After signing for $3.7 million as the 11th overall pick in the 2017 Draft, Jake Burger spent most of his pro debut in Low A. The White Sox planned on pushing him aggressively, but instead he hasn't played in a Minor League game since that summer. When he returns to the diamond next week, he'll jump three levels to Triple-A Charlotte.
Burger ruptured his left Achilles tendon running out a grounder in February 2018, tore it again during rehab three months later and severely bruised his left heel in 2019. He was physically ready to play in 2020, only to have the Minor League season cancelled. He did participate in the CarShield Collegiate League last summer before attending Chicago's alternate training site and instructional league programs.
Though Burger looked like his old self at instructs, White Sox assistant GM/farm director Chris Getz said the original plan was to send him to Double-A in 2021. But the more club officials watched him this spring, first in big league camp and then at their alternate training site in Schaumburg, Ill., the more they believed he was ready for a stiffer challenge. He went hitless with four strikeouts in his first six Cactus League at-bats before finishing with four hits in his next seven trips and continuing to rake at the alternate training site.
"In games early on in Spring Training, you could tell there was some rust there and Jake needed to make some adjustments against that pitching," Getz said. "Then it started to click and he was hitting the ball the other way and hitting pitches he missed early. He hit some homers in the co-op league in Arizona and was one of the best guys at our alternate site.
"Charlotte is a good place to hit and that's his peer group. We said, 'Let's take this chance and push him a little bit.'"
Some scouts considered Burger the best power hitter in the 2017 Draft after he slammed 43 homers in his final two seasons at Missouri State, though he struggled to lift balls in the air during his debut that summer. His stocky 6-foot-2 frame belied some deceptive athleticism, and the White Sox envisioned him batting in the middle of their order and manning the hot corner for years to come.
Yoán Moncada presents a formidable obstacle at third base in Chicago, but Burger is now one level away from the Majors even after losing three years of at-bats. He's in the best shape of his pro career, with his weight down to 220 pounds, and geared up to finally play a full pro season.
"He's moving around well," Getz said. "He'd always been kind of a choppy runner and now there's some smoothness to him. His hands and feet are working in sync at third base and he's a little bit more natural out there."
The best prospect from Chicago's 2017 international class, middle infielder Jose Rodriguez signed for $50,000 out of the Dominican Republic. Though he's not physically imposing at 5-foot-11 and 175 pounds, he slugged .505 with nine homers in 44 games in the Rookie-level Arizona League during his 2019 U.S. debut. He may not have a tool that grades better than average, but he makes things happen at the plate and gets the job done at shortstop.
Rodriguez's biggest needs at this point of his career are to tone down an overly aggressive approach and make better swing decisions so he can handle more advanced pitching. The White Sox conveyed this to him in instructional league last fall and have been heartened at how he has adapted during Minor League Spring Training. Just 19, he's ticketed to open the season at Low-A Kannapolis.
"Jose continues to get better," Getz said. "He's still very aggressive at the plate but he has altered his approach to the right-center field gap. Now he's staying on offspeed pitches and driving balls the other way. He's also playing the hell out of shortstop and could really take off this year."
Right-hander Matthew Thompson had a strong Minor League camp, displaying a plus fastball and curveball while continuing to make progress with his changeup. He's consistently repeating his athletic delivery and staying on line to the plate. The White Sox have invested $7.1 million in three high school righties in the last two Drafts -- second-rounder Thompson and third-rounder Andrew Dalquist in 2019, second-rounder Jared Kelley in 2020 -- and will start them all in Kannapolis.
Prospects we’ll be talking about in 2022
MLB Pipeline's top-rated prospect in the 2020-21 international class, Cuban outfielder Yoelqui Céspedes signed for $2.05 million in January. The White Sox feel good about their investment after watching him in Minor League camp. They can't wait to see what Yoenis Céspedes' younger brother does once he gets some visa issues settled and reports to Double-A Birmingham.
"Yoelqui is an impressive kid," Getz said. "He pays attention and he's professional. He uses the whole field and isn't just yanking and pulling balls to left field. He drives the ball to right-center and center field.
"His bat speed and exit velos are near the top. He hits it hard. He's not a burner but when he gets moving he's a solid center fielder and I think he'll stick there."
Victor Torres isn't nearly as famous as Céspedes but is emerging as the system's best catching prospect. An 11th-round pick as a Puerto Rican high schooler in 2019, he stood out this spring with his improved strength and receiving ability.