It is a well-known law of the draft that advanced college bats are always in short supply. The nation’s top high school bats are poached in the early round of the draft and give up going to college in favor of big signing bonus and a shot at a professional career. It is rare that the top draft-eligible hitters pass up an opportunity to play in affiliated ball, with 2016’s Drew Mendoza playing the exception to the rule as opposed to a case study.
Even rarer, however, is the circumstance in which a player goes to college an unknown and comes out a top prospect. Jake Burger, the slugger who mans Missouri State University’s hot corner, is actually such a case.
Burger’s most obvious strength is his bat. Being a corner infielder, there are more expections resting on his bat than any other part of his game, and he certainly doesn’t disappoint. A dangerous offensive piece, Burger is easily the Bears’ best player, swatting 21 home runs and batting at an impressive .349 clip in 2016. While, by all accounts, he is a well-rounded offensive player, Burger’s main source of value is the punch he packs in his swing.
“His best tool is his power,” Hero Sports’ Christopher Crawford explained, “and his impressive strength along with his natural loft and some leverage gives him present power to all fields.”
Crawford later elaborated on Twitter, saying this:
[He] should murder left-handed pitching. That's based on his swing and approach. Right-handed hitters have a natural advantage [against lefties] because it's easier to pick up the ball, for one. Also, because Burger has so much natural loft and an assertive approach, he can hammer fastballs that he picks up quickly.
Sluggers have a not-undeserved reputation as one-dimensional hitters, sacrificing their ability to hit for contact in the effort to better their profile as a powerful hitter. While that is the case most of the time, Burger bucks this trend. Despite having the most power among collegiate batters, he has received good marks for his bat-to-ball skills, too. MLB.com remarked that he “makes reliable contact” and “should hit for some average”. That is certainly an encouraging sign going forward, and boosts his profile considerably.
While his glovework may not be the pompous affair of some who are known for their defensive wizardry, such as the Angels’ Andrelton Simmons or the Indians’ Fransisco Lindor, it is not a weakness by any means. He has an arm that grades out above average, and his fielding should be enough to allow him to stick at third long term.
Baseball America got a good look at his defensive abilities during the first USA Baseball Collegiate National Team trials on June 28 of 2016. They summed it up quite nicely by saying this:
Missouri State third baseman Jake Burger opened practice showing a plus arm during infield, firing accurate throws from deep down the line and showing impressive movement in every direction despite his thick build.
While part of what is most appealing about Burger’s profile is that he is without any major flaw, that is not say that he is a perfect player.
For starters, there are some concerns with his physique. While he isn’t built like 2013 Prince Fielder or 2016 Pablo Sandoval, he isn’t the smallest guy in the world either. While it doesn’t harm his batting significantly, the larger profile is likely what holds him back as a runner. There are also whispers of it becoming a factor in moving him off third quicker than he might otherwise, although those should be taken lightly for now.
Burger is also not a good runner. While he is only marked as being slightly below average by MLB.com, it still is a weakness. He probably could bring that grade up to an average mark if he lost weight and focused on his baserunning, but that would be a temporary fix, as he will lose a step as he gets older. That would also take time away from his batting. Sluggers generally don’t have to be quick, though, and Burger’s profile should be able to support regular play even without speed.
Missouri State University coach Keith Guttin said it best when he said this:
I’m not real sure what needs to be better with Jake. That might be strange commentary from a coach, but he’s just continuing to grow and has the work ethic part down pretty well. He’ll continue to do whatever is needed for him to get better. There’s just so much upside there.
Granted, every draft-eligible player needs more polish and time to develop, Burger sports a high floor and aims to be a quick-to-the-majors type. His floor is that of a slugger off the bench who specializes against lefties, but his ceiling is far higher, and could be a stalwart in the heart of the order for years to come.
Barring an extreme injury, expect him to go in the first two rounds, more than likely at the back end of the first or first supplemental. The teams that should look into him most are the New York Mets, Arizona Diamondbacks, Kansas City Royals, Detroit Tigers, and Milwaukee Brewers.