2022 Vancouver Canadians pitcher Jimmy Burnette enters a “high-leverage situation” as the latest guest on C’s Chat.
The Chicago native was a two-sport athlete at St. Laurence High School in Burbank, Illinois. Burnette played wide receiver and safety and earned Class 5A All-State in football as a junior in 2016 but his biggest accomplishment came on the diamond that year. That was when he belted a grand slam in the regional championship and drove in the winning run in the sectional championship, helping St. Laurence capture its first Illinois High School Association Sectional title since 1993. That capped off a year in which Burnette batted .321 with 34 runs batted in and 35 runs scored while winning three of four decisions on the mound with a 3.72 earned run average with 45 strikeouts.
In 2017, Burnette was even better on the mound as he went 7-1 with 76 strikeouts that earned a Rawlings Perfect Game honourable mention All-American Central Region. He would remain in the Prairie State when he joined the Illinois Fighting Illini. His three-year stint in the Big Ten Conference did not go as well as he would have liked as he pitched just 16 total innings over three years. Becoming a full-time pitcher on a talented squad that would make the NCAA Regionals in 2019 was one obstacle. The other was the pandemic that cut short the 2020 campaign. Despite the limited workload, Burnette’s projectability as a lefty resulted in Perfect Game rating Burnette as the 14th-best MLB prospect in the Big Ten Conference while D1Baseball ranked him 20th.
Fortunately, Burnette got some innings under his belt with the Rockford Rivets of the Northwoods League. That’s where he spent his summers from 2018 to 2020, earning a berth in the Northwoods League All-Stars Game in 2019. That year, he pitched 46-2/3 innings and struck out 53 batters to go along with a 3.66 ERA. That led to Baseball America rating Burnett as the 10th-best prospect in the Northwoods League. In 2020, Burnette put in 20 more innings of work with the Rivets and chopped his ERA down to 1.80 while ringing up 25 batters.
Burnette would leave the Land of Lincoln for his senior season in 2021 to join Division II Saint Leo in Florida. He sat down 53 batters over 45-1/3 innings pitched with the Lions, finishing with back-to-back complete-game seven-inning outings in which he surrendered just three runs. His effort against Barry on May 8 earned him the Sunshine State Conference Pitcher of the Week honours for May 10.
One more tour of duty in summer college ball awaited Burnette as he joined the Mahoning Valley Scrappers of the MLB Draft League. He registered a whopping 44 punchouts in 23-1/3 innings while walking just 11 batters in recording a 3.09 ERA. Toronto Blue Jays scout Brandon Bishoff liked what he saw as the Jays selected Burnette in the 18th round of the 2021 draft and gave him a $50,000 signing bonus.
After getting 2-1/3 innings with the Florida Complex League Blue Jays, Burnette was promoted to Low-A Dunedin and ran off four scoreless appearances of two innings apiece that included four strikeouts against Palm Beach on September 4. His first professional win came when he struck out four over 1-2/3 innings in Tampa on September 12. He ended his Dunedin tenure with a 2.19 ERA and 17 whiffs in 12-1/3 innings.
Other than a winter trip to Aruba and Curacao with the Fighting Illini in 2018, Burnette had not thrown a competitive pitch in a country other than the U.S. That changed when he was assigned to Vancouver to begin the 2022 season. His first Northwest League win came on Opening Night in Spokane on April 8. Though he could not hold the lead, he still struck out four over 2-1/3 innings. Burnette’s first professional save came when he struck out six over two shutout innings in Tri-City on April 13. He continued to pile up the Ks with five whiffs over two shutout stanzas in Hillsboro on April 27. After striking out three over two scoreless frames for the save against Tri-City on May 20, Burnette would convert his final two save opportunities with Monty’s Mounties by striking out the side twice against Spokane on May 31. He would then receive a promotion to Double-A New Hampshire in 2022.
Burnette’s Fisher Cats debut was one to remember as he earned the win with three shutout innings and six strikeouts in Binghamton on June 8. He compiled five shutout frames to begin his Double-A debut but the month of June was not kind as his ERA soared to above eight. Things would improve as the summer wore on, putting together an ERA of 0.77 in August and whittled down his season mark to 4.22 in early September before finishing up at 4.58 as he ended the year with three scoreless appearances covering 2-1/3 innings. Just like with Vancouver, Burnette converted four out of six save opportunities while collecting four wins and striking out 56 batters over 37-1/3 innings.
