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White Sox prospect Burger on comeback trail

Third baseman hitting in cages, doing some pre-running work
Chicago White Sox first-round draft pick Jake Burger throws out the ceremonial first pitch before a baseball game between the Chicago White Sox and the New York Yankees Monday, June 26, 2017, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty) (Paul Beaty/AP)
February 14, 2019

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Jake Burger steps into the batting cages at the Camelback Ranch complex and rips off a series of line drives.Even though the White Sox top pick in the 2017 MLB Draft has been sidelined for almost one year because of two different left Achilles ruptures, and he

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Jake Burger steps into the batting cages at the Camelback Ranch complex and rips off a series of line drives.
Even though the White Sox top pick in the 2017 MLB Draft has been sidelined for almost one year because of two different left Achilles ruptures, and he is not part of big league camp in Spring Training, it's no surprise to anyone he's swinging with such gusto.
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"I just feel like the ball is jumping off of my bat. I'm feeling really good," Burger told MLB.com after his Wednesday workout. "Swing is feeling great. Really don't think I've lost anything in that aspect. I think I've gained some stuff, too, learning the game a little more."
"He could fall out of bed and hit," White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said of the club's No. 13 prospect per MLB Pipeline. "That was always the case with Jake Burger. He's got a compact, powerful stroke that we really didn't think he was going to lose because of the time off because of the Achilles."
Burger sustained the second rupture in early May after simply walking in his Arizona backyard while wearing sandals. If a second rupture was going to happen, it came at a time for the third baseman where it really didn't alter his rehab program too much.
But it was the mental part of the injuries getting to Burger as much as the intense physical work needed to slowly get back to baseball. Burger understands the inherent injury risk every time he steps on the field, but when it happens at home, there's a hesitancy to do certain things and take certain steps.
Luckily the 22-year-old had a great support system. Burger pointed to director of player development Chris Getz and the White Sox training staff. Burger also credited his parents and sister, as well as friends and former teammates from Missouri State.
"We went through a lot together at Missouri State, two Super Regionals," Burger said. "We always look at each other like family."
There also was a de facto support group comprised of rehabbing White Sox prospects Zack Burdi, Andre Davis and J.B. Olson. They held each other accountable, picked each other up, and were able to vent among the group.
Hitting started for Burger in November, throwing started about the same time, and he's now doing some pre-running work. There's a target of June 1 for Burger's return to an affiliate, but Hahn admitted that date could come later or move up a bit.
"Day by day, my body and my mind will tell me when I'm ready," Burger said. "That's the bottom line. I don't want to come back and go into it at 80 percent. I want to be 100 percent mentally and physically."
This recovered version of Burger also should be more polished. As Burger joked, he's done more than Twitter polls and Fortnite during this time off.
His legs are stronger, helping him get his legs more a part of his swing. He's worked on driving the ball more to right, his grip strength is the best it has been in his career, and he's watched a great deal of baseball trying to pick up the game's nuances.
Remember that support group with pitchers Burdi, Davis and Olson? Well, he's been able to pick their brains as to how they attack hitters in certain situations.
Third base remains in Burger's mind, as he's worked into solid shape with the help of a Peloton. But Burger is ready for anything the White Sox need once he comes back, a comeback he is doing for himself, for the team and for the plethora of fans who supported him.
"We've still got work to do," Burger said. "I feel like I'm setting myself up for success, hopefully, here in the next couple of months."

Scott Merkin has covered the White Sox for MLB.com since 2003. Follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin and Facebook and listen to his podcast.