Return of a future star
As alluded to earlier, one of the more devastating injuries the team suffered last season was the loss of Jake Burger, the No. 11 overall draft pick in 2017 out of Missouri State University. After the draft, he was immediately assigned to the Arizona League but immediately promoted to the Kannapolis Intimidators after only four games. He finished his first year batting .263 with five home runs and 29 runs batted in.
He was invited to his first spring training in 2018 and was a candidate to have a breakout performance at Camelback Ranch. Unfortunately, his Spring was cut short with an Achilles injury, which he reinjured less than three months later.
While such a setback could have been devastating for another player, Burger’s infectious positivity simply wouldn’t allow it. I got a chance to experience a little bit of that when I sat down with him recently to discuss his recovery, experience with the club, and reasons fans should be pumped up about next year and beyond.
Although there has been no timetable set for his return this season, Burger tells us he is “doing really well and starting to feel like a baseball player again.” He indicated he’s excited to get back to Arizona to get to work again and see how he’s feeling, which will obviously dictate when he’s able to return.
One thing that has seemingly helped with his recovery is simply being around good people, which is easy to do with the young nucleus the Sox have formed. Whether it’s his roommates J.B. Olson and Andre Davis (who also experienced a season-ending injury) or working out in Arizona with Yolmer Sanchez and Nicky Delmonico, this team genuinely enjoys being around each other, and that closeness seems to be a hallmark of the team the Sox are building.
It’s also a lesson that was apparent in Burger’s first spring training experience as well. When asked how valuable it is to have a young core come through the process together, Burger said:
"“It’s huge. It creates a locker room and a culture. Baseball is a 162 game schedule and if you don’t like the guys in the clubhouse it’s not going to be as pleasant. Having each other come up together and forming those relationships and bonds is only going to bode well for our success. It’s a huge piece when it comes to chemistry and having accountability in the locker room.”"
The value of having a young core grow up together, and learn how to go through a 162-game grind, should not be understated. Not to get ahead of ourselves, but you may recall that is how the New York Yankees dynasty began in the mid-1990s.
Like the White Sox, the Yankees had a lot of talented, young players at key positions (Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Bernie Williams, Mariano Rivera, and Andy Pettitte). And just like the White Sox, they earned their stripes coming up the ranks at the same time. That experience certainly didn’t hurt as they dominated the American League for the better part of a decade. And it feels like the White Sox are building towards that as well.
The last time this young core was all together was during spring training last year, where Burger got his first experience with the rest of the club.
“Incredible. Loved every second of it,” Burger said of his first spring training.
Burger went on to emphasize the importance of forming a solid foundation as a team that they can build on going forward. “It was so fun being with all those guys especially the younger guys who are the guys you’re going to come up with. You build a lot of long-lasting relationships and friendships in just the couple weeks you’re there.”
If you’re a White Sox fan there is so much to like about this team, as was evident to Burger last spring:
"“Talent is just unbelievable. You look at all these guys and they have great personalities. They’re White Sox guys. I’ve always loved the White Sox growing up and they’ve always seemed to have not just great players but great people. Rick Hahn and the front office have done an amazing job getting not just good players but good people and people fans can connect with.”"
Jake also learned a lot about being a professional during his first spring, particularly the importance of having a solid routine. “How each guy carried themselves and their routines was cool to witness, and hopefully I can mold my routines after theirs,” he said.
But he also realized that it’s important for a team to stay loose and have fun together. “You still have to treat this as a game and have fun. We’re all competitive by nature so the competitive side is always going to be there, you got to add a little fun to it as well.”
And if you speak to Jake, even for just a few minutes, his passion for the game becomes evident almost immediately. If there is someone who has more fun playing the game, I haven’t met him yet.
It’s the reason he has busted his tail for the last 10 months to get back to the game and the team that he loves. “I’ve done everything I possibly can the last 10 months to put myself in the right spot for this upcoming season, not just for myself but for the city.”
He grew up a White Sox fan and idolized Paul Konerko as a kid. On every level, Burger represents what is great about sports and baseball, and is someone who every fan can relate to. It’s just one of the many reasons they should be thrilled that he’s a South Sider and should be rooting like hell for him this season.
After all, at the end of the day, he’s a kid playing for the team he grew up rooting for — and what the hell is cooler than that? So if you’re not excited about 2019 and the future of this club, there’s still time to get on board — but you better jump on now, before the bandwagon becomes full.