When the season started, A’s fans knew they could count on guys like Sonny Gray, Josh Reddick, and Ben Zobrist to consistently produce for the team. What they didn’t count on was an explosive lead-off hitter and Gold Glove caliber center-fielder to emerge from the minor-leagues; but that’s exactly what has happened with 25-year-old rookie Billy Burns.
Originally planned to be called up during the September expansions, Burns was promoted due to Coco Crisp‘s declining health and Craig Gentry‘s offensive inabilities. Switch-hitting Burns has made the most of his opportunity, quietly making his case as a serious AL Rookie of the Year candidate.
Just this week, Burns pulled off two spectacular defensive plays in the same game, the kind of plays he has been making all season. His first amazing catch came on a ball speared to the left-center gap by fellow ROY candidate, Delino DeSheilds. His second incredible catch came in the top of the eighth inning with the A’s leading 1-0. He robbed an extra base hit from Carlos Corporan to the amazement of the Texas Rangers and Coliseum visitors.
Although Burns does not have the strongest arm, he more than makes up for it with his plus speed and accuracy.
With the return of Coco Crisp to the disabled list, the Athletics were in desperate need of a lead-off hitter who could work walks, get on base, and steal a bag or two. Burns fit the bill. So far this season, Burns is the hits leader among AL rookies, second in OBP and AVG, .354 and .313 respectively, among rookies with 50 ABs or more. He has contributed nine RBIs, 11 stolen bases, and has hit two home runs. Part of the reason Burns has been successful this season offensively is that he has been aggressive at the plate. He is hitting over .500 when swinging on the first pitch.
His ability on the base paths has further helped solidify his role as the lead-off man. In Thursday’s 7-0 win against the Rangers, Burns worked a lead-off walk in the first inning, stole second on the next pitch, and later scored the game’s only run in the first seven innings and the first career run off of Ranger’s rookie Chi Chi Gonzalez, who had not allowed a run in his only two starts prior.
In a season where not much has gone right for the Oakland A’s, Billy Burns has been an unexpected bright spot.