With the Arizona sun beaming down on them, several young baseball players in black and white Spring Training uniforms take batting practice. The crack of the bat echoes through the park, but for one player in particular, people turn their heads. His line drives just sound.. different.
It is late-February 2018, and third base prospect Jake Burger is putting on a show. In anticipation of his start later that day against the Athletics, Chicago’s first round draft pick from 2017 looks locked in. The former Missouri Bear, selected 11th overall in MLB’s First Year Player Draft just eight and a half months earlier by ‘his’ White Sox, is ready to give the fans a glimpse into the future. A glimpse into what kind of player he can become for an organization desperate for a homegrown success story.
Part of their envisioned future is on full display early on in the game for the White Sox. Michael Kopech gets the start, fanning three while walking none, in his two innings of work. Burger continues his hot hitting from earlier, smacking a double high off the center field wall in his first at-bat against Kendall Graveman, later scoring on Daniel Palka’s single.
It would be the last thing White Sox fans would see Jake Burger do on a diamond for close to the next two years.
In the bottom of the third, disaster strikes. Trying to run out a grounder to third, Burger collapses about three quarters of the way to first. He crumples to the ground in pain, grabbing his left foot. First base coach Darryl Boston immediately gestures towards the dugout; manager Rick Renteria and two Sox trainers rush onto the field and kneel over the visibly hurting 21-year old. Minutes later, Burger is carted off the field.
Diagnosis: torn Achilles. Recovery time: 12 months.
With him having just 217 professional at-bats under his belt at that point, everyone realized Burger’s progression would be slowed by the injury. No one would have expected lightning to strike twice. In early May of 2018, while rehabbing the surgically repaired Achilles in Arizona, the ligament tears a second time. Fresh off his 22nd birthday, Burger knows the 10 weeks of rehab he already put in were for nothing. He has to go under the knife again, this time for a revision surgery. Surgeons attach graft tissue to the Achilles ligament in Burgers left foot, hoping to strengthen the apparent weak spot. The timeline for his return is reset to 12 months.
DOWN, BUT NOT OUT
White Sox GM Rick Hahn called the setback “lousy”, but considered there to be no risk of “long-term effect on his baseball career”. However, as time progressed, updates on Burger’s rehab came in fewer and further between. His status as one of the top hitting prospects in the White Sox system faded with every month he was not on a baseball field. A projected return date of July 2019 came and went without the third baseman seeing any affiliate action. Sights were shifted to late-season Instructional League, after a heel bruise kept the slugger out of action, but when rosters were announced on September 20th, the name ‘Jake Burger’ was mysteriously absent. The heel was still bothering him.
It has been mostly silent around Burger ever since news broke he would not make it to the Instructional League. The White Sox have continued their rebuild, setting their sights on competing in 2020. During Burger’s absence, the team successfully moved Yoan Moncada to third base, re-signed first baseman Jose Abreu to a multi-year deal, and drafted another first baseman third overall in Andrew Vaughn. Those moves do not leave a lot of room for Jake Burger to play in Chicago.
White Sox fans, meanwhile, may not be close to including the affable third baseman in their future plans at all. Scanning White Sox Twitter, various Facebook groups, message boards, and blogs leaves little to the imagination: barely a mention of Burger. It is understandable, with how little information is being shared about his status.
The third baseman himself has been fairly quiet on social media. He has not tweeted since September. His Instagram shows a healthy-looking, smiling guy, hanging out with his girlfriend. His last post is a picture of him at a soccer game of his beloved Tottenham Hotspur in London (UK) on December 1st, though an Instagram story on the untimely deaths of Kobe Bryant and former Team USA and OCC baseball coach John Altobelli from late Sunday night prove he has been active on the social medium since then.
The question on everyone’s mind is: what is going on with Burger? There are wild rumors flying around that he’s mentally done with the game; that the Sox are giving him space to figure out what he wants to do with his life. Also that he’s addicted to video games, and that the Sox are unhappy with his recent work ethic — the latter doesn’t quite gel with Hahn’s earlier statements, but does line up more with Getz’s later inference that it is “tough to mark [Jake’s] participation level”.
It’s an unfortunate series of events, but it is what happens when organization and player go dark. For months, there was no update from the Sox, and despite multiple attempts over the last few weeks, FutureSox has not been able to establish contact with Jake himself. Fortunately, not everyone seems to have forgotten about Burger just yet, as evidenced by some fan questions this past weekend during SoxFest.
Question from a fan on Jake Burger’s status comes in. Getz states that, “Jake Burger has had a productive offseason”. He’s running, doing drills and taking ground balls. Getz reiterates that Burger is in “good spirits”.
— FutureSox (@FutureSox) January 25, 2020
As much as it is good to hear something about the third baseman, Getz’ response did not really clear up the overall picture. A “productive off-season” and being in “good spirits” can mean anything. Merely “taking ground balls” and “doing drills” is not exactly encouraging, for a player so far removed from surgery.
It is time for Jake Burger to make his way back to competitive baseball, if he wants to. It is time for everyone to remember he is still around. He may be almost forgotten, but Jake Burger is not (yet) gone.