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Homecoming boost: Former East Lincoln standout Alec Burleson enjoys trip to Charlotte

By Richard Walker

When Alec Burleson was helping lead the East Lincoln High baseball program to four straight state playoff appearances as a standout pitcher and hitter, he dreamed of making the major leagues.

Memphis Redbirds outfielder Alec Burleson in Charlotte last week. [Laura Wolff/Charlotte Knights]
Now in his third year as a professional in the St. Louis Cardinals’ organization, Burleson is one step away as a top hitter for the Class AAA International League Memphis Redbirds and one of the franchise’s top prospects.

Last week, Burleson had a homecoming trip as he and the Redbirds split a six-game series against the Charlotte Knights at Truist Field in Charlotte; Burleson had two home runs and six RBIs in an 18-14, 11-inning victory last Wednesday.

“It’s been great to be home,” Burleson said on Sunday during the Redbirds’ last day of the trip to Charlotte. “A lot of people came over. It’s been great seeing those guys and being home and playing in front of them.”

His friends from nearby Denver are hoping Burleson’s meteoric rise through the Cardinals’ farm system will soon make him the third Lincoln County product to advance to the major leagues; Only old Rock Springs High star Tony Cloninger (1961 debut) and Lincolnton multi-sport standout Richard Smith (1969) are the previous Lincoln County products to have played in the major leagues.

“I’ve always flown under the radar,” said Burleson, ranked No. 9 prospect in the Cardinals’ organization by prospects1500.com and No. 10 by prospectslive.com and mlb.com. “I always take the same mentality no matter people are saying. Just staying humble and taking care of my business. I can’t worry about things I can’t control.”

What Burleson has controlled is making the most of his opportunities.

After helping lead East Lincoln to 63 victories, including five playoff wins, in his four-year career as a Mustangs’ pitching and hitting standout, he did the same at East Carolina for three seasons.

Burleson hit .341 with 12 home runs and 91 RBIs in 130 games (114 starts) while going 13-5 with nine saves and a 3.47 ERA in 47 appearances (21 starts) as a pitcher for the Pirates in his three-year career shortened in 2020 by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Eligible to be drafted, Burleston was selected by the Cardinals in the second round of the 2020 draft even as the pandemic cancelled all minor league baseball that summer.

So while Burleson trained and worked out at St. Louis’ training facility, he expected 2021 would simply mean getting acclimated to professional baseball.

Instead, the power-hitting outfielder raced through the Cardinals’ organization – hitting .286 with four home runs and 10 RBIs for Class A Peoria, hitting .288 with 14 home runs and 44 RBIs in 63 games for Class AA Springfield and hitting .234 with four home runs and 22 RBIs in 45 games for Class AAA Memphis.

“Last year, it was definitely fast-paced and not what I expected,” said Burleson, who actually spent time with the Cardinals’ major league team in 2022 spring training before being placed on the Memphis roster. “Starting this season at the highest level of the minor leagues, I’ve been taking what I learned and trying to be more comfortable.”

On the way, Burleson met another local product – Gardner-Webb’s Chandler Redmond – when the two were playing in Springfield.

“I remember the first day seeing him and he had a Gardner-Webb polo shirt on and that kind of sparked a conversation,” Burleson said. “He’s a great guy.”

Based on Burleson’s current production, many think he could be an in-season major league call-up this season.

“Last year was a whirlwind and my goals changed during the year,” Burleson said. “I thought I’d be in High-A and start the next year in Double-A. But it was faster than that. I wouldn’t trade it for anything and I’m just grateful for the opportunity.”

Burleson is one of eight Cleveland, Gaston and Lincoln country products currently active in professional baseball. Here are updates on the others:

Former Gardner-Webb and Belmont Abbey baseball standout Emilio Pagan is 0-1 with a 3.00 ERA in three appearances for the Minnesota Twins.

Jeffrey Springs (South Point 2011 graduate) is 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA in five appearances for the Tampa Bay Rays.

Will Wilson (Kings Mountain 2016 graduate) is hitting .250 with one home run and one RBI in seven games for the Class AA Eastern League Richmond Flying Squirrels of the San Francisco Giants’ organization.

Tyler White (former Gastonia Post 23 Legion, Gastonia Grizzlies player) is hitting .211 with two home runs and two RBIs in six games for the Class AAA International League Nashville Sounds of the Milwaukee Brewers’ organization.

Garrett Davila (South Point 2015 graduate) is 0-0 with 6.00 ERA in two appearances for the Class AA Southern League Birmingham Barons of the Chicago White Sox organization.

Mason Fox (former Gardner-Webb player) is 0-0 with one save and a 2.25 ERA in three appearances for the Class A Midwest League Fort Wayne Tin Caps of the San Diego Padres’ organization.

And Chandler Redmond (former Gardner-Webb player) is hitting .138 with five RBIs in seven games for the Class AA Texas League Springfield Cardinals of the St. Louis Cardinals’ organization.