Something to prove

Not being drafted fuels the fire for GJ Rockies' Devin Burke

Devin Burke, left, wasn’t drafted despite a strong junior season at Virginia Tech. Burke signed with the Grand Junction Rockies two weeks after the draft and has two wins, 11 strikeouts and a 1.64 ERA in 11 innings.

Grand Junction Rockies pitcher Devin Burke tosses a foul ball to some fans in the right-field pavilion at Suplizio Field on Saturday.

If you look closely, you can almost see it.

That chip on Devin Burke’s right shoulder.

Ask the Grand Junction Rockies’ coaches and Burke himself, and they’ll all say the same thing: This kid’s got something to prove.

Burke wasn’t drafted out of Virginia Tech earlier this month, even after an 11-3 season for the Hokies and making the Blacksburg Regional all-tournament team as a starting pitcher.

“He goes out there and throws strikes and competes, and he’s got something to prove every night,” Grand Junction manager Anthony Sanders said Friday night after Burke’s performance against Orem.

He allowed only one hit, struck out six and didn’t walk a batter, allowing the Rockies to throw up zeros in each of his five innings in a 12-3 win at Suplizio Field.

“Lee Stevens (the Rockies’ hitting coach) said it best when we had our player evaluation meeting with him,” pitching coach Ryan Kibler said. “Lee said, ‘Man, you look like you’ve got something to prove.’ He looked at us and said, ‘You know what, you’re right.’

“You watch him out there on that mound, and he’s got something to prove, and he likes doing it. Everybody’s got to find his niche, and that’s his thing.”

Burke believes he is proving scouting departments that declined to draft him wrong. And he’s proving to the Rockies that they made the right decision when they signed him to a free-agent contract after the draft.

He went to Duke after high school, playing for the Blue Devils in 2010. He transferred to Virginia Tech, sat out one year, and threw mainly out of the bullpen his sophomore year. As a junior this past spring, he ended up with the decision in 14 of the 16 games he pitched, 15 as a starter.

“Not getting drafted and getting picked up is huge motivation for me,” Burke said after Friday night’s game, “especially against teams that might have passed up on me. I’m just happy I’m here and really grateful to the Rockies for getting a chance to pitch for them and pitch well.”

Burke said he had been in touch with Jordan Czarniecki, one of the Rockies’ area scouting supervisors, who called him after the draft ended.

“He called me right after the draft and said sorry it didn’t work out, but keep working out, keep throwing, because you never know what will happen in the weeks following,” Burke said. “Two weeks after the draft I got a call from him, and there was a opportunity, so I took it. I’m just trying to make the most of it.”

He wasn’t on the Rockies’ opening-day roster, wasn’t even in town yet. He arrived the next day, pulled on his uniform and started showing Kibler what he had to offer.

He made his first start two days later, June 23 at Orem. He pitched six innings, allowing two runs on six hits. He struck out five, walked one and got his first professional victory.

Friday, one week after arriving in Grand Junction, he was even better in his second win, this one in relief. He’s thrown 11 innings so far, striking out 11 and walking only one, and has a 1.64 ERA.

Burke knows exactly what he has to do on the mound, keeping the ball down, working both sides of the plate and using a nasty change-up as his out pitch.

“Just your 6-foot-tall right-hander with something to prove,” Kibler said. “That’s the mentality, that’s who he is. He’s got something to prove, and he’s going to come right at you. Commands the fastball in and out very well, goes both sides of the plate very easily and throws the breaking ball for strikes.

“His punch-out is his change-up, and he knows it. He knows what makes him good, and he’s able to go out there and execute it.”

Kibler said it’s rare for a pitcher to harness the frustration of being overlooked like Burke was and use it to his advantage, but the way he goes about pitching is something he points out to other pitchers.

“I can kinda see why (he wasn’t drafted), but that’s the thing sometimes scouts miss, the mentality,” Kibler said. “You don’t get to see that unless you’re nice and close, sitting with him in the dugout, watching him warm up, listening to him talk. That’s probably what they missed, and that can take you a long way.”

Kibler said Burke’s intelligence and the way he studies the game is another reason he can be effective with that chip on his shoulder.

“My mentality is they’re another team, it doesn’t matter who it is,” Burke said. “That’s the kind of mentality I’ve tried to take into every single outing in my career. It’s worked for me throughout my career.

“I learn about the hitters from Kibler, the catchers and looking at their swings, their tendencies, if they’re swinging late on a fastball, if they’re susceptible inside, things like that. It doesn’t matter who it is.”

He got a late start, but Burke is making up for lost time.

“Just showing these guys I belong here, at least I think I do,” Burke said. “Number one is giving our team a chance to win, and number two is obviously perfecting what I do on the mound.

“You can look around (when you’re not pitching) and take a step back and say, ‘This is awesome, this is pro ball.’ ”


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