A non-roster spring training invite from the Blue Jays awaited Burnette and he made a good first impression by striking out Pittsburgh’s Jack Suwinski to strand two runners to end the third inning in an eventual Toronto victory in Bradenton on February 25. His next appearance saw Burnett pick up the save by striking out the first two men he faced in a perfect ninth inning against Detroit in Dunedin on February 28.
Burnette was credited with a hold by offsetting two hits with two strikeouts in a shutout inning against Baltimore at Dunedin on March 11. He would be assigned to minor league camp on March 13 but he has served notice that he could be a reliable option in the Blue Jays bullpen in the near future.
C’s Plus Baseball caught up with Burnette at the beginning of spring training. The video of the interview is below along with a chat transcript that has been edited for clarity.
C’s Plus Baseball – You’re in spring training right now. You got the non roster invite. First off, tell us how you found out about the invite. Who gave you the good news?
Jimmy Burnette – Actually, Drew Hayes, who was my Low-A pitching coach in 2021. He was my check-in coach in the off-season and he gave me the call and told me, and I was super excited, super stoked.
CPB – Were you expecting that call at all or were you shocked?
JB – I wasn’t expecting it. I was shocked, but it was more like excitement, I’d say. It just kind of culminated all the hard work I’ve done so far and the hard work that’s still ahead of me that, you know, I was ready to go. But it was exciting and I think a cool phone call to get.
CPB – Obviously they liked what you’ve done so far in 2022. You started the year with the Vancouver Canadians and averaged two strikeouts an inning. Talk about your time in Vancouver. I mean, you really racked up the Ks.
JB – Vancouver was awesome. The city itself is great. The thing I think stuck out most is the support the Canadians get in the city and in the community. It’s one of the best baseball atmospheres I’ve played in so far. Even being there from the first game, there wasn’t baseball there for what was it, 900 days or something like that?
CPB – That’s right, yeah. 900-plus days.
JB – Yeah, it was 953 or something like that (Editor’s Note – 963 days). Just the loudness of the crowd on like a Tuesday night in the beginning of April and for how cold it was, it was awesome.
CPB – Your first Northwest League appearance came on opening night in Spokane and you wind up getting the win in extra innings. I know they came back to tie it in the ninth, but what was the mentality like. You stranded a runner in the eighth and the ninth they did come back to tie it, but in the 10th inning, what do you remember about that outing and how you kinda had to reset yourself and eventually get the job done?
JB – I just remember how cold it was. It was very cold, but also it was kind of getting the first game jitters out and I think it might have been my first time closing a game, so to get those jitters out as well. And we just kind of tried to put the ball in the zone and you know, I kinda gave up the lead but, you know, we got it back. I remember Davis Schneider threw what would’ve been the game-winning run out at home and kind of helped us win it in the next inning.
CPB – You continued to rack up the Ks, your final outing was against Spokane, so you kind of got a measure of revenge on them by striking out six guys in two innings. That was a heck of a way to end off your Vancouver tenure.
JB – Yeah, that was fun. I hit the first guy with the first pitch, especially as a lefty. I don’t like to do that, I don’t like to give him up. But you know, I just came back and, you know, kind of struck ’em all out.
CPB – You get the call up to Double A New Hampshire. How did you find out about it?
JB – I think it was two days after my last outing. I think we got rained out. So we were coming into the field to just do a little bit of work and in the morning, Phil Cundari, who was our pitching coach in Vancouver, he texted me and said, ‘Hey, when you get onto the field, come into my office.’ I was like ‘Okay,’ I went about my day like it was normal. And then I walked in there and all the coaches were in there and (C’s manager) Brent Lavallee told me the news. Gave everyone a hug and he said, ‘Alright. See ya. Hope I don’t see you again soon until it’s next spring training.’ (Laughs)
CPB – I always kind of wonder how players do get the news. Sometimes they like to play jokes on you but this one was fairly straight up?
JB – Yeah, it was straight up. I mean, Phil did text me early in the morning so I didn’t get to the field until about 2:00. So I had a lot of time to kind of go over every scenario that was going on in my own head but yeah, this one was kind of fairly straightforward.
CPB – The adjustment at Double-A New Hampshire, what was that like for you? Was it a huge difference from High-A ball?
