A defensive stalwart behind the plate for the past three years junior catcher Connor Burns has turned a corner this season establishing himself as an offensive threat now as well.
“He is what he is defensively, which is the best in the country. Now he’s making himself into a pretty darn good hitter at the division one level,” Dirtbags head coach Eric Valenzuela said.
This season through 116 at-bats Burns has hit .293 a meteoric rise from the catcher that was barely scraping above .160 a season ago.
It isn’t just him making contact though that is significant. He’s hit seven home runs three more than the rest of his collegiate career and has 15 extra-base hits after just nine through his first 193 at-bats.
The power stroke has risen his OPS to .930 an impressive clip for any hitter, but even more impressive for a catcher, especially one whose name and reputation are built on his defensive reliability.
After a game against UCLA on March 7, Burns collected two doubles, worked a walk and caught two runners stealing in a 7-6 loss.
Bruins head coach John Savage took the time during an interview to praise Burns unannounced believing in him to be a “premier frontline major league catcher” one day.
“I appreciate everything that coach Valenzuela has said and everything that coach Savage has said as well, it’s pretty cool,” Burns said. “Getting the respect from those guys all the experience they have and all the character they represent.”
Zeglin this season has been selected as the Big West Player of the Week twice and has the fourth-best ERA in the conference. Osman has also collected the award once and the duo are both in the top four for innings pitched in the Big West.
Every inning for the two has come with Burns behind the dish, as he has helped the two navigate the zone and work deep into most of their outings.
“Our meetings when he comes out to talk to me on the mound aren’t like ‘Hey you need to fix this or you need to fix that.’ It’s like ‘Hey you are good we’ve been here before,’” Osman said.
Building the relationships with his two starters who are both new to the program has come easily for Burns with it being a role he welcomes and excels at.
“I think it’s just like a natural thing for a catcher,” Burns said. “You have to establish those relationships early and have their trust because if you don’t, then it’s gonna be a long season.”
Establishing himself as one of the best defensive catchers in the country was a title that came quickly for Burns. During his first season with the Dirtbags, he only made one error and threw out seven of the 15 would-be base stealers.
A season later he was honored for his ability by being named the 2022 Big West Defensive Player of the Year and a finalist for the 2022 ABCA/Rawlings Gold Glove award for the catcher position.
The part of the game where he has always stood out is his ability to control the basepaths and keep the ball in front of him. To this point in the 2023 season, he has thrown out runners at a 56.5% clip the best of his collegiate career.
“I don’t have to be perfect and this guy (Burns) is gonna help me out,” Osman said.
It is a consensus among his pitchers that they can throw anything to Burns and he’ll back them up or help them out of an otherwise dangerous situation.
“Normally you’re worried a guy’s gonna steal but with him you hope they steal,” Zeglin said.
With the bat finally developing Burns has turned one of his only blemishes into another promising tool that could become even more of an asset wherever his career takes him.
At the end of this season, he’ll be eligible for the MLB draft and in all likelihood could find himself coming off the board in the latter rounds.
Prospects Live ranked the catcher at 272 in their list made in February, before the bat began to heat up and before a third impressive season behind the plate.
While his name is still flying under the radar Burns will soon have the opportunity to show his game inside of an MLB stadium when the Dirtbags play USC on May 2 at Angel Stadium of Anaheim.
“I’m just focusing on the season right now and trying to make it to Omaha, have a special season with these guys, and then the draft will come after that and we’ll just see where it goes,” Burns said