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High School | General | 3/14/2012

Rarefied Air

Patrick Ebert        
Photo: Perfect Game

Great Plains Regional Preview

The state of Colorado typically isn't considered a hot-bed for baseball talent, but it has produced a steady stream of pitchers to both the Division I level of college baseball and the big leagues. Most baseball fans are familiar with current hurlers such as David Aardsma, Luke Hochevar, Brad Lidge, Mark Melancon and Roy Halladay, as well as Hall of Fame closer Goose Gossage.

Long-time Head Coach Marc Johnson of Cherry Creek High School has had the privilege to coach many of these players, including Aardsma, Hochevar and Lidge, as well as other eventual big leaguers such as catcher Josh Bard and outfielder Darnell McDonald.

Historically Colorado is well known for pitching,” Johnson said in a recent interview with Perfect Game. “We don't have nearly as many position players come out of here. We've had Josh Bard, but the majority of players that come out of Colorado are pitchers.”

The development of pitching may seem surprising given the effects the high altitude and dry, light air has on how well the ball travels off the bat, as evidenced by the gaudy run totals you may see at any given game at the Colorado Rockies home ballpark. The robust offensive numbers posted in Coors Field caused the Rockies to be creative with the way they handle things, including the institution of a humidor in the clubhouse in which the baseballs are stored to help negate these effects.

However, those elements also means the players that grow up in the area have to learn to pitch a little differently than those in other parts of the nation.

A lot of people don't understand this,” Johnson continued, “but because of our weather and the high altitude the curveballs aren't as effective here. If you have a good curveball in Colorado you have a great one. (Pitchers) develop the fastball. So you see a lot of kids coming out here that have really good arms, a lot of them (pitch) in the high-80s and low-90s, and by the time they get to college they get to the middle 90s in a hurry. They throw a whole lot of fastballs without as much offspeed stuff, particularly curveballs. So I think their arms stay stronger.

Their natural breaking stuff is better because our air is lighter. You take a kid with a good breaking ball out of Colorado, take him to Texas or the Midwest and it's usually dynamite. So when you see a good breaking ball or offspeed pitch in Colorado you know it's pretty special. You have to develop a fastball and a change if you expect to have success (here).”

One thing that all of the pitchers mentioned above have in common is size.

Historically they're the big-bodied kids, like the Roy Halladays,” Johnson said of the Colorado pitching pipeline. “There are a lot of these kids that have that big body, the 6-4, 6-5 body that fills out (as they get older). Brad Lidge, (David) Aardsma, Roy Halladay, (Luke) Hochevar were all this size. These kids seem to have a lot of success.”

Thanks to his 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame, size is something Highlands Ranch right-handed pitcher and 2011 Perfect Game All-American Ryan Burr shares with those that have preceded him.

He is also mindful of their success.

I actually worked out with (Louisiana State pitcher and 2009 PG/Aflac All-American Kevin Gausman) and Alex Blackford, who is at Arizona State, a few times,” Burr said. “Just seeing what they were doing and where they wanted to go drove me because I want to be in their position.”

Burr is currently ranked the best player in the 2012 class coming out of Colorado, and is ranked No. 27 overall in the nation. He serves as the ace for his Highlands Ranch team, which made the Final Four in the Colorado High School state championship a year ago, falling to the eventual champion Regis Jesuit team.

Highlands Ranch opens this year as Perfect Game's No. 7 team in the Great Plains region, while Burr and his teammates have big expectations for the 2012 season.

I want to win a state championship, I'm not going to lie to you,” Burr said of his team's goal for this year. “We've been close enough to take it. I have a really strong feeling that we can do it if we play like we should, and that's the basic goal for me and every player on my team.

We have a really strong team coming into the year. We have six or seven returning seniors, so we have really high expectations for what we do this year. We have a lot of strengths and we have a few weaknesses that we need to figure out before we get going, but overall we're all really excited.”

In able to excel this year, Burr recognizes that the key to his team's success may sounds simple, it's a case of being easier said than done.

Be consistent with everything we do. That may be too broad, but when it comes to all parts of the game you have to be consistent, go out there every day and play like it's your last game. Which I think we will do, but you have to be conscious of it and make that our main focus.”

In between the 2011 and 2012 high school seasons, Burr has been busy, spending much of his time on the road participating in events such as the Perfect Game National in Fort Myers, Fla., the Perfect Game All-American Classic in San Diego, Calif. as well as the WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla. He has been fairly consistent throughout his travels, throwing his fastball in the 88-93 range while peaking at 94 and mixing in a hard-breaking upper-70s curveball.

The pinnacle of his travels was his selection to the Classic.

It's hard to explain the feeling I had when I spoke to Mr. Ford after the PG National,” Burr recalled of his invitation to attend the 2011 Perfect Game All-American Classic. “It's such a great event, I've grown up watching it every year. It doesn't really seem real until you get there. It's such an outstanding feeling, I'm so proud of myself and my teammates and everyone that surrounded me to help me get there. It's just an awesome feeling and I'm glad that I had the opportunity to be a part of that event.”

Although the platform has been different during his travels over the last 10 months, the mind-set has remained the same.

It's all different, but at the same time it's all the same,” Burr said of his approach between his high school team, a showcase and a tournament event with his summer/fall travel team, the Midland Redskins/Royals Scout Team. “No matter what team I'm on or who I'm playing with, whether it's with my best friends that I go to high school with or my pals from the summer, we want to win no matter what. We're all competitive, we all push each other. It all comes down to having fun playing a sport that you love.”

If you don't love the sport you don't have fun playing it,” Burr continued. “At the same time I have to stay focused because we have a huge year ahead of us. On the showcase side of things you just go out there and show what you've got and the players around you help make you look good.”

Burr's focus also allows him to recognize what needs to be done to continue to improve to achieve greatness. While he is ranked as one of the top high school players in his class, he has also committed to play for perennial Division I powerhouse Arizona State. Whether his path takes him to college or directly to professional baseball, a lot of time needs to be devoted to the game that he loves.

The biggest thing for me was to get in the best shape that I could so I could go out there and be more durable,” Burr said of the things he has been working on over the winter months. “(I want to) throw more complete games and (have) more body control which allows me to throw more strikes and increase my innings without throwing as many pitches. Pitching-wise the biggest thing I have been working on is a changeup. That's something I'll need more at the next level if the opportunity arises.

Arizona State is a great place, it's a baseball university. I grew up watching them win a couple of College World Series. They're (in Omaha) every year, and the way they play the game stood out to me. I wanted to go there ever since I was 10 or 11 years old. I'm really excited for that.”

As good as the 2012 class is, which includes Burr, fellow right-handed pitcher Ryan Warner of Pine Creek High School and Legend High School left-hander Tyler Honahan, the 2013 class has the chance to be special.

Cherry Creek right-handed pitching mates Derik Beauprez and Griffin Jax have already started to generate a lot of buzz in the area, as has Rye High School lefty Denton Keys. All three are ranked among the top 500 prospects for the class of 2013, with Beauprez (176) and Keys (187) sitting in the top 200. Those two also share the big-bodied profile that Coach Johnson pointed out as being a common theme with the most successful arms the state of Colorado has produced.

That talent extends to the 2014 class as well, with 6-foot-5 sophomore left-hander David Peterson of Regis Jesuit looking to continue the trend.

The younger pitchers in the state are the ones that the pro scouts are going crazy to see,” Johnson said of the class of 2013. “To open our season we probably had 10 professional clubs there to watch these juniors, so that's pretty rare.

The pitching is pretty special, that's for sure.”

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