In the moments after Tuesday night’s victory over the Rays, Royals manager Ned Yost deemed it “audition time” in the team’s bullpen. It appears the same will be true, in part, in the club’s outfield.
The Royals on Wednesday called up recently acquired outfielder Billy Burns from Class AAA Omaha. In a corresponding roster move, the club optioned reliever Brooks Pounders back to Omaha.
The move affords club officials an opportunity to evaluate Burns, 26, at the major-league level. Yost said Wednesday that Burns would log time in a center-field rotation with Paulo Orlando and Jarrod Dyson. Lorenzo Cain has started in right field since returning from a hamstring strain, and Yost said he would like to build in a recovery day for Cain “every three or four days.” Burns is expected to make his first start on Thursday in the series finale at Tropicana Field.
“He’ll mix in,” Yost said. “He’s a speed guy.”
Burns was acquired last Saturday from Oakland in a trade that sent oufielder Brett Eibner to the A’s. He was assigned to Omaha following the move.
Burns was batting .234 with 11 doubles, four triples and 14 stolen bases for the A’s before being demoted in the middle of July. A switch-hitter with the ability to play center field, Burns finished fifth in the AL rookie of the year voting last season after batting .294 with 18 doubles, nine triples, four homers and 26 stolen bases.
The Royals liked Burns’ speed, athleticism and switch-hitting ability. They were also intrigued by the opportunity to buy low after a sluggish first half had depressed his overall value.
“He’s always a little pain in the rear end every time we’ve played him,” Yost said. “Scrappy a little guy.”
Burns joined the club Wednesday at Tropicana Field. Four days after being traded, he expressed an excitement about his new surroundings.
“I never really follow the trade rumors or anything,” Burns said. “So when they told me, I was a little shocked. I didn’t know I was someone they were thinking about trading. So (it was) just kind of shocking at first. You just never expect to be moving teams.
“But after that kind of calmed down, I was pretty excited; just to get a fresh look at a different organization, learn some new things from some new staff members and get back to baseball.”
Burns, who grew up in Marietta, Ga., attended Mercer University before being drafted by the Washington Nationals in the 32nd round of the 2011 draft. He was traded to Oakland on Dec. 11, 2013, for reliever Jerry Blevins. Burns debuted in the major leagues the following season before piecing together a breakout campaign in 2015.
In 125 games, Burns posted a .334 on-base percentage and a .726 OPS. He was worth 2.8 wins above replacement, according to Baseball Reference. His defense was slightly above average, according to advanced defensive metrics.
“My legs are definitely the (biggest) part of my game,” Burns said. “And just using my speed, putting the ball in play.”
In just his third big-league season, Burns will not reach free agency until after the 2020 season. In the future, he could fill a role similar to that of Jarrod Dyson, who is under club control through just 2017.