As Cardinal fans sit and watch Corey Dickerson struggle day in and day out, Alec Burleson sits in Memphis just crushing it. The outfielder has nothing left to prove in the minors, so the Cardinals should look at promoting the slugger. Here’s a look at what Burleson has to offer.
Position: Corner Outfielder, 1 G at 1B in 2021
Age: 23 (11/25/1998)
Bats: L, Throws: L
Ht: 6’2″, Wt: 212 lbs
School: East Carolina
Drafted: Round 2 (70th Overall), 2020
Burleson was a 2-way player in college, but the Cardinals liked him as a hitter better then a pitcher (as did most scouts). He was a John Olerud Player of the Year finalist in 2019 as one of the best 2-way players in the nation; many expected him to win it in 2020 before the season was canceled. That canceled season may have been the reason Burleson fell to the Cardinals in the Competitive Balance Phase of Round 2.
Burleson made his professional debut in 2021 at Hi A Peoria, where he destroyed the pitching to a .286/.367/.595 line over 11 games; he was quickly promoted to Springfield. He received another promotion that season after hitting .288/.333/.488 over 63 games. He ended the year at Memphis for 45 games with a .234/.310/.357. His game changed with each promotion; he showed more homer power at Double A then Hi A, but it dropped off when he moved up to Memphis. He also walked more at Memphis then Springfield and cut down on his strikeouts. He ended with an overall line of .270/.329/.454.
As great as his first season was, his 2022 has started even better. His slash line is .329/.373/.584, hitting 11 homers. He’s striking out only 14% of the time; his walk rate is down (5%), but he’s shown the ability to draw a walk in the past. The big thing is he kills right handed pitching; his slash line against righties is .359/.385/.684 (just for the record, his slash line against lefties: .268/.349/.375 – solid, but little power).
He’s primarily a contact hitter, but his in-game power is catching up to it’s potential; more doubles are turning into homers. He’s projected to be a low-20 homer guy at the majors. He’s got a pretty good batting eye, so a sub-20% strikeout rate is very likely with a walk rate around 10%. Burleson has historically hit to all fields and should continue that as he progresses. He struggles against lefties, so he could be a good platoon option for the Cardinals, especially since the Cardinal DHs have struggled against righties.
He’s a below average runner, which means he won’t steal bases and makes him an average defender. He’s got an arm that can handle right field, but looks more like a left fielder in the long run. He could also see some time at first base in a pinch; he played more first in college then he has as a professional.
The Cards Need Him Now
Dickerson is hitting .183/.238/.215 over 101 plate appearances for the Cardinals, good for a 34 OPS+ (66% worse then the average player). Those at bats that Dickerson is getting really should go to Burleson; especially with Tyler O’Neill and Dylan Carlson out of action. If Burleson struggles, you send him down once Carlson and/or O’Neill are back. Burleson is also a better player then Lars Nootbaar, although they haven’t given Noot much of a chance since recalling him (and he hasn’t taken advantage of that limited time).
Burleson is the perfect compliment for Albert Pujols; a platoon of them would give the Cardinals at least average production from the DH position. He’s also a better option in the outfield then Juan Yepez, and possibly even Brendan Donovan (just for experience; Donovan has been better then expected so far).
The biggest downside of promoting Burleson at this point is they don’t have to; he’s not eligible to be required to join the 40-man for Rule V Protection until after next season (2023). I could see the Cardinals as using this for justification; they are typically concerned with roster protection and team control. If this is the reason though, the team really isn’t concerned with winning in 2022.