For third baseman Jake Burger, being chosen with Yoelqui Cespedes to represent the White Sox in the Futures Game during All-Star Week is just another achievement notched along his comeback trail.
Burger, the No. 11 overall pick in the 2017 draft, suffered a ruptured left Achilles tendon during a spring-training game in 2018, reinjured the Achilles in his backyard, suffered a bruised heel and was forced to miss two seasons of development. While he was away, Burger battled anxiety and depression, but he built a large following of backers who cheered him on as he climbed back to being a healthy, productive, power-hitting infielder. He’s batting .322/.368/.596 with 10 homers and a .964 OPS at Triple-A Charlotte.
Who knows? The Sox can always find room for added punch in their lineup, and Burger might be getting closer to his first taste of the majors, especially with third baseman Yoan Moncada now dealing with an injury that will sideline him at least through this weekend. Burger wasn’t in Charlotte’s lineup Thursday night, raising the possibility of him joining the Sox on Friday in Detroit.
“Keep doing what I’m doing, and the rest will take care of itself,” Burger said. “I’m very process-oriented and learning the game every single day. Obviously, if something happens, it happens.”
Since about the time second baseman Nick Madrigal went down for the season with a hamstring injury, Burger started played second base a couple of times a week.
“I kind of like it,” Burger said. “Making this position change is going to take some time to get used to every single part of it. But at this point, I feel pretty comfortable over there.”
The biggest difference is having more time at second, whereas third base is more reactionary. There are cutoffs and relays and more ground to cover on pop flies and signs from the catcher and all sorts of nuances to pick up on.
“The most challenging thing is you are always in every single pitch,” Burger said.
It’s Burger’s bat, though, that’s attracting attention. It’s why the Sox drafted him in the first place.
“The exciting thing is he’s moved past ‘It’s a good story’ to ‘Hey, I’m trying to get to the big leagues,’ ’’ said Gavin Sheets, Burger’s teammate at Charlotte who made an impression in his first three games, helping the Sox to a series sweep of the Twins. “That’s been a fun transition.
“He’s a big, strong guy with big forearms, and he hits the ball hard, really hard. We hit 3-4, so I’ve had a front row seat this whole season with it.”
The Sox signed Cespedes, 23, to a $2.05 million signing bonus in January. The brother of Yoenis Cespedes was ranked as the top international prospect at the time. Visa issues, though, delayed his start with an affiliate this season. At High-A Winston Salem, he’s batting .216/.341/.378 in nine games.
“Yeah, he’s a stud,” said Burger, who played with Cespedes in a co-op league in Arizona in the spring. “His pop is unbelievable. Power is ridiculous. He’s a good kid. I’m really excited to see him again at the Futures Game and share some laughs.”
Cespedes said he wasn’t expecting the invitation.
“It means a lot,” he said through translator Billy Russo. “You feel honor when you see your name in that game, just with the name of the game: Futures All-Star. That’s something that gives you chills.”
The Futures Game features top prospects competing on All-Star Sunday. It’s something of a crowning moment for Burger, who has been through more dark days than he cares to remember. One year ago, he was playing in the CarShield Collegiate League.
“The last three years have definitely given me confidence,” he said. “It changed me as a person, it matured me. It also changed me as a player. Having that confidence every single day has led to this success. I feel like I belong.”