MESA, Ariz. — The White Sox announced the worst news possible on their 2017 first-round draft pick Tuesday: Jake Burger has a ruptured Achilles tendon and will be out for the season.
The 21-year-old third baseman will undergo surgery Thursday, his career path pushed back a full year by what transpired after he hit a routine grounder to third base in a Cactus League game Monday against the A’s.
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“Running down to first, honestly it felt like a gunshot,’’ said Burger, who went down in a heap about 70 feet up the first base line. “I knew immediately something was wrong. But there’s nothing really to say. It sucks and I just have to stay positive.’’
Burger seems to have the makeup to trudge through a long rehab process. That’s a positive. But the severity of the injury is the worst-case result for Burger and the Sox, who were projecting him as their third baseman in 2020. Missing a full season means he’ll likely start 2019 in Class A. Making matters worse is that Burger’s injury brings to three the number of the Sox’ first-round picks not playing baseball as their rebuilding plan tries to get some footing. Left-hander Carlos Rodon (2014), viewed as a top-of-the-rotation starter, is recovering from shoulder surgery and right-hander Zack Burdi (2016), viewed as a potential closer of the future, is recovering from Tommy John Surgery.
“It’s a bummer. It’s a downer,’’ manager Rick Renteria said Tuesday.
“We told [Burger] to keep his head up. He’s a positive kid.’’
The 6-2, 240-pound Burger did not distinguish himself during his first season at low Class A Kannapolis, hitting .271/.335/.409 with four home runs in 181 at-bats. But he received high marks for hard work over the offseason and was off to a nice start in Cactus League play with a triple and double in seven at-bats.
Burger also made a nice play at third base before getting hurt. A brief taste of major-league competition gave Burger a boost.
“It gives you motivation for next season for sure,’’ he said. “That’s another thing that’s going to keep me going is I realize that I belong and that I can play.’’
Veterans and prospects alike in the Sox clubhouse took a liking to Burger for his infectious personality and work ethic.
“Tough seeing him go down, he’s just a great kid,’’ said Sox teammate Nicky Delmonico, who trained with Burger this offseason. “Everything he worked for to get to this moment. It’s a good thing he’s very young, has a good mindset. He’s the person who can battle through this and be right where he left off.”
Burger is already planning to take a course at Missouri State and mapping out his near future.
“When something like this happens you have a decision to make,’’ he said. “You can either kind of mope around and be disappointed or you can look at it as a positive. It’s kind of an extended offseason, you know? Where I can focus on nutrition, focus on my diet, focus on my body.’’
Burger expressed no second thoughts about his decision to run hard to first base, even after a routine ground ball.
“I always try to get out of the box as hard as I can,’’ he said. “That’s the White Sox way and the Missouri State way. You don’t imagine that happening. I’ve come out of the box that way a thousand times.”
Teammates, fans “from around the globe” and staff have done what they can to soften the blow for Burger with texts, social-media messages, visits and talks.
Burger also heard from former Sox pitcher Jose Contreras, who ruptured his Achilles in 2008. Contreras is in camp helping as an advisor.
“He’s like, ‘Look, man, it’s a tough recovery, but you’ll get back,’ ” Burger said.
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