Hello! Welcome to the White Sox Beat newsletter. Scott Merkin has covered the White Sox for MLB.com since 2003. Follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin and Facebook and listen to his podcast.
CHICAGO -- Jake Burger and his wife, Ashlyn, are basking in the joy of their newborn son, Brooks. So, with his sleep schedule already re-adjusted, the 26-year-old doesn’t spend much of his free time thinking about his White Sox fit moving forward. The 2017 first-round pick is ready for anything.
It’s a popular question overall at this time of the year, with baseball’s annual Winter Meetings beginning this Sunday in San Diego and running through Wednesday. Burger finished the season with eight home runs, nine doubles and 26 RBIs over 168 at-bats in a successful 2022 season, not to mention recording the game-winning RBI in four straight White Sox victories from May 25 to June 5.
Burger can hit at the Major League level and could fit in at designated hitter, especially if franchise staple José Abreu moves on after nine stellar years in Chicago and Andrew Vaughn takes over at first base. But Burger also wants to be ready at third base, even with Yoán Moncada as the incumbent, and has worked diligently this offseason to improve that defensive area of his game.
“I had a stretch there where it was like I felt like every game I was making an error,” Burger told MLB.com during a recent phone interview. “And you know, it’s just controlling the mindset there. I know what type of player I am defensively, and if you let the one or two bad mistakes kind of eat at you, it just kind of spirals out of control. That’s what happened this year. I was just trying to control that a little better. Make it one small event rather than let it spiral out of control.
“Obviously, it didn’t help because it was big situations. So [errors] are a little more magnified than they otherwise would be. I’m still very confident. There’s no one that is going to be harder on themselves than I am when it comes to that. I want to help the team win in any way. Just kind of controlling that, realizing that. ‘Hey, let’s move on. You got the next one,’ instead of thinking about that too much.”
There’s more than mental improvement going on for Burger. After identifying the high hopper to his backhand as an issue for him at third, Burger has been doing a lot of things to work on body composition and that first quick step.
All of his work has been at third, despite second base now being somewhat open for the White Sox and Burger having played there for five innings over three big league games.
“So, I’ve been really kind of focused on that, focused on my first step in, getting that early read, so I can attack the ball and get it out of my glove quicker,” said Burger of the high hopper to his right. “I was kind of, like, sitting back and getting the middle hop rather than attacking and coming through it.”
In 37 games covering 326 innings at third last season, Burger committed six errors. Physical mistakes are part of the game, and while Burger can’t remember the person who gave him this piece of advice, he was told “I hope you make 100 errors in your career, because that means you played this game for a really long time.”
“You can’t let the mental side of it affect you too much,” Burger said. “Just realize it happens, it’s baseball. It’s going to happen from time to time.”
WINTER MEETINGS LOOK AHEAD
White Sox general manager Rick Hahn, a fellow Michigan man, has spoken on numerous occasions about how moves don’t get any sort of extra credit or juice by being made at the Winter Meetings. So, Hahn and the front office decided not to wait until Sunday in San Diego to get this offseason moving, agreeing to a free agent contract with right-handed starter Mike Clevinger, pending a physical. The White Sox have not announced or commented on the deal.
It was just a couple of weeks ago that pitching coach Ethan Katz was very straightforward in his feelings about the White Sox needing another starter, with veteran Johnny Cueto, who was a revelation for the ’22 squad, moving on to free agency. The White Sox added a talented hurler in Clevinger for one year of guaranteed money, per MLB.com’s Jon Morosi, and added a player who not only enjoys Chicago but is ready to win on the South Side. So, what’s next for the White Sox?
There has been no shortage of discussion about the White Sox looking to add a left-handed bat, although Oscar Colas, the team’s No. 2 prospect per MLB Pipeline, figures to bring his left-handed swing to right field in ’23 and beyond. Second base is open, but there are internal options such as Romy Gonzalez, Lenyn Sosa and veteran Leury Garcia. The White Sox also could explore options at catcher, despite having switch-hitting veteran Yasmani Grandal in place behind the plate with Seby Zavala and Carlos Pérez.
Grandal was very upbeat and confident in his offseason work during a recent interview, following a rough ’22 plagued by injuries. But Grandal is also in the last season of his contract, so the White Sox might have a chance to address their future there in the present.
Eloy Jiménez is looked at more as the team’s designated hitter, although he could see some time in left field. Left-handed hitting Gavin Sheets could also fit there, but the White Sox could add a left-handed hitter who is more of a natural in that outfield spot and leave Sheets at first base/DH.
You didn’t really think I would let a newsletter pass without talking about the Wolverines’ gridiron dominance in Ohio? But there’s still more work to be done.
“It’s as simple as I can shoot Ethan a text and I’m not even at the point where I’m throwing, but when I do get to that point it’s like, ‘Hey, this isn’t feeling good’ or little things like that. I can get an immediate response and start that process of trying to work through something or figure out drills or whatever the case may be. The fact I can do that now and don’t have to wait until Spring Training definitely gives me a leg up.” -- Dylan Cease, who finished second in the 2022 BBWAA AL Cy Young award voting, on having direct contact with Katz this offseason unlike during last offseason's lockout
“No comment.” -- Burger, with a laugh, on his Green Bay Packers sitting at 4-7 entering Week 12 of the NFL season
Which one of these cities has not hosted a Winter Meetings during my 21-year tenure covering the White Sox?
A) Las Vegas
B) New Orleans
Eloy Jiménez turned 26 on Sunday, and according to Chris Kamka of NBC Sports Chicago, Jiménez’s 71 career home runs are the most in Major League history for a player without a single stolen base attempt. He is also tied for 42nd all-time in White Sox history. Here’s one of those homers, coming on July 6 at home against the Twins, marking his first game since April 23 due to a right hamstring injury suffered trying to leg out an infield hit.
I remember taking a vacation before the first Las Vegas Winter Meetings and spending 10 days there, which might be about five days too long. New Orleans was my first Winter Meetings in 2003, and Indianapolis was far and away the coldest Winter Meetings and the only one where I can remember snow on the ground.
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