Outside of the catching position, there is no position in the Seattle Mariners organization that is more barren than third base. 2016 second-round pick Joe Rizzo is the only notable name in the system, and he’s just 19 and just about as far away from being MLB-ready as a top prospect can be. The Mariners could really use a talent influx at the position.
Enter Missouri State 3B Jake Burger.
At A Glance
Burger, a Missouri native, turned 21 just a little over a month ago. He was entirely under the radar coming out of Christian Brothers College High School (St. Louis, MO) in 2014, going undrafted and arriving at MSU as a relatively unknown commodity. Since arriving on the college baseball scene, however, his stock has done nothing but skyrocket:
The numbers are eye-popping. Be it the home run totals, the isolated slugging percentage, the low strikeouts, or the ever-increasing walk-rate, there’s a lot in these columns that will stick out to you. All across the board, he’s a phenomenal hitter lacking any sort of glaring weakness in his numbers. And with nothing left to prove in the college game, there should be zero concerns about signability.
Burger’s biggest selling point, obviously, is his bat, and what a big selling point it is:
The home run power is legitimate, present from the moment he stepped on campus but truly blossoming when adjustments in plate approach his sophomore season helped him put the ball in the air more frequently. After slugging just four long balls in 57 games his freshman year, Burger has hit 41 in 108 games since. He possesses power to all fields, but it showcases best when he’s pulling the ball, naturally.
Burger has an advanced plate approach and rarely puts up a poor quality at-bat. His strikeout percentage has been relatively low throughout his career and his walk-rate has jumped up to 14.9% this year. So while he’s still not a sure bet to be a high-average hitter, the tools in place seem to have him leaning more towards being a well-rounded hitter than a power-only type.
There are concerns regarding his swing, which is best explained by his MLB.com profile:
He generates his pop more with strength than bat speed, and there are some worries about an arm bar in his right-handed swing.
For those unaware, an ‘arm bar’ occurs when a hitter extends and essentially locks their front arm across their chest during their load, which can lead to several issues with the rest of their swing, including a longer swing path. You can actually see the arm bar a bit in the gif above; check out how his front arm fully extends for a brief moment before he swings. The arm bar isn’t an unfixable, unbearable red flag, of course. A few MLB hitters survive with one, but Burger’s combination of limited bat speed and the occasional longer swing path may require mechanical tinkering before he can really take off at the next level.
Opinions on his defense vary. Some feel he’ll stick at third base moving forward while others believe he’s destined for a future at first base or even potentially a corner outfield spot. He has the arm strength to stick at the hot corner, but he has some proving to do in terms of whether he moves well enough or possesses a good enough feel to play the position. He’s certainly not a bad athlete, but I wouldn’t consider his athleticism to be a strength, either.
One aspect of Burger that may make him particularly appealing to the Mariners is that he’s been praised as a hard worker and devout student of the game. When asked about improvements in Burger’s power department, Missouri State head coach Keith Guttin said this:
“He spent a lot of quality time with our hitting coach Nate Thompson to figure that out. I think some of it is just his natural maturity of his pitch selection, while not trying to do too much has really helped him. It’s helped him get more balls into the air,” he said. “For him right now, it’s not so much mechanical as it is just figuring out how are people trying to get me out, what adjustments do I need to make in my at bat, etc. He just understands the game. He grew up with it and he can talk about it.”
There are multiple quotes across the internet regarding Burger’s work ethic and devotion to studying and understanding the game, a trait General Manager Jerry Dipoto has praised in the past (baseball team wants baseball players who want to be better baseball players. Earth-shattering).
And now, let’s watch Burger hit some more baseballs.
How likely is he to be available when the Mariners pick?
There’s a chance here. Burger’s power is massive and he’s certainly one of the better college bats available, but issues in his swing, combined with the sheer amount of talent one could justify taking in the early-to-mid first round, means the slugger could be available when the Mariners are on the clock. I’ve seen mock drafts with him going in the top-fifteen. I’ve seen mock drafts with him being selected with a 20+ pick. It’s a little hard to predict where exactly Burger will go at this moment, but I’d lean more towards him being available at No. 17.