JB – I’d say the biggest difference for the hitters is they’re very more refined in their approach. They stick to their approach. They get a pitch, they know the pitch that they wanna hit, and if they get that pitch, they’ll hit that pitch but I’d say it’s kind of the same game. It’s all about putting the ball in the zone, you know, strike one. It’s all about strike one. If you can get strike one and you pitch ahead, no matter what level you’re at, I think you can find success.
CPB – When you look back on it, your first full season—how do you feel it went overall?
JB – I think it went great. I’m very happy with it. Looking back and seeing where I’m at now. But you know, even if I wasn’t (a non-roster invite to spring training), you know, I’m grateful enough to have the opportunity to have this spring training, I would still say it was a very successful season for me. It was a healthy season so that’s another thing that makes it very successful.
CPB – Heading in the offseason, was there anything you focused on specifically?
JB – I’m always looking to throw more strikes. I think I had 36 walks and I wanna say 56-1/3 innings over the year. I wanted to limit the walks so I was trying to really fine-tune my mechanics so I can get into the zone more often. I really worked on a changeup a lot this offseason as well.
CPB – The changeup, is that something you’ve added to your mix? I was looking at your first two spring training outings and going by what it says on MLB.com—a sinker, slider and changeup. Is that your mix?
JB – It’s more of a four-seam fastball but how I throw it, it all reads as a sinker. So it’s not a traditional four-seam, it’s got a lot more horizontal arm side run than a normal four-seam but I think four-seam in my head when I throw it and then a slider. I haven’t thrown the changeup yet in spring training games. I’m still in competitive mode where when I get out there, I wanna beat the guy that’s in the box. So I’m thinking it’s gonna be my focus actually in the next couple of outings is a changeup.
CPB – The change up, is it a circle change or a split change?
JB – It’s just a just normal circle change, just kind of getting used to the feeling.
CPB – And your slider, was there anyone who taught you that grip or how to throw it?
JB – When I was at the University of Illinois before I went to Saint Leo, I worked with my pitching coach Drew Dickinson, who’s now the pitching coach at the University of Virginia. He kind of helped me with the slider. He taught me a couple different grips for a slider and I just found whatever was comfortable for me.
CPB – I want to talk about how you got started pitching. I came across a story from your high school days at St. Laurence and I believe the quote was basically “I was an outfielder who became a pitcher.” So how did you get into pitching?
JB – I’ve always kind of threw hard for a lefty, I guess you can say. I had a strong arm from the outfield and when I was in high school, my high school pitching coach Adam Lotus from St. Laurence, he – for lack of a better term – forced pitching onto me and told me like, ‘Hey, like we want you to be a pitcher, you’re gonna keep working at it even if you’re bad at it to start, you’re still gonna work on it. We’re gonna work with you all the time.’ And so he kind of gave me the footprint to step into pitching.
CPB – And I believe you played some football as well in high school.
JB – I did. All four years, yes.
CPB – What made you decide between baseball and football? Did you feel just baseball was definitely your better sport?
JB – I mean I was a safety, I don’t think there are many six-foot, 185-pound safeties in high school. I don’t think there are many spots for me on any Division I rosters.
CPB – You’re from Chicago—a Bears fan and Chicago fan across the board?
JB – Yeah. Bears, Blackhawks, Bulls.
CPB – You spent the majority of your time in Illinois. You played for the Fighting Illini, what was that like your first three years there before you went to Saint Leo? I know you didn’t have a whole lot of innings under your belt. I know Covid played a part in that but talk about your experience first at Illinois and then at Saint Leo.
JB – Illinois. you know, it’s kind of like you said, I didn’t have much success there and part of that was because I went into Illinois also as an outfielder as well. So I didn’t start focusing on pitching until probably the season of my freshman year. So it was like February, like a week before the season started. So when I kind of became just a pitcher and I was still learning the ropes, still trying to figure out who I was as a pitcher. I didn’t really have success the first year. I then went and played summer ball and kind of found myself a little more in my sophomore year. Some injuries happened here and there and I still wasn’t having success so I was kind of down on myself, like lacking confidence mentally. So the mental side of the game was really kind of beating me up a lot. And then going into the Covid year, I had a little bit of success but then obviously everything stopped. I thought it was in my best interest for me to have a change of scenery and I found a home in Saint Leo and coach Rick O’Dette who’s actually from my area in Chicago. So I kind of got hooked up through some people who know him and played for him and everything kinda took off for me there.
CPB -At St. Leo, something obviously clicked, you got the Blue Jays attention. What was the key to your success at Saint Leo?
