The Nationals' most improved player in the minor league system has been outfielder Billy Burns. This week, the team rewarded the organization's top base stealer with their coveted minor league Player of the Year award.
Burns, 24, started the season at high Single-A Potomac and lit up the stat sheet with his quality at-bats, high batting average and ability to steal bases.
Potomac manager Brian Daubach has seen how quickly Burns has grown as a player and remembers coaching him while managing low Single-A Hagerstown.
"I had him the majority of the last two seasons," Daubach said. "To be able to see where he has come from in a short time, it has been impressive. He is gaining confidence. I know that continued in Double-A, and hopefully that continues going forward."
The first number that jumps out at you is the 74 stolen bases this season, 54 of them with Potomac. Maybe even more amazingly, Burns was caught stealing just seven times, a .914 clip. Daubach said that "is a weapon," but getting caught even once would bother Burns early in the season.
"He is really been getting a lot more aggressive in stealing bases," Daubach said. "At times, he wanted to be perfect. Billy is a perfectionist. If he was thrown out once, he would be a little more tentative.
"I think sometimes he would think he should never get caught. I think he realizes that some of those catchers are pretty darn good throwers too. When you run as much of that, you are going to get caught sometimes. I think the tentativeness was gone, and he became much more aggressive. He worked hard on his leads of first base. I think that has made a big difference."
But Daubach said the .315 batting average - with 12 doubles, nine triples, 37 RBIs and a stunning 96 runs scored - prove Burns is a multi-faceted player. His on-base percentage for the season was .425. Also, he was able to maintain his consistency on two levels, hitting .312 for Potomac and and .325 for Double-A Harrisburg.
Daubach believes it is because Burns has bought into working hard at his switch-hitting, a facet of his offensive game he only recently adopted.
"He is gaining confidence in his left-handed swing, his ability to pull the ball," Daubach said. "You got to remember he has only been switch-hitting for a couple of years. To do the things he has done in a couple of years is impressive, especially his strike zone judgment from the left side. He doesn't swing at many balls. He knows his game, he fouls pitches off. He makes the pitchers work. His on-base percentage shows this."