Jimmy Burnette headed to the University of Illinois two years ago as a prospect with a ton of talent and potential.
A late bloomer as a pitcher, the St. Laurence High School alumnus didn’t have much wear and tear on his left arm, but the stigma was still there.
As Burnette said, he was “an outfielder who pitched.”
So began many long hours working to become a standout pitcher.
The road continues for Burnette, who was named a Northwoods League All-Star recently for his strong first-half performance with the Rockford Rivets.
Burnette is heading into his junior season at the University of Illinois.
“In high school, I was a fastball pitcher. I’d try and throw as hard as I can past batters,” Burnette said. “Now, it’s pitching, not throwing. I’ve got some breaking pitches, some off-speed, so I can mix in different pitches. I’m feeling more confident in myself.”
Burnette, a Beverly resident, attended St. John Fisher Elementary School, played for Ridge-Beverly baseball and graduated from St. Laurence in 2017.
One of the top collegiate summer leagues in the country, the Northwoods League features 22 teams from Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Wisconsin and Ontario.
Helping the Rivets to a second-place finish in the standings through the first half of the year, Burnette was a go-to starter on the mound. In 34 innings, the 6’2” southpaw posted a 3.07 ERA with 43 strikeouts.
“It was really special to be named an All-Star and get recognized for what you’re doing,” Burnette said. “Showing what I can do as a pitcher, I’m hoping I can carry it over back at Illinois.”
Named to the Great Lakes All-Star team, Burnette helped the squad to an exciting 5-2 victory on July 16 in Rochester, Minn., over the Great Plains All-Stars.
Entering the game in the fifth, Burnette inherited a 1-out, 2-runners-on situation but pitched out of the jam, stranding 3 runners.
“The coaches said each pitcher after the starter gets 2 outs, sorry if it’s a bad situation,” Burnette said with a laugh. “It was pretty cool with a lot of adrenaline. I was sweating so bad I could barely feel the ball. It’s a cool moment to look around, see all those different jerseys and be a part of it.”
The Northwoods schedule continues into mid-August with the playoffs wrapping up on Aug. 17. The Rivets are chasing a playoff spot with two-plus weeks remaining.
Following his busy summer, Burnette will head back this fall to Illinois for his junior season.
The Illini finished 36-21 this past spring, advancing to a NCAA regional.
For Burnette, playing time was limited as he appeared in 4 games, all in relief, throwing just 2.1 innings.
In two years with at Illinois, he’s pitched in 12 games (8.1 innings) but has tried to make the best of it.
“It’s tough because I’m a competitor. I want to be on the field,” Burnette said. “You realize guys are going to get the job done. You trust your teammates and try to be a good teammate.”
With Illinois losing talent to graduation and the MLB Draft, a new wave of players needs to step up.
Burnette said this season could be his chance.
“I want to work and earn whatever I can get and help the team,” Burnette said. “It was good we made the regional [last year], but we want to take the next step. For me, I’m still learning. You never stop learning with this game.”