Burger emotional after arduous journey

2017 first-round pick in Spring Training for first time since 2018

February 25th, 2021

GLENDALE, Ariz. – Driving to Spring Training morning workouts at Camelback Ranch isn’t exactly considered a milestone for most White Sox players getting ready for the 2021 season.

But for Jake Burger, the team’s No. 13 prospect, his short trip to the first official full-squad report date on Monday was one he’ll never forget. The 24-year-old third baseman has gone through two ruptured left Achilles and a bruised left heel, leaving him with limited action since his first big league camp in 2018.

“Oh, it felt unbelievable,” Burger told MLB.com during a recent phone interview. “I kind of sat back and thought, ‘Holy cow, this is the first time back since the injury of Spring Training.’

“It made me tear up a little bit, just kind of thinking about everything I’ve gone through and the relationships I’ve created. It just feels amazing to be back out there with the team and just taking ground balls, just simple stuff like that. Feels amazing to be out there again.”

Burger was the White Sox top pick in the 2017 Draft but suffered the initial Achilles rupture as he ran to first during a Cactus League contest on Feb. 26, 2018. He went through the same injury a little more than 10 weeks later simply walking at home as he was recovering from the first rupture.

The ensuing extended absence, with Burger last playing in a Minor League game in 2017, led to struggles with anxiety and depression, a battle Burger made public through Twitter while also offering up his DMs for people going through the same issues or simply wanting to talk. It’s of little wonder so many individuals outside of the White Sox organization are rooting for Burger to complete this comeback.

“I want it for myself, but I want it for those people too,” Burger said. “So, it’s awesome, seeing that support and seeing everybody really excited. I don’t know if anybody can be more excited than my parents because they get to watch me play baseball again, but it’s such a cool feeling.

“Again, I couldn’t thank the White Sox enough just for everything they’ve gone through with me and support me through this battle. I’m looking forward to finally playing a game in their uniform.”

To get ready for this fully healthy return, Burger dropped 40 pounds in the past year and he’s now 10 pounds lighter than his weight when drafted. One fan tweeted at Burger on Monday about how fast he looked.

“Typically, when you see me and think my name, you don’t think speed,” Burger said. “But that was a cool message to get.”

Playing tennis against his mother, Shannon, and his sister Ellie, was a driving force in Burger dropping weight, with pieces of this intense competition often shown on Burger’s Instagram stories. He returned to the baseball flow last season at the team’s alternate training site in Schaumburg, Ill., as well as during intrasquad action in Arizona, where he worked alongside players such as Gavin Sheets, his friend, the team’s second round pick in 2017 and ninth-ranked prospect, who was adding corner outfield to his resume.

“He looked great. I would have never known he missed two seasons,” Sheets said. “Obviously, what he went through was just so tough. He’s got his body in great shape, and to be on the field for him for the first time since the year we got drafted, that was cool for both of us. He’s an unbelievable guy and has worked so hard to get to this point.”

“In his mind, nothing is going to stop him,” said White Sox assistant general manager/player development Chris Getz of Burger. “Anyone that can overcome something like that is set up for future success because this game is going to provide more obstacles, and if you are fearless working through those, that’s a recipe for success.”

There’s a real happiness for Burger simply by playing baseball. His new perspective has him ready to go anywhere or play anywhere on the field.

“Two years ago, I thought my career was over. So, it’s a cool mindset to have where it’s like I can feel like a kid again out there and have fun and play as hard as I can,” Burger said. “It sucks I lost the years, but I’ve told this to a lot of people, especially recently: I honestly don’t know if I would have changed that. It gave me a lot of perspective on life, on baseball, on my relationships with my family, with my friends.

“So, it taught me a lot more and matured me to a point where ultimately I wanted to be, and if I don’t have that experience, I don’t know if I get that maturity. It’s crazy looking back on it. It finally feels good again. I couldn’t be happier and more pleased with how things have kind of gone.”