GREENVILLE – Alec Burleson did it all on the diamond for the East Lincoln Mustangs, and now he’s become one of the best two-way players in the country in two seasons with the East Carolina Pirates.
“It’s definitely been different,” Burleson said of his collegiate baseball experience. “There’s a lot more on my plate, especially with academics, and then obviously there’s the baseball side of things. It’s a challenge trying to balance those things and then perform on the field, but luckily I’ve had my coaches pushing me and my academic advisors helping show me the way. The older guys on the team have been great too, but you have to do a lot of it on your own, so you have to be able to manage your time responsibly.”
Burleson starred for the Mustangs, batting .429 with 3 home runs and 23 RBIs in 25 games as a senior. He was also stellar on the mound, racking up four wins with a miniscule 0.45 earned-run average (ERA) and 53 strikeouts despite pitching in just seven games after recovering from a partially torn rotator cuff.
“I wanted to keep hitting and pitching, so that was a big thing for me during my recruitment,” he said. “I felt like Coach (Cliff) Godwin at East Carolina would give me the best opportunity to do both. He didn’t guarantee that I would pitch and hit, but he said I’d be given the chance to prove that I could do both at this level, and that’s a big reason why I chose East Carolina.”
Two-way players aren’t uncommon in high school, but they’re more of a rarity at the collegiate level.
“It’s definitely a challenge working on both aspects of my game,” Burleson said. “That’s especially true in the weight room, where I’ve gotta watch what I’m doing when I know I have to pitch soon, while still staying strong enough to hit the ball in the gaps with power. Again, it’s all about time management and making sure I get in early to work on my pitching before I have to put in work with the position players.”
Burleson hit the ground running at East Carolina, earning Collegiate Baseball First-Team Freshman All-America honors in 2018.
Burleson started and finished games in 19 appearances on the mound as a freshman, posting a 5-2 record with a 3.33 ERA and 4 saves en route to being named the American Athletic Conference Rookie Pitcher of the Year.
While his .252 batting average and 18 RBIs were nothing to scoff at, especially for a freshman, the staff at East Carolina decided to limit his pitching during the offseason so he could focus on his approach at the plate.
“Coach Godwin actually shut me down in the fall prior to my sophomore season, so I didn’t pitch at all, which allowed me to focus on my defense and my swing,” Burleson said.
The results were immediate, with Burleson leading the team with a .370 batting average, 32 extra-base hits and 61 RBIs last season.
“I have to give credit to my coaches for giving me the opportunity to focus on the areas of my game that needed the most work,” he said.
While his primary focus shifted to hitting and fielding, Burleson continued to excel as a pitcher, winning 6 games on the mound and saving 5 others in 2019. He lowered his ERA to 3.28 and recorded 68 strikeouts in 60.1 innings of work, which included nine starts in 24 appearances.
Now with the batting numbers to match his work on the mound, Burleson was recognized as a Collegiate Baseball First-Team All-American following his sophomore season with the Pirates. His breakout season also secured his spot on the 2019 USA Baseball Collegiate National Team.
“It’s been great,” Burleson said of his experience with USA baseball. “I’ve been here for about a week now and I’ve already started building relationships with some of the other guys on the team. It’s just a cool opportunity to be able to wear ‘USA’ across your chest while playing in other countries to represent and showcase what we’re all about.”
Burleson and Team USA are in the midst of a five-game series against Cuba, which is scheduled to wrap up Saturday, July 6, at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. From there, the team will travel to Taiwan and Japan.