Former Maryland right-hander Sean Burke, who pitched for the Terps from 2019-2021 before being drafted by the Chicago White Sox this summer, says aspiring professional ballplayers can find everything they’re looking for in College Park.
This spring, Maryland went 30-18 overall and made it to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2017. The Terps made the tournament in 2014, 2015 and 2017, but head coach John Szefc left Maryland for Virginia Tech after the 2017 season and the stalwarts who made that four-year run possible moved on to pro ball.
Thus, Maryland had to rebuild under a new head coach in Rob Vaughn. The Terps went 24-30 in 2018 and 29-29 in 2019 before going 10-5 in the shortened 2020 season and breaking through this spring. Maryland broke through thanks in no small part to Burke, who posted a 3.27 ERA with 107 strikeouts and 42 walks in 74.1 innings (14 appearances, 13 starts).
Burke was taken in the third round of the 2021 MLB Draft (No. 94 overall) in July. His path to pro ball is one the 6-foot-6, 230-pound right-hander suggests for others as well.
“It’s a Power Five school and it’s a place where you’re going to have an opportunity to develop and you’re going to have an opportunity to grow and play baseball at the highest level,” Burke said of Maryland on Glenn Clark Radio Aug. 9. “I think that’s really all you could ask for at that point. Like you saw this year, we have talent. We’re bringing in more talent. I think what Coach Vaughn is doing over there is building a program to last, and I think you’ll see in the future — the next couple years — that he’ll keep putting out good teams.”
Burke made his pro debut in the Arizona Complex League Aug. 14, so the long trek to the big leagues has begun. Here are the Terps who have made it to the big leagues in recent years:
- Left-handed reliever Adam Kolarek was drafted by the New York Mets in the 11th round of the 2010 draft. He made his debut with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2017, won a World Series ring with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2020 and is now in the Oakland Athletics’ organization. He has posted a 3.65 ERA in 125.2 big-league innings.
- Infielder Brandon Lowe was drafted by the Rays in the third round of the 2015 draft. He has hit .252/.342/.510 with 66 home runs with the Rays from 2018-2021, earning a trip to the All-Star Game in 2019 and finishing eighth in AL MVP voting in 2020.
- Outfielder LaMonte Wade Jr. was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the ninth round of the 2015 draft. He made his major-league debut with the Twins in 2019 but didn’t get an extended look with the club. He’s gotten that opportunity with the San Francisco Giants this year. He is hitting .252/.326/.523 with 15 home runs for the Giants in 2021.
- Right-handed reliever Mike Shawaryn was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the fifth round of the 2016 draft. He made his big-league debut with the Red Sox in 2019, appearing in 14 games that season. He pitched in the Kansas City Royals’ organization earlier this year but is currently a free agent.
- Infielder Kevin Smith was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the fourth round of the 2017 draft. Smith, who has had a productive season with Triple-A Buffalo, made his big-league debut for the Blue Jays on Aug. 18, 2021.
So how does Burke plan on joining the club?
“I think for me right now, I’m just trying to be as consistent as possible with the stuff I have over the next few years, however long it may take to make it to the big leagues,” Burke said. “When I’m ready, I want to get the shot. From there, I just want to win. That’s my big thing. If I can be a successful pitcher and win at the big-league level, that will be something that will fulfill me.”
Burke’s path to pro ball got off to a slow start at Maryland, however. He missed his entire freshman season because he was rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. He then shined in his college debut season in 2020 … only for the season to get shut down after four starts due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But he had a solid year in 2021, setting himself up well for the draft in July. He ended up signing with the White Sox for a reported over-slot bonus of $900,000. He had some leverage because he had three years of eligibility remaining because he redshirted in 2019 and had a free year due to COVID.
“My agent and I, we had some conversations leading up to the draft about what our game plan would be going in,” Burke said. “We were fortunate enough to get the result and get the situation we wanted, but it was a little bit of a stressful week, week and a half leading up to it going into the draft. I’m glad it worked out how it did.”
For more from Burke, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Maryland Athletics