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Burnette helps team to championship

Chase Burnette’s first spring training is still more than four months away, but he’s already familiar with the Cleveland Indians’ facilities in Arizona.

The former Buford and Georgia Tech slugger just finished up a three-week stint in Goodyear with the Indians’ instructional league program.

The extra baseball was a reward for a solid first season that culminated with a Midwest League championship.

“That was a perfect way to top off my first year,” Burnette, 22, said. “It was a lot of fun and a really cool experience.”

Burnette, an 18th-round draft pick by Cleveland after a breakout junior season this year at Georgia Tech in which he hit .356 with 17 homers, spent most of his first season with Mahoning Valley in the New York-Penn League. But he was promoted to Lake County late in the year and was a key part of that team’s playoff run.

The left-handed hitter batted .308 in 11 postseason games, including a Midwest League semifinal contest in which he hit two homers and a double, driving in four runs.

“The overall competition was a lot tougher in the Midwest League, with more experienced players,” Burnette said of the jump from short-season Class A to full-season Class A. “But I was able to adjust and it ended up working out well.”

Actually, the left-handed hitter was red-hot after starting 1-for-18 with Lake County, which is based in the Cleveland suburbs. He was 4-for-9 with a homer in the final three regular-season games and kept that going in the playoffs.

Lake County, which moved from the South Atlantic League to the Midwest League this year, eliminated West Michigan — featuring former Georgia Tech teammate Tony Plagman of Wesleyan — in the first round and then Great Lakes in the semifinals.

The best-of-five championship series against Clinton was decided in four games, with Burnette going 2-for-3 and scoring twice in the 3-1 clincher for the Captains.

Then Burnette and his wife Caitlin, who is also from Buford, drove directly from Ohio to the Phoenix area, were the instructional league started three days later.

Instructional league play gives players a chance to get in extra games and work on specific things. The Indians divide their program into two sessions, but Burnette took part in both.

Workouts are held in the morning, then games are played in the afternoon following a lunch break. The Indians competed in an eight-team league against other major league organizations with spring training facilities just west of Phoenix. Cleveland shares a new camp in Goodyear with Cincinnati.

“I learned a lot during the season and the instructional league gave me a little more experience,” said Burnette, who hit .274 with eight homers in 64 games for Mahoning Valley before being promoted to Lake County. “I think it will definitely give me a good start going into next year. I’ll know more what to expect.”