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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Iowa righty preps for draft

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – The pitchers that assembled for the Perfect Game Pitcher/Catcher Indoor Showcase held here in early February prompted scouts to fill their notebooks with words of praise like “polished” and “statement outing” and “physically imposing.”

Top prospects like highly ranked and highly regarded left-hander Jake Brentz and right-handers Clinton Hollon, Devin Williams, Andrew Dunlap and Alex Lange had the large gathering of scouts salivating, as did a senior right-hander from Muscatine (Iowa) High School whose performance prompted a PG scout to pen the words “draftable performance.”

Fast-forward two months. Derek Burkamper, the aforementioned Muscatine righty, was sitting in the stands at Veterans Memorial Stadium Sunday afternoon waiting to head down to Perfect Game Field and take his turn pitching at the PG Spring Top Prospect Showcase. Burkamper, a University of Nebraska signee, was at the showcase with a single purpose.

“I’m preparing for the draft,” he said. “I’ve been talking to my family all about it; I’ve been committed to Nebraska and I’ve signed my national letter of intent with (the Cornhuskers) but you’ve got to keep two dogs in one race. You’ve got to keep both dogs going and hope for the best.”

Burkamper’s name won’t be found on too many draft boards listing potential early round picks, but that is changing. His stock has risen right along with his velocity in just about every outing he’s made since pitching at the 2012 PG Pitcher/Catcher Indoor Showcase when his fastball topped-out at 87 mph.

He touched 88 mph while helping Iowa Select Black to the semifinal round at the PG/EvoShield National Championship (Upperclass) in Goodyear, Ariz., last September, and one week later reached 89 while pitching for Iowa Select Black at the PG WWBA Kernels Foundation Championship at Veterans Memorial Stadium.

After pitching for the Reds Midwest Scout Team at the PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla., in late October, Burkamper began an offseason conditioning program that added about 15 pounds to his 6-foot, 2-inch frame, bringing his weight up to about 185 pounds from the 170 listed in fall of 2012.

The results continued to impress as he touched 91 mph at the 2013 PG Pitcher/Catcher Indoor Showcase in February, and he topped-out at 92 – and sat at 89-92 – during his Sunday afternoon outing at the Spring Top.

With Brentz, who is from Ballwin, Mo., and fellow standout left-handers A.J. Puk from Cedar Rapids and Max Knutson from Arden Hills, Minn., among the others who pitched on Sunday, Burkamper was pumped-up throwing in front of a throng of very interested onlookers.

“These events bring a bunch of scouts and a bunch of college coaches in, and just being here helps out tremendously,” he said, while giving a nod to other highly regarded pitchers at the Spring Top. “It makes everything more competitive; playing with the best you develop better as a player yourself. I just have to keep working hard on the outside stuff, like sticking around in the weight room and getting stronger, and hopefully everything pans out and it shows on the field.”

Perfect Game’s scouting report noted that Burkamper “looked good on the mound (Sunday) having his fastball sit at 89-92mph with his curveball at 77mph and his changeup at 81mph. Burkamper has a good quick arm action, throws downhill, has riding life on his fastball and a good feel for his curveball which has late bite.”

After the PG P/C Indoor in February, Burkamper joined Brentz, Hollon, Williams, Dunlap, Lange and others on the pitcher’s Top Prospect list from the event. It was in that listing that the PG scout mentioned the “draftable performance” while also noting that Burkamper’s “improvement since the fall was eye-opening” and that “scouts are going to have to bear down on him this spring.”

He is ranked the No. 259 national prospect in the class of 2013 and No. 2 in the state of Iowa behind Puk, who has signed with Florida as a two-way player and is projected to be an early round draft pick. The Spring Top was Burkamper’s 16th PG event since August, 2011, and his 11th in the last 14 months. That includes two seasons in the PG Iowa Spring Wood Bat League and one in the Iowa Fall League.

One of his more memorable experiences was playing at the PG/EvoShield National Championship in 100-degree desert heat back in September. He was part of a pitching staff that included lefty Benjamin Miller from Clive, Iowa, a fellow Nebraska signee who is Iowa’s No. 3-ranked prospect in the 2013 class, and right-hander Keaton McKinney from Ankeny, Iowa, an Arkansas commit who is the state’s top-ranked prospect in the class of 2014.

“It’s been awesome,” Burkamper said of his experiences. “I’ve got to travel to places I’d never been to just to play baseball, so it’s just been awesome. Baseball has always been my sport. I played basketball off to the side for awhile but these last couple of years I quit basketball to focus on this because I knew this is what I wanted to do for a long time.”

Burkamper made his commitment to Nebraska early in the recruiting process, and said the program was a pretty easy sell. When asked what led to his decision to become a Cornhusker, he answered with a rhetorical question of his own:

“Do you know who the coaches are? ‘Darin Erstad’, that pretty much says it all right there. I wanted to stick around in the Midwest area and I felt Nebraska was the best choice for that.”

Depending on what happens with the draft and any additional opportunities it may offer, Burkamper will be playing his final season of high school ball for the Muscatine Muskies this summer. He is coming off a junior season in 2012 when he earned Iowa Class 4A (big school) first-team all-state recognition after finishing 8-5 with a 1.17 ERA and 119 strikeouts and just 28 walks in 83 2/3 innings.

After pitching at the PG/EvoShield National Championship in September, Burkamper said, “The high school season is a lot of fun, but here the competition is just a lot (stronger).” While waiting to pitch Sunday afternoon, he began to view his final season of prep ball in a slightly different light while considering what he can do to help the Muskies improve on their 26-12 record in 2012 and advance to the state tournament under head coach Bob Leech.

“I have great high school coaches who care about me and they’ve helped me progress,” Burkamper said. “I love high school baseball and I’m going to miss it. This is my last year and hopefully we can make it to state and hopefully we can win it all.”

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