Hiram Burgos hasn’t pitched in a Major League Baseball game. He has, however, already faced a big league lineup.
Pitching for his native Puerto Rico, Burgos entered the second inning of the championship game of the World Baseball Classic last month. The 25-year-old glared at home plate and found a modern day murderers’ row staring back at him – Jose Reyes, Erick Aybar, Robinson Cano, Edwin Encarnacion, Hanley Ramirez, Nelson Cruz and Carlos Santana.
“That was the biggest stage I have been through,” Burgos said. “Facing the Dominican Republic, I bet you that is a better lineup than any team right now in the big leagues. You can’t pitch around any guys. You got Robinson Cano, Encarnacion, Aybar, Nelson Cruz. You have to go at it and get people out. No matter how you do it, just get people out.”
And for the most part, that’s exactly what Burgos did.
A successful run in the WBC, coupled with a strong 2012 season has the right-hander feeling good about his future as the Nashville Sounds open their season on Thursday against New Orleans at Greer Stadium. Burgos is expected to start on Friday.
He was named the top pitcher in the Milwaukee Brewers’ organization last year and received the Robin Yount Performance Award. Spending time with three different affiliates, Burgos ranked third in the minor leagues with a 1.95 ERA in 28 games. The 5-foot-11, 208-pounder went 10-4 and fired 153 strikeouts in 171 innings.
“He can command all his pitches in the strike zone and has the ability to work quick and put hitters away,” Sounds manager Mike Guerrero said.
His confidence increased after three outings in the WBC. In relief appearances against Spain, Italy and the Dominican Republic, Burgos allowed just one run, scattered 12 hits and struck out 12 in 13 innings. The lone run came in 4.2 innings against the Dominican Republic, which won 3-0 to capture the championship.
In addition to facing some of the best competition in the world, he learned from some of the biggest names. Behind the plate at catcher was five-time Gold Glove winner Yadier Molina of the St. Louis Cardinals. Burgos also heeded advice from Arizona Diamondbacks right-hander Nelson Figueroa and former big-league starter Javier Vazquez.
“When you are younger you see all the stars and playing for your country is always an honor,” Burgos said. “It was a great, great experience for me. It was an honor to pitch in the WBC. I think that prepared me a lot for this upcoming season.”
Burgos enters his fifth season after being drafted by the Brewers in the sixth round of the 2009 draft.
He has gradually moved up the minor leagues but made huge leaps last year. He started last season in Advanced-A Brevard County, went 6-1 in 13 starts at Double-A Huntsville and spent the last eight games in Triple-A Nashville after moving up in late July.
Though he says he lacks an over-powering fastball, Burgos relies on mix pitches, including a changeup Baseball America called the best in the Brewers’ system.
“I was confident in it,” Burgos said. “I have thrown it more often and I use it on both sides of the plate. So the changeup has been very good and the same thing with other pitches. You have to command your fastball first so your changeup works better for you as a pitcher. If you get people out you’re going to stay in this game for a long time.”
If a lengthy career is in Burgos’ future he hopes that includes a trip – and possibly an extended stay – in the big leagues.
Now that he has gotten a taste for the talent level, Burgos is eager to fulfill another lifelong dream.
“It is something as a player you kind of feel you can play on the big league level right now,” Burgos said. “I’m ready for it. I just need to get my opportunity and get my chance to make my debut in the big leagues. I feel very confident right now.”