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White Sox Deep Dive: Birmingham and Charlotte Third Basemen

Jake Burger, with a full season now under his belt, leads this class of otherwise versatile glove-men.

MLB: Houston Astros at Chicago White Sox
Jake Burger was the feel-good story of the year for the White Sox in 2021.
Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

“Deep Dive” focuses on the depth of each position in the Chicago White Sox organization.

Welcome to another year of Deep Dive, where we analyze the past, present and future for each position in the White Sox organization. Each position is broken into five parts:

  1. Depth in the rookie levels (Dominican through Arizona)
  2. Depth in A-ball (Kannapolis and Winston-Salem)
  3. Depth in the higher levels (Birmingham and Charlotte)
  4. Under the Radar-type detail on a White Sox player
  5. Free agent options

For position players, third base is arguably the strongest in the system, with the possible exception of shortstop. With three players ranked in the organization’s Top 10 per MLB Pipeline, and another in the Top 30, the hot corner is definitely well-covered.

Below are those players who finished the year in Charlotte and Birmingham who primarily played third base.

Ages below are as of April 1, 2022

Charlotte Knights

Jake Burger
230 pounds
Age: 25
Bats/Throws: R/R
Other positions played: 2B
2018 SSS Top Prospect Ranking: 8
2019 SSS Top Prospect Ranking: 9
2020 SSS Top Prospect Ranking: 25
2021 SSS Top Prospect Ranking: 17

After a good freshman season with Missouri State, Burger really tore up the Missouri Valley Conference during his final two years. As a sophomore in 2016, he slashed .349/.420/.689 in 56 games with 13 doubles, two triples, 21 homers, 72 RBIs, three stolen bases, 23 walks (8.6%) and 35 strikeouts (13.0%). His junior year was as good as his sophomore one, as he slashed .328/.443/.668 in 63 games with 13 doubles, 22 homers, 65 RBIs, three stolen bases, 43 walks (14.1%) and 38 strikeouts (12.5%). With the White Sox needing third base help, the White Sox selected Burger with the 11th overall pick in the 2017 draft.

Burger struggled a bit during his 2017 stints with the AZL squad and Kannapolis. In 51 combined games with both teams, he combined to slash .263/.336/.412 with 10 doubles, two triples, five homers, 29 RBIs, 14 walks (6.5%) and 30 strikeouts (13.8%). Burger likely was battling a little fatigue, as this would’ve been his longest baseball season to date.

Then the injuries began.

Burger tore his Achilles while running to first base during a spring training game in February 2018. He re-tore the same tendon 10 weeks after the initial injury while walking in his backyard, which caused him to miss not only the entire 2018 season but much of 2019 as well. Then, to add injury to insult, Burger severely bruised his heel during his rehab — ultimately derailing any chance of playing time in 2019. He did see action last year in the CarShield Collegiate League and at Chicago’s alternate site and instructional league program.

After more than 42 months since his last minor league game, Burger finally took the field for the Charlotte Knights — a big step up from Single-A Kannapolis. Despite that layoff, Burger thrived and didn’t seem to miss a beat. In 82 games totaling 310 at-bats for the Knights, he slashed .274/.332/.513 with 16 doubles, two doubles, 18 homers, 54 RBIs, 24 walks (7.1%) and 91 strikeouts (26.8%). His numbers would have even better if not for a season-ending slump over his last 36 games, when Burger hit just .211. No doubt, the fact that this was by far his longest season played a major role in the slump. A larger factor, however, was that he was placed on the injured list on August 4 due to a hand injury. While he played through it when he returned two weeks later, his results waned. Needless to say, any type of hand injury can affect a hitter’s swing and rhythm.

In-between stints with Charlotte, Burger finally received the ultimate call-up to the big leagues on July 2, and stayed on the roster for nearly four weeks. In 15 games for the Sox totaling 42 at-bats, Burger slashed a respectable .263/.333/.474 with three doubles, a triple, a homer, four walks (9.5%) and 15 strikeouts (35.7%). He handled all balls that were hit his way during his short time at third base. Due to his short stay in the majors, he still retains his rookie eligibility.

