Yesterday evening the White Sox selected 21-year-old third baseman Jake Burger out of Missouri State University. This time of year, people – many with very little actual baseball knowledge, let alone scouting knowledge – come out of the woodwork to criticize or praise the selection of players that they had never heard of a week before. I like to think that my baseball background as a player and coach enables me to make a somewhat educated assessment of draft picks. That being said, I trust Rick Hahn and his scouting department to know better than anyone what is best for the organization. However, that will not stop me from adding fuel to the fire and adding my thoughts about this pick and what it means for the Sox organization going forward.
First things first: I love this pick. There are concerns, but the good definitely outweighs the bad with Burger. He is an experienced Division 1 college hitter, having played three years at Missouri State under veteran head coach Keith Gutten. During his time at MSU, Burger slashed an outstanding .339/.420/.620 with 47 HR and 179 RBI. He hit 21 HR in 2016, and followed that with a 22 HR in 2017. Clearly this guy knows how to hit. Another encouraging statistic is the fact that he went from 23 walks and 35 strikeouts in 2016 to 43 walks and 38 strikeouts in 2017. This shows that he made an adjustment to be more patient at the plate, even as teams (especially within his conference) obtained increasingly detailed scouting reports. Personally, I put a lot of weight into college statistics, since they show an ability to make adjustments against high-level competition.
That being said, statistics alone are not enough to fully analyze a prospect. Body type, bat speed, foot speed, fielding, arm, and leadership/personal skills are also extremely important when evaluating talent. There is some concern about some of Burger’s non-hitting tools. He is not the fastest player around. However, I am having trouble figuring out why the fact that a power-hitting corner infielder possesses only average speed is a concern. All scouting reports that I have seen, along with video, give me the impression that Burger is an above-average defender. He does not have any obvious character flaws, and leading his team to a 43-20 record suggests solid leadership skills.
Being a developed college hitter will allow Burger to get on the fast-track to the MLB. If everything goes well, we can expect to see Burger in a Sox uniform either late in 2018 but more likely in 2019 – just in time for the end of the rebuild. The Sox have a farm system that is overflowing with pitching talent, but is a bit thin on position players. The selection of Burger, along with the second round selection of fellow college power hitter Gavin Sheets out of Wake Forest, are significant strides in addressing this issue.
Another plus: Burger, from just outside of St. Louis, apparently grew up a Sox fan and idolized Paul Konerko.
Burger does not have a body type that screams “elite athlete.” He is a little heavier, and, as mentioned before, this slows him down a bit. However, many high-level power hitters are, and historically have been, a bit on the heavier side. He looks and plays somewhat unorthodox, leading some scouts to compare him to Hunter Pence for his ability to produce at a high level using unconventional methods. Some scouts have also said that his bat speed is a bit slow, but that his raw power makes up for it. Burger did not hit any home runs while playing for the USA College National Team last summer, which is a bit concerning. Did the less forgiving, usually heavier wood bats exploit underlying flaws in Burger’s swing? This is a possibility, but also something that professional coaches can likely fix. It is also possible that it will simply take some time to adjust to the different bats and find something that works for him, since the talent is clearly present.
Another concern that I have, unrelated to Burger’s actual talent, is what his selection means for the organization’s plans going forward. Todd Frazier will almost surely be gone by next season. Matt Davidson is putting together a decent year, but it is still unlikely that he will be an impact player going forward. My biggest concern is that management will use Burger’s presence as an excuse not to spend money on a superstar free agent in 2019. Specifically, I am nervous that management will not make an aggressive effort to bring Manny Machado to the South Side in 2019 with Burger – also a third baseman – waiting in the wings. The obvious solution is to move Burger to first base or DH, but an organization that is historically unwilling to give out expensive free agent deals may see Burger’s impending arrival as an excuse for saving the money. The positive side of this, however, is that if the Sox do make a good-faith effort to sign Machado and fail, Burger will (hopefully) be an almost-as-good alternative.
Whenever your name is also an object, people will inevitably make bad puns and jokes about it (see: Aaron Judge). Sox fans will have to endure Burger jokes for the foreseeable future. Let’s get them all out now:
The only way that this situation can get any worse is if the Sox take Clemson superstar Seth Beer in next year’s draft. A Burger and Beer in the same lineup? Great combination.