Burgos not ready to close book on baseball

After completing degree, right-hander back with Brewers on Minors deal

Burgos not ready to close book on baseball

PHOENIX -- The notion of life after baseball does not scare Hiram Burgos. To the contrary, he went straight from the pitcher's mound to the lecture hall last fall to complete his bachelor's degree in physical education and recreation from Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, Fla., with an eye toward a future in coaching.

First, Burgos is holding out hope that his surgically repaired right shoulder can get him back to the big leagues.

"My mom and I were very proud of getting my degree," Burgos said. "I had 120 credits in my back pocket, so I was like, 'I have to finish this.' Last year was a good time to go finish it.

"The last time I was in school was 2009, so this was a lot different. I know way more English. I can write it better. It was a lot easier from that standpoint, but it's a big step for me. It's a Plan B."

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Plan A is baseball.

Burgos, 28, once ranked among the Brewers' most heralded pitching prospects, and he made it all the way to the Major Leagues for six starts early in 2013. Shoulder soreness ended that bid, and when discomfort persisted after four outings in '14, he succumbed to a surgical scope to clean up damage in the joint.

Burgos escapes jam

"They called it the pebble in the shoe. You keep stepping on that and eventually there is a problem," Burgos said. "I never quit. I was battling with shoulder problems, trying to go through it, but at the end, we needed to have a cleanup. That was the best decision I have made in my career. I had to start from zero, but I'm blessed to be back."

Burgos is back thanks to a successful and remarkably busy 2015.

After logging 149 1/3 innings for three of Milwaukee's Minor League affiliates, his highest total since the shoulder injury, Burgos went straight to school in Florida and crammed a five-course, 16-credit workload into a condensed semester that had begun three weeks before he arrived. He is thankful that the university allowed the altered schedule, and that it let him work out with the baseball team during his months on campus.

Following finals in mid-December, Burgos traveled to Puerto Rico to play winter ball, representing his homeland all the way through the Caribbean Series. That tournament did not end until Feb. 1.

After a quick break, it was on to Phoenix for Spring Training. The Brewers re-signed Burgos to a Minor League contract with an invitation to big league camp.

"I told Hiram when he was in here, 'You should feel really proud of yourself,'" said Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell. "Because he came back from being forgotten a little bit and has put himself back on the map. He should be proud of that. That's sticking to it."

With the Brewers' starting rotation set, Burgos has only an outside chance of making the Opening Day roster. But he could go back to Triple-A Colorado Springs, where he logged a 3.79 ERA in 15 starts last season and double this season as a mentor for some of the organization's top pitching prospects. They include fellow Puerto Rican Jorge Lopez, Milwaukee's No. 3 prospect.

Top Prospects: Lopez, MIL

At Triple-A, Burgos would be one phone call away from a return to the Major Leagues.

And if that does not happen, Burgos always has that degree.

"There are a lot of things I could do, but I've always been big on the coaches in my life," Burgos said. "I think I have been blessed with the eye that can see a lot of things. I might not tell you how to throw their 98 [mph], but I'm sure I know how to get you to throw strikes and stay healthy and take care of yourself and have a routine.

"There's a lot of things I have gone through, and I keep learning. I could help someone else."

Burgos pauses a moment.

"But that's when I get old," he said, smiling. "I'm 28. I feel way better now than when I played in the big leagues. I'm going to keep working hard to get back over there."

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy, like him on Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.