Junior left handed pitcher/first baseman Alec Burleson is an easily recognizable name for anyone following East Carolina University baseball. An All-American two-way player that is as talented on the mound as in the batter’s box, Burleson is a North Carolina native making a name for himself in Greenville.
Represented on five All-America teams at the conclusion of last season, Burleson made that freshman to sophomore jump so many coaches and players talk about. On the mound, the 6-2 left-hander went 6-2 with a 3.28 ERA over 60.1 innings, striking out 68 to only 26 free passes.
“Over the past two years, I think I’ve kind of settled into my routine,” Burleson said. “Day in and day out, it’s a process still but it’s definitely become a lot more comfortable to do the things day-to-day.”
Used sparingly in a swing role on the mound, as will likely be his assignment to begin the 2020 campaign, Burleson made his bones with the bat and slashed .370/.399/.573 with nine home runs and 61 RBI to his credit last year.
Drastically improved from a freshman campaign that saw the southpaw start only 27 games, Burleson led his squad to a 47-18 record including a 20-4 mark in the American Athletic Conference.
Good enough to allow the Pirates to host a Regional, ECU eventually bowed out to a talented University of Louisville squad in the Super Regional.
Despite falling short of bringing a National Championship back to Greenville, North Carolina, Burleson and the Pirates are locked and loaded for another run at the title. With 18 newcomers to a roster that lost seven players to the Major League Baseball Draft last summer, it will be more important than ever for guys like Burleson to step into leadership roles. One way to accomplish that is for Burleson to take his fellow two-way players under his wing as preseason scrimmages begin at Clark-LeClair Stadium.
“Just taking on a little bit more responsibility with the team as well, especially with like (freshman right-handed pitcher/infielder Zach) Agnos and (freshman left-handed pitcher Carson) Whisenhunt,” Burleson said. “Trying to teach them how to go about being a two-way while focusing on what I need to do everyday. It’s become easier and more comfortable but it’s still something I need to work at.”
Tutelage from one of the best two-way players to come through ECU in the last handful of years is a good way for two freshmen to begin their collegiate careers.
More goes into being a leader than posting eye-popping numbers, however. In order to talk the talk, you must walk the walk and that is what sets Burleson apart.
“Burly will take reps in the outfield, he’ll throw bullpens before practice, he’ll work individual defense in the outfield,” associate head coach Jeff Palumbo said. “Well since he’s already thrown, he and I usually get together for about 10-12 minutes that the guys are getting their arms going in the outfield. He and I will do some stuff at first base.”
By Burleson’s own admission, it takes long hours to hone the individual crafts that make him such a dynamic and versatile baseball player.
In fall practice, it would not be uncommon to see Burleson tracking balls in the outfield while his teammates took batting practice just to play first base for a couple innings during a scrimmage. On one occasion, Burleson robbed a teammate’s home run during batting practice, drawing laughs and jeers from everyone on the diamond.
More than that, observe an ECU practice and scrimmage and it doesn’t take long to notice Burleson is the generator of many laughs.
“You have to have fun to play this game and it keeps you relaxed but it’s definitely a balance you have to have,” Burleson said. “You have to know when you need to lock in and you know when you can veg out every once and awhile. Coach G(odwin) talks about it all the time. It’s having to manage your time where you can have a laugh or when you need to lock in and help your team win.”
In Burleson’s tenure at ECU the Pirates have won 91 games, advancing to a Super Regional last season. Much of that success is a credit to the southpaw’s contributions, mostly with the stick in his hands.
As a recruit, Burleson was viewed under a most pitching-heavy lens and as someone that would get only a few turns at the plate, a notion that has been flipped on its head.
“Now, from the professional ranks, they like him as a hitter better than a pitcher,” ECU baseball head coach Cliff Godwin said. “To us, he’s equally as important and he’s one of the best pitchers in the country and one of the best hitters in the country.”
Last year, the talented sophomore proved his coach correct as he became a finalist for the John Olerud National Player-of-the-Year Award following his aforementioned stellar performance.
Stepping into his draft-eligible junior season in 2020, the challenge for Burleson will be to not place unnecessary pressure on himself to perform at a high level. With all the work he is putting in, both on the mound, in the field and at the plate, Burleson is leaving little to chance when it comes to his development as a player.
“Being a veteran having gone through it, knowing what’s going to happen at practice on a daily basis, has allowed him to say ‘hey coach I got about six to eight minutes, let’s go get some work in,’” Palumbo said. “That’s just the type of mentality he has.”
Paying off with his play, Burleson’s mentality will go a long way in helping adapt some younger guys to the rigors of collegiate baseball. It is something the lefty has already gone through and come out on the other side of as an All-American.
Burleson and the Pirates will take the field on Feb. 14 for their first game of the 2020 season. First pitch between ECU and the College of William & Mary is scheduled for 4 p.m. inside Clark-LeClair Stadium.