Burger now ranks third among White Sox prospects and first among the team’s third base prospects per MLB. And the Pipeline still gives him 55 grades for power and throwing arm, with respectable 50 grades for his hitting and fielding and running tools; his running tool is unsurprisingly his lowest grade at 45. He only committed 10 errors at third base in 2021, which isn’t bad at all considering his rustiness.

Where does Burger go from here? He appears blocked in the majors at third base by Yoán Moncada, while a multitude of players (Andrew Vaughn, Gavin Sheets, Yasmani Grandal, José Abreu and Eloy Jiménez) seem poised to share DH responsibilities for the time being. Thus, it appears that Burger will be minor league depth for the Sox unless he can somehow pull a Yermín Mercedes and force himself into the DH role during spring training.

Laz Rivera
185 pounds
Age: 27
Bats/Throws: R/R
Other positions played: 2B, SS
2018 SSS Top Prospect Ranking: 37
2019 SSS Top Prospect Ranking: 21
2020 SSS Top Prospect Ranking: 59
2021 SSS Top Prospect Ranking: 60

After a college career that spanned three years with different levels (University of Miami, Chipola JC and Div. II University of Tampa), Rivera was selected by the White Sox in the 28th round of the 2017 draft. He was immediately inserted into the AZL lineup, where he slashed .296/.374/.446 in 47 games with 12 doubles, five triples, two homers, 24 RBIs, three stolen bases, eight walks (3.8%) and 26 strikeouts (12.2%).

Rivera enjoyed a breakthrough season in 2018. In his 63 games with Kannapolis, he slashed an impressive .346/.395/.502 with 15 doubles, two triples, six homers, 24 RBIs, seven stolen bases, six walks (2.3%) and 48 strikeouts (18.1%). While not as sensational, Rivera performed quite well for Winston-Salem in 61 games by slashing .280/.325/.458 with 15 doubles, two triples, seven homers, 37 RBIs, 10 stolen bases, seven walks and 44 strikeouts. Overall, Rivera finished 2018 with a terrific slash line of .314/.361/.481.

Baseball America said of him at the end of 2018, “He is part of the new breed of infield prospect who hits first and asks questions later, a la Brandon Lowe and Nick Solak with the Rays. He brings above-average bat speed and a short path to the ball, which he used to post excellent numbers at both Class A levels. He’s an aggressive hitter who crushes fastballs but needs to work on not chasing offspeed pitches. He played almost exclusively at shortstop, though his 40-grade arm profiles better at second base.”

Of course, as with nearly every Sox hitter not named Luis Robert, Nick Madrigal or Yermín Mercedes, Rivera struggled big-time with Birmingham in 2019. In 121 games totaling 424 at-bats, Rivera slashed just .248/.287/.318 with 22 doubles, one triple, two homers, 39 RBIs, 10 stolen bases, 17 walks (3.7%) and 81 strikeouts (17.8%). A former organizational Top 30 prospect, Rivera has fallen off most lists due to his lackluster offensive performance that year. And he didn’t get an opportunity to redeem himself in 2020 due to the pandemic.

The 2021 season saw a resurgence of sorts for Rivera. In 47 games for Birmingham, he slashed a respectable .259/.322/.411 in 47 games with seven doubles, five homers, nine stolen bases, nine walks (5.2%), 41 strikeouts (23.6%) and 104 wRC+. After receiving his long-awaited promotion to Charlotte, he performed even better by hitting .317/.369/.483 in 18 games with four doubles, two homers, three walks (4.6%), 14 strikeouts (21.5%) and an impressive 130 wRC+. For the year, he slashed .275/.335/.441 with 11 doubles, seven homers, 35 RBIs, 12 walks (5.0%) and 55 strikeouts (23.0%). Rivera played quality defense at all three positions he played this year, but his range factor indicates he’s actually a more adept second baseman.

