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Jake Burger: Call it a Comeback

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After a stirring climb back up the ranks in 2020, the former first-rounder is poised for his MLB debut

Chicago White Sox v Cleveland Indians
After extensive rehabilitation, Jake Burger is back and proving why he was a first round draft selection
Photo by Ron Vesely/Getty Images

The Chicago White Sox are no stranger to top prospects. Their track record with acquiring and developing quality, young talent over the last five years — whether drafted, traded, or other — is impeccable. Infielders, outfielders, starting pitchers, relief pitchers, utility guys, specialists, you name it and the White Sox have plenty of backstock anywhere on the depth chart, all throughout the organization.

Their efficiency in this department is a refreshing change following years of disappointing prospect after disappointing prospect making their debut in White Sox pinstripes, only to play for a year and never be heard from again. Guys like Lance Broadway, Jared Mitchell, Dylan Axelrod, you know the types. Now, gone are those days of White Sox “top prospects,” as the more recent development style has seen more success than whatever used to go on down in the minor leagues, and it shows no sign of stopping any time soon.

Sox fans have already seen guys like Eloy Jiménez, Michael Kopech, Dylan Cease, and Luis Robert burst onto the scene, immediately making an impact on the big league roster. Among the remaining trade acquisitions and draft picks who are playing for an opportunity to some day wear a White Sox jersey, one of the more intriguing names is third baseman Jake Burger, the first round pick in the 2017 draft.

Burger played college ball as a member of the Missouri State University Bears for three years before entering into the 2017 draft. In a draft class that saw MacKenzie Gore (third overall, San Diego Padres), Brendan McKay (fourth overall, Tampa Bay Rays), Keston Hirua (ninth overall, Milwaukee Brewers), and Jo Adell (10th overall, Angels) already chosen, the White Sox took Burger with the 11th overall pick.

Assigned to the Arizona Rookie League, Burger posted impressive numbers in a partial season and then joined Single-A Kannapolis in late 2017, playing a total of 51 games between the two leagues. The White Sox invited Burger to spring training in 2018, and that’s where his career trajectory took an unexpected turn.

Jake suffered a ruptured left Achilles in early Cactus League play that put an end to his 2018 season, and if that wasn’t bad enough he ruptured the same Achilles just 10 weeks later while walking through his home during his recovery process. Burger spoke very openly of his struggles with depression and anxiety in the midst of being sidelined from the sport that he loved so much — a glimpse into the mental aspect of the sport, something that doesn’t get talked about enough. To go from a Cactus League debut to a twice-ruptured Achilles putting your career in jeopardy is a lot to sit with and work through. Still, Burger was determined to make it back to the field, and make it back he did.

Though the 2020 minor league season was scrapped due to the pandemic, Burger’s rehabilitation process was complete and he was able to play in a collegiate summer league, then join the White Sox alternate training site in Schaumburg and fall instructs back in Arizona. Acknowledging his remarkable progress in 2020, Burger was placed on the White Sox 40-man roster by year’s end.

Jake Burger came into the 2021 campaign as the White Sox 12th-ranked prospect, according to MLB.com’s Jim Callis. Despite not playing in 2019 or 2020, Burger was still ranked among the Top 15 each of those years, and to come into a season ranked 12th in the system after having not played in any pro games for nearly three years speaks to the immense talent and potential of the 25-year-old. Jake started the season assigned to the Triple-A Charlotte Knights.

While the Knights aren’t doing too well overall (a 7-14 record has them in sixth place out of seven teams in their division), Burger is back in full force.

Through the first 18 games, Burger leads the team in extra-base hits (12) and home runs (6), is second in RBIs (15), and third in OPS (.827). If there was any doubt as to whether Burger would be able to play after coming back from his injury, it has been put to rest. Not only is his bat on fire, his glove has been above average, and he’s in great shape.

His biggest problem, though, is that he plays third base.

Obviously the White Sox have Yoán Moncada slotted at the hot corner for the big league ball club, so for Burger to get called up in any instance but injury, there would have to be some positional changes made either in Chicago or in Charlotte. Some people on Twitter have suggested Burger shifts over to second base to start working on his skills there, as apparently Nick Madrigal’s body of work is no longer good enough in their eyes and the Sox need to make a change.

Other people have wondered about Burger’s outfield ability, potentially in left field, which is yet another logjam once Jiménez comes back. As Jiménez is now recovering from his second injury caused by a defensive mishap, it’s conceivable that the White Sox force him into the designated hitter role moving forward, but there are still other options at the big-league level for left field. Andrew Vaughn has proven that his glove is serviceable there, and his bat needs to stay in the lineup.

Some have even suggested moving Moncada back to second base to accommodate Burger, which would then lead to including Madrigal in a trade package for an elite relief pitcher. Moncada has been exceptional at third base since making the transition across the infield, so that one seems to be the most far-fetched of all of the hypothetical scenarios.

Twitter depth chart realigners are entertaining to say the least, but the thing to focus on is that people are trying to find room for Burger because he’s a good ballplayer and he deserves to be on the big league club. Even though the positional changes seem outlandish, they are rooted in doing whatever needs to be done to find a way to get Burger on the White Sox, and that’s the most encouraging part. People are seeing Burger perform well in the minors and they want him in Chicago — even if it means trading Madrigal or moving Moncada back to second base.

Where Burger will fit in on the roster is yet to be seen. If it’s third base, it might not be for the White Sox, and if it’s anywhere else it may take some time adjusting to a new position before he makes it up to Chicago. Jake’s ability at the plate speaks for itself, as it seems like he’s always involved in scoring plays, and he’s put together a few multi-hit games so far this season. The power is there, the defense is there, but the open position waiting at the major league level is the last roadblock in Burger’s journey to the big leagues.

Jake has battled through adversity both on the field and off, and has been a shining example of focus and determination. To recover from his injuries and return to playing at the level he is currently playing at is nothing short of impressive.

Wherever Burger ends up, you can bet that it will be an emotional experience when he jogs out to his position on a major league field for the first time. White Sox fans would love for that moment to happen in Chicago, but I know they will be excited for him regardless of when and where that moment finally does happen.

For now, though, make it out to a Knights game if you can.

The kid is something special.