Top prospects Burrows, Hill show potential

Working on game at Class A, RHP and OF follow mentors Fulmer, Hunter

Top prospects Burrows, Hill show potential

COMSTOCK PARK, Mich. -- Beau Burrows went into his first Spring Training trying to meet fellow prospects in the Tigers' system. He ended up meeting Michael Fulmer.

Fulmer had just been optioned from big league camp, and his only experience in the organization was at Triple-A Toledo last August. He was still learning the system.

"[Burrows is] a good guy," Fulmer said. "I didn't know that he was that high of a Draft pick [at No. 22] and well-known in the organization. It's good to get to know guys like that."

They ended up becoming friends, meeting again last month in Detroit. For Burrows, Fulmer also ended up becoming a role model.

"I'd always make sure to watch him when he's pitching," Burrows said. "It's awesome watching him do well. I'd always ask him what he does, if he does anything differently. It makes me want to work on the same things that he does."

Fulmer's strong start

Derek Hill, Burrows' Class A West Michigan teammate, has his own mentor of sorts in Torii Hunter, the Tigers' right fielder when Hill was drafted 23rd overall in 2014 and a fellow client of agent Larry Reynolds. To watch Hill patrol the outfield or glimpse the highlight reel's worth of catches he has made brings reminders of Hunter.

"I just love defense," Hill said. "I've always been super passionate for it."

Burrows and Hill ended up remaining in Detroit's farm system at the Aug. 1 non-waiver Trade Deadline. In a market in which Major League-ready prospects were in demand, the Midwest League seemed like a long way off. For the Tigers, this was good news long-term.

Detroit has a half-dozen of its top picks in the organization, including just-drafted right-hander Matt Manning and reacquired outfielder Cameron Maybin. Burrows and Hill are two more, as well as the second- and fourth-ranked prospects on the Tigers' prospect list, according to MLBPipeline.

Both came to West Michigan for their first full professional seasons with lofty expectations of top prospects out of high school. What they've needed, more than anything, was time to grow. Both have had their pains, and both have shown signs of the promise that drew Detroit to them over the past few summers.

"There's no first-round stereotypical ego in both of these guys," Whitecaps manager Andrew Graham said. "They want to get better. They want to play in the big leagues. They want to make the Detroit Tigers."

Injuries limited Hill's 2015 season to 53 games, which kept him back along with rookie struggles. Through all the pressure, that Hunter-like enthusiasm for the game is evident, both in Hill's play and in his smile.

Top Prospects: Hill, DET

"When you get here, it's like, 'This is my job. I need to be ultra serious.' It gets to you a little bit," Hill said. "But when you start going back to that high-school mentality, having fun and just not stressing about everything, then you start to take off."

It shows in the outfield. An over-the-shoulder catch earlier wowed, as did a running catch into the wall. Another highlight-reel catch earlier this season sent Hill crashing into the fence, forcing him to go through the concussion protocol.

Enduring an inconsistent season at the plate, Hill has rallied lately. The 20-year-old entered Thursday batting .266 (102-for-384) with 66 runs scored, 17 doubles and 35 stolen bases in 41 attempts.

"I've had the ups and the downs just like last year," Hill said, "but I've been a little bit more mentally strong and had the support system around me to help me get through tough times."

Burrows came to West Michigan with a big Texas arm. He quickly realized that throwing pitches -- even mid-90s fastballs -- by pro hitters wasn't a long-term strategy, either for success or for his first-year workload limits.

The result has been more of a contact pitcher. The 19-year-old entered Thursday with a 6-4 record and a 3.65 ERA, allowing 74 hits over 79 innings with 26 walks and 48 strikeouts. His changeup has become a big pitch for him, while his curveball is in the back of his arsenal.

"These guys can hit fastballs here," Burrows said. "You have to mix it up. You have to work in and out, up and down. You have to change velocities. It's fun learning how to pitch now."

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.