We took a gamble by not selecting him number one and we felt like we were real fortunate he was still available with our second selection."
"To be able to get the kid - the young hitter - in the comp round, I thought was an exciting moment," Padres vice president of scouting and player development Grady Fuson said. "We got about four or five what we consider potential special offensive players out there and he's certainly one of them. Burke has a ton of power (potential)."
Burke opened the year with hits in each of his first six games and reach base safely in 13 of his first 15 before things took a downward turn. While he was hitting a robust .286 as of July 9, Burke's confidence waned and he proceeded to go 6-for-52 over the rest of July, striking out 33 times during the month.
In August, he fared slightly better from a batting average perspective, hitting .218 for the month and shows more patience at the dish, drawing 14 walks.
All in all, Burke never seemed to get on track after a solid start and his brutal July took a toll on the youngster.
Normally an even-keeled young man, Burke's frustrations showed on his face and in his game – the mental part affecting him more than the physical.
"I have no doubt about Kyler Burke," AZL Padres hitting coach Manny Crespo said. "He has a great attitude. He came out every day and worked hard, worked to get better and he did improve. The numbers might not have showed it but the fact is he came from high school and it is totally different. The bats are different, the speed is different, everything is. That kid has great talent, great work ethic, and I don't have a doubt in my mind that he is going to be right back in it."
"Kyler Burke who is going to take a while," Padres minor league field coordinator Bill Bryk began. "He has a feel; Kyler is projectible. His makeup is – he loves to play. He comes to the park and knows what he is doing. If you have that you have a chance to get better."
Blessed with smooth mechanics and a level left-handed swing, his choice of pitches went down the tube and he was lunging at balls over the plate and opening up too early on balls inside. Simply put, he was giving in to the pitchers and trying to swat at off-speed pitches like they were fastballs – not staying back in his stance for the ball to break.
He stopped committing too early as the season progressed and was hitting the ball harder but right at the fielders.
He also had a tendency to try and do too much with runners on base. While he hit .272 with the bases empty, showing a proficiency to stay with the ball, he hit .146 with men on base – becoming less selective in an effort to drive in runs.
Burke pulled a few too many pitches, particularly the tough to handle ones low and away – the result was ground balls to second base. When he was going the other way with the ball he would often pull off and increase the loft in his swing – shipping fly balls to left.
His 26 walks in 45 games prove he can net some free bases with his eye but the lack of confidence in his game also led to 56 strikeouts, a team-high.
The outfielder came out to the Padres' Instructional League to regain his confidence under the watchful eye of the coaching staff. His goal was to see more pitches and drive the ones he could handle. He ended up seeing 4.0 pitcher per plate appearance and first-pitch swinging just three times – a marked improvement over the anxiety of trying to get a hit in the AZL. He also batted .294 over his tenure in fall ball and comes into 2007 with confidence and understanding.
He has struggled and learned from it and sees himself as a better person because of the failure. He put a lot of pressure on himself to perform and never relaxed into his comfort zone. These are facts he acknowledges and draws the positives out. It is one of the reasons the Padres remain high on his potential – he has the makeup to succeed and is unwilling to let the struggles affect the player he will be.
"It was a learning season," 2006 AZL Padres manager Carlos Lezcano said. "This kid has all the tools. He can run. He can throw. He has some power. It is just a high school kid that probably struggled for the first time in his life. It was new to him and probably hurt his confidence a little bit. He hung in there and is going to be fine. He has good tools and a very good swing. He was just drifting a little bit and had a hard time being consistent and staying back."
Working incessantly with hitting coaches Manny Crespo and Jim Lefebvre, Burke feels he is prepared for the rigors of the coming year.
He spent the majority of his time playing right field and worked with outfield defense instructor Tom Gamboa on getting better reads off the bat and his first step quickness.
Burke has a cannon arm and was credited with four outfield assists on the year, hitting his cutoff man when necessary and rifling straight to the bag, as needed.
With more experience, Burke has Gold Glove caliber defense given his range and arm.
"A bit left-hand hitting right fielder – an ex high school quarterback with a quarterback's arm," Padres defensive coordinator Tom Gamboa explained. "He can really throw from right field."
The Tennessee native has some speed and could be a factor in stealing more bags down the road. While he was caught in three of his four attempts, it is mostly a result of not reaching base and the coaching staff not wanting him to think too much while he was on the bags. It is not out of the realm of possibility to believe he will be good for 10-15 thefts each year.
ETA: In an effort to give him confidence, the Padres will challenge Burke a hitter they considered to be raw by sending him to the Midwest League. Refining his patient approach and sticking to it, even in the tough times, will be the challenge looming. He has the tools to be a top prospect for years to come and this year will go a long way and determining where he falls, especially as he enters full-season ball.