By Jonathan Hodgson
Colorado Rockies prospect Scott Burcham is enjoying what is likely the highlight of his career to this point.
The Rockies’ farmhand and former West Coast League talent, was the starting shortstop for Israel at the World Baseball Classic.
A native of La Quinta, CA, Scott gained eligibility to play for Israel due to what is termed the ‘law of return’ which grants eligibility for a person of the Jewish religion to become a citizen.
Team Israel was one of the surprising stories of the entire tournament, going undefeated, 3-0, through the first round defeating Korea, as well as the Netherlands, and Chinese Taipei in Pool A play in Seoul, Korea.
Burcham was one of three WCL alums on Israel’s roster. He was joined by right-handed pitcher Gabe Cramer (Bellingham, 2014) and Joey Wagman (Walla Walla, 2010).
Burcham played a starring role in Israel’s tournament-opening win over the host South Korea, which came by a final of 2-1 in ten innings.
The game was tied at one in the top of the tenth with runners on the corners for Israel, bringing up Burcham. On a one ball, two strike pitch, Burcham hit a grounder up the middle that was knocked down by the Korean second baseman who had no play, giving Burcham an RBI infield single, driving in the eventual game-winning run.
They continued that success, pulling off an upset victory, 4-1 over Cuba to open the second round. They would not advance out of the second round however, as they would lose their final two games to finish the second round with a record of 1-2.
2017 will be Burcham’s third professional season after being drafted in 2015, in the 25th round out of Sacramento State. The experience he gained at the WBC is an invaluable experience says Burcham,
“The experience I gained from this event is something I never expected,” he said. “I’m playing with intelligent players who have been around the professional game for a long time. Guys like Ike Davis, Ty Kelly among others have taught me so much in such a short period of time.”
The young infielder also mentioned how much fun he had playing against the Netherlands who feature an infield stocked with established major leaguers. The Netherlands infield includes the likes of Andrelton Simmons (Angels), Xander Bogaerts (Red Sox), Jonathan Schoop (Orioles) and Didi Gregorius (Yankees).
Burcham played for the Boise Hawks (Northwest League, Low-A) in 2015, and in 2016 moved up to the Ashevile Tourists (South Atlantic League, Single-A).
He hit .235 in 2015, playing in 35 games during his first professional season in Boise, and then hit a strong .271 in Asheville last year.
Rewind a few years and you find out that his journey included a stop in the West Coast League.
Scott’s first extended foray out of his home state of California occurred following his freshman year at Sacramento State in 2012, when he ventured north to play his summer season with the WCL’s Kitsap BlueJackets.
Burcham hit .266 in 35 games for the BlueJackets that summer and tied for third on the team with 17 RBIs.
Although the team struggled that season, Scott says it was a cherished experience that he would recommend to other college players.
“(2012) was my first collegiate summer ball experience and although we won only 14 games that year it taught me a lot,” says Burcham. “The league was full of players who I am still competing against at the professional level. It is something that prepares you for pro ball.”
For an indicator of the level of talent showcased in the WCL, you need look no further than the 2012 BlueJackets.
Burcham says he can remember driving to the field every day during his summer in Kitsap with fellow Sacramento State freshman, Rhys Hoskins.
“Those experiences become valuable when living the minor league lifestyle,” says Burcham.
Hoskins came to the WCL as 2012 West Coast Conference freshman of the year, and would go on to hit .237 with three home runs in 24 games. The Phillies drafted him in the fifth round in 2014, and by 2016 he had risen to double-A. Hoskins finished second in all of Minor League Baseball with 38 home runs in 2016, trailing only his Reading Fightin Phils teammate Dylan Cozens who slugged 40.
Now back at Rockies spring training in Arizona, Burcham is likely to begin the 2017 season with the Lancaster JetHawks (California League, Advanced-A) or in Asheville.
The remainder of the eight total WCL alums on 2017 World Baseball Classic rosters include:
* Right-handed pitchers Nick Pivetta (Victoria, 2013) and Jim Henderson (Kelowna, 2002) suited up for Canada. Pivetta started and pitched four innings in Canada’s 4-1 opening round loss against Colombia while Henderson made two appearances out of the bullpen.
* Italy carried WCL alums, pitchers Sam Gaviglio (Corvallis) and A.J. Morris (Moses Lake) while Mexico featured right-hander Treveor Frank (Corvallis, 2012).
The stories of Scott Burcham and his fellow West Coast League alums, illustrate the league’s growing role in nurturing tomorrow’s world and major league stars, today in the ballparks in our own back yard across the Northwest.
ABOUT THE WEST COAST LEAGUE
The West Coast League is the premier summer collegiate baseball league west of the Mississippi. The 13-year-old, 11-team, professionally operated wood-bat league located in the beautiful Pacific Northwest features pro prospects from major conferences across the nation and an unparalleled history out west of great fan and player experiences in addition to the best summer weather in North America. In 2016, 88 players with WCL experience were selected in the MLB June draft, and more than 230 WCL alums appeared in affiliated professional baseball including 28 in the major leagues, such as 2015 home-run leader Chris Davis (Baltimore), 2015 NL Rookie of the Year runner-up Matt Duffy (Tampa Bay) and rising star pitchers Matt Andriese (Tampa Bay), Matt Boyd (Detroit) and James Paxton (Seattle). Overall member attendance was 379,611 this past season.