If you’re not rooting for Sean Burroughs this spring, you probably haven’t heard his story. Burroughs’ career reads like an episode of VH1’s Behind the Music. Like the Jackson Five, he rose on a tidal wave of childhood stardom that led to astronomical expectations and big money. Just when it looked like Burroughs had it made, everything came crashing down in a whirlpool of despair and drug abuse that threatened to turn him into a baseball version of Jim Morrison. Burroughs seems to have conquered those demons, though, and he is out to prove that he can still rock.
Burroughs became a household name even before the Padres drafted him ninth overall in 1998. His father, Jeff Burroughs, was a two time All Star and the 1974 American League MVP (those were different times: hitting .301 with 25 homers as a right fielder was enough to qualify in the minds of MVP voters back then). Sean quickly made a name for himself, though, as a star in the Little League World Series. His Long Beach team made the tournament in 1992 and won in 1993; in the ’93 series, Burroughs pulled a Johnny VanderMeer by throwing two no-hitters. Later, he earned an interesting distinction by becoming the first Little League Series player to win an Olympic medal, which he did with the storied 2000 United States squad.
That’s about as impressive as a player’s resume can be before he even sees a day in the Major Leagues, so it’s no surprise that Sports Illustrated labeled him the “Can’t miss rookie” of 2002. And he didn’t exactly miss. He had a respectable .271/.317/.323 line in 63 games; not bad for a 21 year old. The next year the numbers jumped to .286/.352/.402 as the Friars’ regular third baseman. Unfortunately, that was to be his best year so far. He never developed any real power or impressive plate discipline, and by 2006 he had lost his starting job with San Diego and was traded to Tampa.
Things got worse in 2007, when Burroughs quit baseball and moved to Las Vegas. He got into drugs, spent some time homeless on the streets, and apparently lost his purpose in life.
Fortunately, that’s not the end of the story. He cleaned up his act and worked hard to get back into the game. That work paid off, as Burroughs secured a contract with the Diamondbacks. It was an appropriate place for him: like Burroughs, the worst-to-first Diamondbacks knew what it was like to climb back up after falling down. Appearing in 78 games, mostly as a pinch hitter, Burroughs went .273/.289/.336. It wasn’t an impressive stat line, but it showed the baseball world that Burroughs was back.
Now that Burroughs is with the Twins, what can he offer? To be honest, his odds of making the team out of Spring Training are not incredibly high. But if a Twins infielder gets injured, or if Danny Valencia continues to struggle as he did in 2011, Burroughs could sneak onto the roster at some point during the season.
The good news is that he can field. Other than 2002, Burroughs has had a UZR (ultimate zone rating) in positive territory, according to Fangraphs. It’s possible that Burroughs was brought in with the idea of pushing Valencia, whose defense Ron Gardenhire has criticized in the past. It remains to be seen whether Burroughs could hit on a regular basis, though. Even when he was an MLB regular, he never provided the power that you expect from the Hot Corner. At this point, Valencia is far more of a proven commodity for the Twins, so don’t expect this to be an open competition. But Burroughs will be there in case things change.
Keep checking back at Puckett’s Pond, because we will have a new writeup of a Twins non-roster invitee every day until we’ve discussed all 25. If you missed the first few, you can find them here.