The Chicago White Sox selected Maryland right-hander Sean Burke in the third round (94th overall) of the MLB Draft on Monday. The rising junior was the first Terrapin taken in the 2021 MLB Draft.
The Sutton, Mass. native went undrafted out of St. John’s High School in 2018 and chose Maryland over various Power Five schools such as Virginia and Boston College. Burke’s time in College Park got off to a rough start when the righty missed his freshman year while recovering from Tommy John surgery.
When Burke finally returned to the hill, he shined. He made four starts and led the team in multiple pitching categories, including innings pitched, ERA and strikeouts. His 35 strikeouts ranked first among freshmen in Division I. Burke credited Tommy John surgery for his success in 2020.
“Obviously, at the time, I was upset that it happened,” Burke said in an interview with Baseball Prospect Journal prior to the 2021 season, “But because of that, I don’t think I would be where I’m at today if it wasn’t for that surgery,” he said.
The Perfect Game Preseason Big Ten Pitcher of the Year picked up where he left off to begin the 2021 campaign, striking out 13 Spartans in six innings at Michigan State on Opening Day. Three weeks later, the imposing right-hander, who stands in at 6-foot-6 and 230 pounds, recorded 11 strikeouts and allowed one earned run against Iowa.
He pitched his best down the stretch, striking out 12 and taking a no-hitter deep into the seventh inning against Indiana in the final regular-season series of the year. With the Terps’ season on the line, Burke stepped up once again, tossing six scoreless frames and striking out eight against Norfolk State in the NCAA Tournament.
He finished the year with 107 strikeouts, which ranked second in the Big Ten and sixth-most in program history. His 12.96 strikeouts per nine innings was the fourth-best mark in Terrapin history and he finished third among starters in the conference with a .178 batting average against.
The right-hander boasts a four-seam fastball, changeup, curveball and slider from a three-quarters arm slot, which he added last offseason. He relies primarily on his fastball and curveball, which he experimented with prior to the 2021 season and changed his grip from the traditional grip to a knuckle curveball grip.
Burke’s fastball sits in the 92-95 mph range and elevates up in the zone, which prompted his high strikeout rates. His secondary pitches have led to inconsistency, with some scouts wishing he would choose between his curve and slider. His command is also an issue, as he walked five or more batters three times in 14 appearances last season.
Some scouts envision Burke moving into a relief role due to his fastball-breaking ball combination if he struggles as a starter at the professional level.
It is unknown whether Burke will sign a contract with the White Sox or return to College Park in the fall.