The Athletics’ Future Leadoff Hitter: Billy Burns


The Oakland Athletics’ current leadoff hitter is 5 foot 10 inch Sam Fuld, who accurately represents what you would expect an Athletics hitter to be: a player who takes a lot of walks and plays good defense. Although he has never logged more than 351 at bats in any season, the team went with him as their Opening Day leadoff man and centerfielder, and he has since ran with it. He’s already collected 12 hits in his first 8 games, setting the pace for the rest of the lineup to do its damage. However, the A’s have a player in Triple-A who brings a similar skill set to the table, and should become a better player.

Billy Burns has quietly sat near the bottom of the Athletics’ prospect lists, appearing at No. 21 this year and No. 18 last year on’s rankings. He probably deserves a bit more credit than he has received, as he has true 80 grade speed and a .388 career on base percentage. The lack of power in his game has limited most to thinking he won’t make it as a regular in the big leagues, but as we saw in the playoffs last season, speed can be a very valuable tool to have.

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The easy comparison for the 25-year old is another Billy — Billy Hamilton — although he didn’t put up quite the same stolen base numbers as the Reds centerfielder did in the Minors. Burns had a career high of 74 steals in 2013, and 54 in 2014, while more impressively only being caught 13 total times (stats per The Athletics prospect has a chance to be a better player than Hamilton because of his ability to get on base at a very high rate. His defense is also comparable, as Burns uses his speed to get to almost any ball hit near him.

The 2013 season really put the 5 foot 9 inch Burns on the map, as he hit .315/.425 with 96 runs scored through Advanced-A and Double-A. Things started well in Spring Training in 2014, as he hit .306/.370 with 10 steals. He didn’t have much of a chance to earn a roster spot, so he started the year back in Double-A. He didn’t hit as well as he did the previous year, hitting .250/.333. He still managed to get a call up to Triple-A and was a September call-up to Oakland, but the numbers weren’t great at either stop.

The early showings for Burns in 2015 have been pretty amazing. Given an opportunity to play frequently in Spring Training again, he showed exactly what kind of player he can be. He raised his contact and on base numbers (.373/.418), and struck out half as many times as he did in the Spring of 2014 (16 down to 8) in more at bats. He only stole 5 bases, but his speed was still seen on the basepaths, as he notched 3 triples. Of course, the switch-hitter is going to have to prove what he can do over a longer stretch of games, but the early showings from Triple-A have been encouraging.

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Through the first 6 games of the 2015 campaign, Burns has already collected 9 hits and swiped 4 bags. His contact rate has slowly improved, to a point where he could force the Athletics to call him up at some point this season. I think he should be able to have an on base percentage consistently north of .350, which would really help give him chances to impact games with his legs.

The Atlanta-born centerfielder may be in line to take over Fuld’s job at some point this season. Granted, if Fuld keeps hitting like he has been, then they may just find a way to get both in the lineup. Having a lineup with Fuld hitting leadoff and Burns hitting in the 9-hole would be interesting to see. Of course, he still has to prove that his bat will play in the Major Leagues over a full season, but at the very least, he should be a productive role player due to his speed and defense.