When it comes to his approach, Connor Burns follows the lead of the best.
The Eau Claire Express slugger heard a line from Atlanta Braves star Freddie Freeman that resonated, and he took it to heart.
“I know a lot of guys like Bryce Harper like to hit a lot of long balls in (batting practice), and I wondered if that was for show or is that just what he does?” Burns said. “And then I heard Freeman do an interview where he said something like, ‘My BP isn’t exciting, but my stats are.’ And that made me want to do my own thing and just focus on having professional rounds of BP. Don’t worry about the long ball, as long as it feels right, that will work.”
He’ll get a chance to put his adopted mentality to the test next week. The Express catcher will compete in the Northwoods League’s Home Run Challenge during the league’s All-Star festivities in Mankato on Monday.
Burns entered Thursday tied for ninth-most home runs in the Northwoods League with four. The power surge earned him a spot with the league’s top sluggers.
The Home Run Challenge will pit nine Great Plains hitters, including Burns, against nine from the Great Lakes. Each player will have two minutes and 30 seconds to hit as many homers as they can, with each pair of back-to-back home runs earning them an additional 30 seconds.
“I just want to have fun,” Burns said. “I won’t change my swing or anything, I’ll just go out there and enjoy it.”
The Express taking batting practice indoors before home games, but are outdoors on the road. That means Burns has plenty of experience launching the ball with a wood bat in a stadium setting.
This time, there will be many more eyes on him.
“I don’t think there’s much preparation involved,” Burns said. “Mostly I’m just going to stay with what I know and not try to do too much. I’ll have fun with it, but then right afterward I’ll be ready to get back right into grinding the rest of the season.”
Power wasn’t always part of the soon-to-be Long Beach State sophomore’s game. It developed toward the end of his high school career and early in college.
Burns hit four homers as a high school senior, and bashed three in 29 games this season for Long Beach State. A change in mentality helped him connect with more balls and drive them farther than before.
“My hitting coach (at Long Beach State) has been a huge help,” Burns said. “A big part of it has been the mental aspect. I feel like sometimes where I get in trouble is not attacking in plus-counts where I’m ahead, missing the pitch I should be hitting. Then I get into a defensive mode instead of staying on the attack to try to do some damage, so we’ve worked on that.”
That showed in his first nine games with Eau Claire. He sent two balls over the fence in that span to make an early impression.
“He’s everything you look for in a young catcher,” Long Beach State coach Eric Valenzuela told the Long Beach Press-Telegram prior to last season. “I tell people this a lot — he looks like how Buster Posey would have looked like as a freshman in college. He’s like 6-2, 6-3, he’s like 190.
“He can really defend already at a young age, he can really throw and he hits. He has more home runs in these four weeks of practice than anybody else on our team and he’s a true freshman.”
Burns was named a Northwoods League All-Star last week.
He is the first to admit he could take things up a notch this summer — hit batting average with the Express sat at .184 entering Thursday — but his power makes him a threat every time he steps to the plate.
“I’m still not in the best state of hitting that I could be. Batting average is a little low, too many strikeouts,” Burns said. “But I’m starting to feel more comfortable and I’m able to be a little more damaging at the plate, which is pretty cool.”