Today’s subject of the prospect time machine is a former first round selection of the Mets. He was developed through New York’s farm system and made an appearance as a young ballplayer with the Amazins in Flushing. Then, he spent time on other teams and returned to the Mets almost 10 years later as an established power hitter. Unfortunately, his second go-round in Flushing didn’t meet expectations. Let’s shed light on the minor league career of Jeromy Burnitz.
Born in Westminster, California, Burnitz actually moved to Texas and attended Conroe High School. The Milwaukee Brewers selected the left-handed hitter in the 24th round of the 1987 draft, but he opted to raise his draft stock by attending Oklahoma State University. He was successful in that; the Mets selected him with the 17th overall pick in the 1990 draft.
Once he signed with New York, the Mets sent Burnitz to Pittsfield in the New York Penn League. He had a solid start to his professional career; in 225 plate appearances, he hit .301/.444/.497 with six home runs and 22 RBIs. That performance earned him a late-season call-up to High-A St. Lucie, where he struggled in limited at-bats (.156/.372/.188 in 32 ABs).
Instead of staying in St. Lucie for the 1991 season, the Mets assigned him to Williamsport in the Eastern League. It was this season when Burnitz started earning his reputation by displaying a lot of power and speed. His batting average was atrocious (.225), but he was getting on base at a high rate (.368 OBP) and made the most of the hits he did get (.508 Slug%). Burnitz collected 103 hits during the ’91 season, and about 55% of them went for extra bases (31 home runs, 16 doubles, 10 triples). He struck out 127 times, but drew 104 walks, drove in 85 runs, and stole 31 bases.
That season put him on the prospect map; Baseball America named him the 50th-best prospect in all of baseball. He moved on to Triple-A Tidewater for the 1992 season, but didn’t have nearly as much success as he did in Williamsport; the outfielder hit .243/.298/.357 with eight home runs, 40 RBIs, and 30 stolen bases in 445 at-bats. Despite that, Baseball America kept him on their radar, labeling him as the 61st best prospect in the game heading into 1993.
Burnitz split time between Triple-A Norfolk and the big leagues, making his MLB debut with the Mets in June of 1993. He actually wore number five on the back of his uniform, as well. In 86 games played, the left-handed hitter accumulated 306 plate appearances. He posted a .243/.339/.475 slash with 13 home runs, 38 RBIs, 10 doubles, and six triples.
He once again split time between Norfolk and the majors in the strike-shortened season of 1994, but put up a less impressive stat line. He hit .238/.347/.329 with three home runs and 15 RBIs in 168 plate appearances (45 games played). Instead of continuing to give him playing time in the Flushing outfield, he was traded to the Cleveland Indians in November 1994 with Joe Roa in exchange for Paul Byrd, Jerry DiPoto, and Dave Mlicki.
After not much playing time in Cleveland, he was sent to the Milwaukee Brewers on August 31st, 1996 for Kevin Seitzer. The Brew Crew got Burnitz for the prime of his career; in six seasons with Milwaukee, he slashed .258/.362/.508. He enjoyed four 30-homer seasons, three 100 RBIs seasons, and never slugged less than 27 round trippers or drove in less than 85 runs during his time there.
The Mets traded for him in 2002, but his second tour with the Mets wasn’t what former GM Steve Phillips was hoping for. He hit .215/.311/.365 in 2002, and despite returning to form in ’03 (.274/.344/.581 with 18 HR, 45 RBIs), New York traded him to the Los Angeles Dodgers in July for Victor Diaz and Joselo Diaz.
After finishing the season with the Dodgers, Burnitz played three more years, spending one each with the Rockies, Cubs, and Pirates. He finished his 14-year MLB career with a .253/.345/.481 triple slash, including 315 home runs and 981 RBIs.
The way it turned out, the Mets traded him away before he reached the peak of his career, and re-acquired him too late to reap the benefits of his development. I suppose that’s the way the cookie crumbles in baseball on occasion. I hope Jeromy is enjoying his retirement; he currently resides in the San Diego area with his wife and three children.