At age 27, Rivera’s considered old for a prospect but may have some use as a utility infielder at the major league level. He likely won’t get the first call-up next year, but if he gets off to a blazing start at Charlotte and injuries impact the major league roster, Rivera’s name would be one that would be strongly considered — at least on a short-term basis. Of course, other guys who fit that role are Danny Mendick and Romy González, who are both already on the 40-man roster.

Rivera will be eligible for the upcoming Rule 5 draft.

Ruben Tejada
200 pounds
Age: 32
Bats/Throws: R/R
Other positions played: SS, 2B

On July 11, 2006, less than a year after the White Sox won their last World Series, the New York Mets came to terms with 16-year-old Panamanian free agent, Ruben Tejada. He quickly worked his way up through their system, making his major league debut in 2010, at the tender age of 20. Unsurprisingly, he struggled that year with the Mets by slashing just .213/.305/.282 in 78 games. Ultimately, Tejada played six years for the Mets (including their 2015 World Series squad); his career-best season was in 2011 when he posted a 2.1 bWAR by slashing .284/.360/.335 with 15 doubles, 35 walks and just 50 strikeouts in 96 games.

Since leaving the Mets as a free agent in 2016, Tejada has bounced around the majors and minors as a versatile utility infielder, with little power but a good glove. The 2016 season saw him split time between the St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants, while 2017 found him playing for the New York Yankees’ minor league system and the Baltimore Orioles. Other than a brief six-game stint with a return appearance for the in 2019 Mets, Tejada hasn’t played in the majors since 2017.

The 2020 season saw Tejada spend time with the Toronto Blue Jays at their alternate training site, while he began this year with the Philadelphia Phillies’ Triple-A squad at Lehigh Valley. After being cut in late August, the Sox signed him to a minor league deal on September 3. In eight games for Charlotte spanning 28 at-bats, Tejada slashed .250/.300/.357.

Over a nine-year major league career, he’s posted a career bWAR of 4.5 by slashing .250/.324/.317 with 10 round-trippers in 663 games. Tejada primarily serves as minor league depth that can play the middle infield and the hot corner if recalled to the majors. If that happens in 2022, it may not be with the Sox, as Tejada opted for minor league free agency on November 7.

Birmingham Barons

J.J. Muno
190 pounds
Age: 28
Bats/Throws: L/R
Other positions played: 2B, SS, LF

Muno is the younger brother of former White Sox farmhand Danny Muno. After redshirting his freshman year with UC-Santa Barbara, he played three years for the Gauchos. Muno’s best year was as a redshirt sophomore, when he slashed .294/.370/.450 with five homers and 17 stolen bases in 64 games. He slumped the next year, however, as he slashed just .246/.333/.342 with three homers and 14 stolen bases in 55 games. The White Sox liked his versatility enough, however, to select him in the 27th round of the 2017 draft. That year, he split time with the AZL squad and Great Falls as he hit a solid .294/.415/.422 in 38 games.

The 2018 season saw Muno play for Kannapolis, Winston-Salem and Birmingham, where he combined to slash just .224/.300/.296 over 38 games. In 2019, he saw much more playing time, exclusively for the Dash. For the year, he hit .238/.351/.377 with seven doubles, six triples, four homers, 34 RBIs, 14 stolen bases, 31 walks (11.5%) and 55 strikeouts (20.4%). He, like most minor leaguers, missed the 2020 season due to the pandemic.

Spending the entire year with Birmingham this year in his typical role of jack-of-all-trades, Muno slashed .210/.336/.355 for the Barons in 63 games with five doubles, two triples, a career-high six homers, 26 RBIs, 19 walks (8.4%), 64 strikeouts (28.3%) and 100 wRC+. In addition to his 29 games at the hot corner, Muno also spent significant time elsewhere in the diamond. He even hurled two scoreless innings for the Barons.

Muno is valuable as an organizational depth piece, as he’s played all positions on the diamond except catcher, and has kept his errors to a minimum. He’s the classic utility player, as he can do a lot of little things well but nothing exceptionally. Muno will likely split time between Charlotte and Birmingham in 2022. Like Rivera, Muno is eligible for the upcoming Rule 5 Draft.