JB – I think it was kind of just knowing that I’m a good pitcher. I went in there lacking confidence and then in the fall, we kind of just broke everything down from ground zero. Like I haven’t had any experience at all pitching, so we kind of went to basics and I think that really helped me a lot and that, you know, seeing some success and then a little early success helped a lot too. I found who I was as a pitcher. I only went out of the stretch at St. Leo and I found that helped me get in the zone more. That simplified my mechanics more. It all helped.
CPB – You were getting some starts at St Leo. I know you’ve been basically in the bullpen (as a pro) but do you have a preference between starting and relieving?
JB – I like relieving a lot. My pitch profile, I think, works best out of the pen and I also do like the adrenaline rush you get coming out of the pen.
CPB – You got the Blue Jays attention, 18th round you go in. What was your draft day experience like?
JB – I think it was a unique one because my best friend (Wake Forest first baseman Bobby Seymour) who I’ve played with since I was 10 years old. (Editor’s Note – Seymour was also Burnette’s teammate with Rockford in 2020). He was drafted in the 12th by Tampa Bay (Editor’s Note – 13th round by Tampa Bay). So he was already celebrating and about to have some people over and I was like, ‘Hey, let’s hold up.’ All my friends are about to go out over to his house. I was like, ‘Let’s hold up, let’s wait. I don’t know what’s gonna happen.’ I get the call about five minutes before Toronto’s pick was up and got the call from (scout) Brandon (Bishoff), got the call from my agent, and got the call back from Brandon. So you know, my name’s popped up on the screen and I’m a Blue Jay.
CPB -And I know it’s obviously a whirlwind. You get ready to head down to Dunedin. What was that like, your first training camp before you got assigned to your first team?
JB – It was kind of crazy because I left two days after the draft and flew into Tampa, went to Dunedin and saw the complex, a beautiful complex we have here. It was a different world. I was very impressed and very shocked and eyes wide open the entire time I was walking around the first time I saw it. Everything kind of happened quick. The first two weeks we were with just all the draft guys, kinda like a draft camp, like an intro into pro ball pretty much. And then after those two weeks, it was ‘Alright, let’s see what you got, go compete.’
CPB – And you got to end the year with the Dunedin Jays. You got to spend some times at the Florida Complex League. What were those experiences like getting your first professional appearances under your belt?
JB – Nerve-wracking. It was kind of just you don’t know if you’re good enough until you do it. So once you got in there and then you realize it’s the same game you’ve been playing since you were three years old or whenever you started playing baseball. So it was a little nerve-wracking but you know, the first time getting in there, you know, you calm the nerves a little bit.
CPB – If you had to give a scouting report on yourself, how would you describe yourself as a pitcher? I’ve heard your high school coach saying bulldog. Is that something you might agree with?
JB – I’d say bulldog. Yeah. I mean, I’m not the biggest dude out there. I’ll give you all I got. I’ll come at you. I’m not scared of whoever’s in the box. Yeah, I’d say that’s an accurate description.
CPB – The player development complex, all the bells and whistles of that new facility. What’s it been like for you to use that?
JB – It’s been great. We have everything we need and then some there, it’s all the technology and all the resources we have is great. I come back here a couple times in the off-season to use it and be around all the coaches and staff here. It’s a great place to kind of if you need some time to get back into like where you need to go and kind of get back on track, it’s a great place to be and to go to.
CPB – Would you say there’s anything as specifically it helped you out with? Maybe a release point or pitch grips or spin rates? I know there’s lots of things, lots of information for you to use.
JB – Just kind of the like all the learning, all the technology and all the TrackMan and Rapsodo. Seeing all of my numbers and kind of where they play best in the zone and when in different counts. So just seeing all the advanced analytics and all that kind of helped me I think a lot too.
CPB – So you’re in your first whole spring training as a non-roster invite. What’s it been like so far?
JB – It’s been great. I think the thing that stood out to me is, you know, guys, they like to have fun. They still like to have fun but when it’s time to work, it’s game faces, it’s time to work. So that’s what I like about it. Everyone in the clubhouse has the same mentality, whether you’re the number one starter or the ace or you’re me who’s the non-roster invite. Everyone in there has got the same mentality and that mentality is to win a World Series.
CPB – Take us through a typical day in spring training. Obviously, you have games in the afternoon, but what’s your usual day, your usual routine?
