Lookouts' third-year trio eager to achieve

Lookouts' third-year trio eager to achieve

April 6th, 2017 by David Paschall in Sports - Professional

Chattanooga Lookouts second baseman Levi Michael tags the Jackson Generals' Brock Hebert during a game at AT&T Field last season. Michael, relief pitcher Nick Burdi and outfielder Travis Harrison begin their third season with the Lookouts tonight.

Photo by Angela Lewis Foster /Times Free Press.

By simply reaching the Double-A level, members of the 2017 Chattanooga Lookouts already have accomplished more than the majority of professional baseball players.

That feat is not lost on a trio of Lookouts entering a third season in Chattanooga: relief pitcher Nick Burdi, outfielder Travis Harrison and second baseman Levi Michael.

"I'm just happy to be out here," Burdi said. "I had a bunch of injuries last year and really didn't even play at all, and I kind of take this as another chance in Chattanooga to kind of finish up where I left off in 2015. It should be a fun team to be on."

The Lookouts open their 2017 season, their third as an affiliate of the Minnesota Twins, at 6:15 tonight against Mobile at AT&T Field.

Burdi arrived in Chattanooga two years ago as Baseball America's No. 7 organizational prospect, but he scuffled out of the gate that season, posting a 5.93 ERA in 22 appearances before being sent down to Fort Myers of the high Single-A Florida State League on June 30. He regrouped and was sent back to Chattanooga on Aug. 13 and fared much better, capping that year by pitching eight scoreless innings for Scottsdale in the Arizona Fall League.

Baseball America ranked Burdi as Minnesota's No. 10 prospect entering last season, which for him consisted of only three innings pitched due to recurring elbow problems.

"Health is a concern with him, and it has been," Chattanooga first-year manager Jake Mauer said. "He looks healthy and looked really good in spring training, which was nice to see. For him, it's just getting the innings and getting the experience under his belt. The stuff is there. You can see it, and you can hear it a lot of times.

"He can light up a gun, and now it's just a matter of taking his stuff and becoming a more complete pitcher."

The 24-year-old Burdi no longer appears on Minnesota's top-10 list, but the 2014 second-round pick out of Louisville remains very valuable. After all, it's not just anybody who can get clocked throwing 103 mph, which Burdi reportedly did four years ago in the Cape Cod League.

"It doesn't really feel any different from throwing 98 or 100," Burdi said. "It all kind of feels the same coming out."

Harrison is the most familiar face to Lookouts fans entering his third year, having played in 235 games the past two seasons. The 24-year-old hit .240 with 54 RBIs two seasons ago and couldn't quite match that last year, hitting .230 with 52 RBIs.

The 26-year-old Michael hit .267 in 63 games for the 2015 Lookouts, but his average dipped to .215 in 96 games last season.

"Obviously we're still trying to get to the big leagues," Harrison said. "I made a good run for it in spring training and didn't quite get there, so I am just looking to come here and show what I can do and show the things I've improved on. I want to help the team win, because if you do that, usually good things will happen."

This is a monstrous season for Burdi, Harrison and Michael in terms of development. It's rare for players to start three consecutive seasons at the same level, and it's incredibly rare when it becomes four straight.

All three can build on past experiences with the Lookouts, with Burdi simply wanting a healthier year after what transpired last season.

"Really, it was one healthy inning," Burdi said. "This is the best I've felt going into any season, and I think it's nice being in Chattanooga and already knowing the league and the surroundings. It will give me a little better feel of what's to come during the season."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.