Kyler Burke is in Daytona. Again.
His professional baseball career has taken a 180-degree turn, though, from his Florida stop in 2010.
The Ooltewah High School alumnus is throwing rather than swinging at the baseball and has forgotten much of that previous trip as a strikeout victim -- 131 times -- when he hit a dismal .212 in 135 games as an outfielder.
"There is a big change in addition to being on a different team," Burke said Monday afternoon. "You're starting every fifth day and you have four days to regroup between starts. It isn't like I'm idle, though, when I'm not pitching. You actually put in most of your work between starts."
Burke was the Chicago Cubs' minor league player of the year in 2009 when he hit .303 with 15 homers and 89 RBIs for the Peoria (Ill.) Chiefs. When he left Peoria about two weeks ago, the left-hander had a 2-2 record with a save, a hold and a very respectable 2.31 earned run average.
The Cubs suggested after 2010 that he try pitching, at which he excelled along with hitting in high school, and he spent part of 2011 in extended spring training and then transitioned to Boise, Idaho, as a left-handed reliever. Early in the season this year at Peoria, though, they moved him into a starting role and then promoted him from the Low-A Midwest League team to Daytona of the High-A Florida State League.
"It's like they said, 'All right, you got your feet wet. Now it's time to start doing something,'" he said. "The whole purpose of last year was to get acclimated, and I've had some success although I'm still trying to figure out what I'm doing. I try to learn something new every day."
Burke his throwing in the low to mid-90s and has added a 12-to-6 curveball and a changeup to his repertoire.
His previous pro experiences have been beneficial.
"I try to use that knowledge gained as a hitter," he said, "and it has given me a jumpstart on most pitchers because they haven't been through that, and I've learned that it isn't always about how hard you throw, but throwing quality pitches and setting up hitters."
There are still challenges, though. He is behind the curve in some ways because he was away from pitching while his peers were throwing once or twice a week while he was still hammering at pitchers' offerings.
"The biggest challenge comes with still getting to know my arm, how to take care of it, how to stay strong the whole season and finding ways to compete on those days when you aren't feeling so good," he said.
He doesn't regret any of the roller coaster that has been his professional career -- from being selected with the 35th pick of the 2006 draft by the San Diego Padres, through his centerpiece role of a 2007 trade that took him to the Cubs in exchange for catcher Michael Barrett and stops at Boise, Peoria and Daytona as first a hitter and now as a pitcher.
"I've definitely had ups and downs and I think a lot of that is being a high school pick," he said. "It was tough early. There were all kinds of challenges, both mentally and physically, but I wouldn't trade any of it.
"There are days when I miss hitting, but the whole pitching thing has been good for me. I'm definitely happy with the way things have gone. It's been a learning process, but it has gotten me where I am now."
Contact Ward Gossett at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-886-4765.
Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...