JB – I get in there about 6:30, or 7 o’clock, do my workout in the morning, do cold tub training stuff, all the recovery and pre-stuff. And we have team meetings in the morning every day and then go do our workout before the game and then the game starts at 1:00.
CPB – You get your first appearance under your belt, you wind up pitching in the third inning. Zach Thompson ran into a bit of trouble. You had a couple runners on, you were warming up in the pen. Take us through what it was like getting ready for that outing.
JB – What helped me is that everything happened quick, so I didn’t really have time to get nervous and to think about it. So it was a couple of batters before I went in. I was told to get hot and get going, so I started rapid firing and get going, get hot and next thing you know, I’m running into the game and next thing you know, I’m in the dugout and looking back I’m like, ‘I don’t even know what just happened.’
CPB – You really weren’t paying too much attention as far as who was up at the plate. It was another left-handed hitter, Jack Suwinski who hit 19 home runs last year for the Pirates so this is a guy who can definitely hurt you if you make a mistake, but that’s gonna be the kind of situation that you’ll find yourself in as a left-handed pitcher.
JB – Yes, I think it was good that it was a lefty so I’m kind of familiar with what I do against lefties and kinda have a similar plan against all lefties, but yeah, it felt like an actual game and then kinda like what it is would be like in the middle of July. So it was kind of familiar territory for me.
CPB – Do you remember the details of that at-bat? Do you remember what your approach was or what you were thinking at the time?
JB – Slider first pitch strike, slider for a ball, fastball outside corner for a strike. Backed-up slider for a ball, slider for a foul ball and then a fastball swinging up and away.
CPB – Nice. Okay, so eventually that definitely helped get the Blue Jays out of a sticky situation and eventually come back to win. Your next outing, you got your first spring training save striking out two guys. What do you remember about that outing?
JB – I kind of forgot the adrenaline rush you get when you’re going in then ninth and for a save opportunity. So it was also familiar territory too. Eight Saves last year so I was glad to get a save. Glad to get in there. Glad to you know, help us win.
CPB – I gotta ask you, you’re from Chicago. Who did you like? The Cubs or the White Sox? Or did you have a favourite Major League team?
JB – Yeah, I grew up a Cub fan. A Cub fan that grew up in the south side of Chicago.
CPB – Now did you ever go watch White Sox games or did you feel maybe that was sacrilegious?
JB – I went to White Sox games. Yeah, because it was an easy train to ride up from my house. I just had to take one train for about 15 minutes and I was at the park. So I went to a decent amount of White Sox games growing up. I was a huge baseball fan growing up. I loved the game from a young age, so any chance I got to go to a game, no matter who was playing, I was going to a game.
CPB – 2016, the Cubs win at all. You were probably in town celebrating all that. Did you get to see any games or were you just watching on television?
JB – I was just watching, it was my senior year of high school and we had high school playoffs that year. We were in the playoffs for football. I also had a knee injury that year so I was kind of sidelined a little bit so I couldn’t go to any playoff games. I was watching the games and watching the final out with my dad so that was pretty cool.
CPB – Did you have a favourite player or pitcher with the Cubs?
JB – Jon Lester.
CPB – Okay Jimmy. I won’t take up too much more of your time. The only other question I’ll ask is basically your goals for 2023? What’s your approach heading into another full season of pro ball?
JB – I’d say the biggest thing is kind of just be healthy, stay healthy, keep to my routines, my pre-routine, my post routine. Make sure you know, it’s another healthy year because I think if it’s a healthy year, it’s a successful year. I’m not really trying to think too far ahead and what could happen. But you know, just wherever I’m at, whatever team I’m on, just try and help the team win as many ballgames as possible.
Jimmy Burnette File
- Born – October 19, 1998 in Chicago, Illinois
- Bats/Throws – Left/Left
- Height/Weight – 6-foot-2, 205 pounds
- Uniform Numbers – Wore number 2 with Illinois and number 33 with Saint Leo University. Wore number 64 with the Florida Complex League Blue Jays and number 15 with Dunedin in 2021. Wore number 35 with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats in 2022.
- Twitter – @Burnette_Jimmy
- Instagram – @jimmy.burnette2
- Major League Connection – 2021 summer college ball teammate of Washington Nationals draft pick Darren Baker, son of Houston Astors manager Dusty Baker.
- Fun Fact – Teammate of Yo Yo Nuñez with Saint Leo and Mahoning Valley in 2021.
Thanks a million again to Jimmy Burnette for this episode of C’s Chat.