MESA, Ariz. – Known for being a speed demon on the bases, A’s outfielder Billy Burns is gaining attention this spring with his bat too.
Burns is hitting .441 and enters Tuesday’s exhibition against San Diego as the major league leader in hits (15) and runs (10) this spring. He’s on an 11-for-18 tear over his past six games, and it’s more than him just beating out infield singles. The switch hitter is spraying line drives and showing signs of progress from the left side of the plate. The natural right-handed hitter only began experimenting with switch-hitting in 2011.
“I’m just working on getting in a stronger position left-handed,” said Burns, 25. “Staying strong and attacking the baseball. It’s been going well recently. I’ve always gotta try to keep working on it. It’s not finished.”
Burns’ speed and ability to play center were the reasons the A’s plucked him from Double-A last July for his big league debut. He made a return trip to the majors after rosters expanded in September and served mainly as a pinch runner. With Oakland’s current outfield situation somewhat unsettled due to an injury to Josh Reddick, Burns is making a timely impression with the A’s.
Reddick may not be ready for Opening Night due to a strained oblique, and another outfielder, Alex Hassan, currently is sidelined by a strained right hamstring. That could open up an opportunity for Burns, although non-roster outfielder Jason Pridie also has earned praise from manager Bob Melvin this spring. The A’s also have some infielders who can handle outfield duty as well, including Rule 5 pick Mark Canha.
But Melvin likes what he’s seen from Burns on both sides of the plate.
“He’s pulling some balls, he’s driving some balls over outfielders’ heads,” Melvin said. “He looks a little stronger, too, so he’s been as impressive as anyone in camp.”
Of course, Burns’ main asset is his speed and ability to steal bases. That’s why he’s gotten some individual attention from Hall of Fame outfielder and all-time stolen base leader Rickey Henderson, a special instructor with the A’s. The two worked together last September in Oakland, and Henderson is at spring camp right now working with players. Burns is a main pupil.
“He’s a good base stealer,” Henderson said. “He’s got great instincts. He wants to run and that’s a plus for me -- a guy that gets out there and wants to go.”
Henderson believes Burns’ base-stealing ability and continued development as a hitter go hand in hand. The better a hitter he becomes, the more he’ll get on base. And the more he gets on base and causes havoc, the more strikes he’ll see while batting, since pitchers won’t want to walk him.
“I just think he’s gotta be more patient and make contact,” Henderson said. “Be patient at the plate, not chasing bad pitches. Once he starts to learn that and starts getting on the base paths a lot, then he’s gonna get better pitches (to hit).”