The White Sox felt certain they drafted the best left-handed power hitter in the first round of last year’s draft, and they’re confident they doubled down on that pick by tabbing the best right-handed power hitter in this year’s draft.
By taking third baseman Jake Burger of Missouri State with the 11th pick, the Sox also addressed a position that has been iffy since Robin Ventura stopped manning it. Burger slugged 22 homers for Missouri State this season and was considered one of the top hitters in the draft with plus power to all fields and a favorable strikeout-to-walk ratio — a point of emphasis in the Sox’ current rebuilding plan.
A junior from Chesterfield, Missouri, the 6-2, 220-pound 2017 Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year drove in 65 runs, scored 69 and slugged .663.
He was a semifinalist for the Dick Howser Trophy and the Golden Spikes Award and ranked second among active Division I hitters with 47 career home runs.
“Jake was the guy we identified early, the guy we thought had the best right-handed power in the country,” scouting director Nick Hostetler said. “Last year, we felt we had added the best left-handed power hitter in the country [in catcher Zack Collins of Miami], and this year, we added the best right-handed power hitter in the country.”
With the 49th pick, the Sox went for additional pop, taking left-handed power hitter Gavin Sheets, a first baseman from Wake Forest. Sheets is the son of former Baltimore Oriole Larry Sheets.
Here’s Hostetler on Sheets:
Scouts are high on Burger’s ability to hit with power, but all are not sure whether he projects defensively as a major-league third baseman. Hostetler says not to worry, Burger will play third base.
“He’s got a plus arm,’’ Hostetler said. “His feet work really well; his hands work well. Once he gets with Buddy Bell [the Sox’ assistant general manager and a former Gold Glove third baseman] and Chris Getz [the Sox’ director of player development and an infielder as a player] and our instructors, he’s just going to get better. He’s a definite third baseman for us.’’
Hostetler said Burger could start his pro career at low Class A Kannapolis, although that is to be determined. Advanced Rookie Great Falls is also a possibility, he said.
“Big-time leadership and a fun-loving kid,” Hostetler said. “We’re ecstatic to have him.”
Burger is from St. Louis Cardinals country but said he was a big fan of Paul Konerko and Jim Thome.
“It’s unbelievable. Growing up, I idolized Paul Konerko and tried to emulate his game,’’ Burger said. “There’s no words to describe how pumped and excited I am for this opportunity.
“I’m obviously known for my power, but I’m more of a consistent guy. I’m not hitting .280; I’m hitting for average with a bunch of home runs. And I take a lot of pride in my defense. Third base is my position.”
The Sox will look for up-the-middle position players and power pitching arms in the third through 10th rounds Tuesday, Hostetler said.
“Middle-of-the-order bats were important for us,” Hostetler said.
“I’m not a rocket scientist here telling you we need bats. We’ve needed bats a long time in this organization.”
In Burger and Sheets, the Sox made it clear they’re looking to inject more hitters who don’t swing and miss much.
“They fit exactly what [general manager] Rick [Hahn] has laid out,” Hostetler said.
“One of the things is to get guys who get on base. Guys who hit home runs and drive in runs but also don’t swing and miss much. Getting on base is the key to the game, and when you hit it out of the ballpark on top of it, it’s a good added plus for both players.”
Here is a scouting report on Burger from MLB.com:
“Though he went homerless with the U.S. college national team during the summer, scouts still recognize Burger as one of the top power sources available in a draft class short on college hitters. He generates his pop more with strength than bat speed, and there are some worries about an arm bar in his right-handed swing. He controls the strike zone well and makes reliable contact for a slugger, so he should hit for some average, as well.
“While Burger isn’t the most graceful player, one scout compared him to Hunter Pence for his ability to get the job done in less-than-pretty fashion. Despite his large frame, he has average speed out of the batter’s box and decent range at third base. With his solid arm, reliable hands and admirable work ethic, he should be able to stay at the hot corner.”