During the Cubs spring opener on Saturday, young Charcer Burks stepped to the plate in the seventh inning in a 3-3 game. After two strikes, Burks got a pitch up in the zone to his liking and sent it flying over the outfield fence. To go with that, the 21-year-old also made a nice diving catch in left field. Burks, who will likely begin with Double-A Tennessee this season, has worked hard to earn a spot playing in MLB Spring Training games, and that might not be all that is seen of him. In fact, we might be seeing a breakout season just ahead in 2017.
Drafted in the 9th round out of William B. Travis High School in Houston in 2013, Burks has had a slow and steady climb the through the Cubs system. I got my first look at Burks when he was with the Single-A South Bend Cubs. There were glimpses and flashes of his talent in the first half of the year. He came to South Bend from Boise and Mesa where he had hit over .300 at both stops. At South Bend, he made the All-Star team in the first half, before slipping a bit the second half. Combined, he hit .257/.339/.347. That doesn’t seem like much, but he never took a day off in the field. He’s a grinder. Here is a nice catch he made that year on the road at Dayton.
He has great speed, a streaky bat, and that showed again in 2016 at Myrtle Beach. After a nondescript first half, Burks’s role changed greatly because of the July trade of Rashad Crawford and Gleyber Torres to the Yankees. Burks moved to the leadoff spot and improved greatly in two facets of his game in just a few months. He hit 6 HRs and drove in 30 runs hitting leadoff in over 60 games while improving his OBP when it jumped 30 points to .369. Burks played an essential role in the Pelicans’ championship title run getting on base, driving in runs, and playing an elite left field.
At 6’0″ and 170 pounds, Burks is an ascending player. He has a lot of toolsvthat he is just beginning to develop. Namely, although he turns 22 in March, he is just now figuring out his power. As seen in the video below, he has a short compact swing that can get to the ball quickly. Like most young hitters, Burks needs to be more selective, but his approach is improving and he is developing a more mature eye at the plate.
In 2015, Burks told Steve Krah of the Elkhart Truth how the Cubs mental training really benefitted him. Burks said of mental skills coach Josh Lifrak:
“He’s taught me to slow down the game. You can get caught up in the game whether you’re doing good or you’re doing bad and you want to keep it on a steady level. You try to simplify and just play.”
Like Jared Wyllys’ article explained last summer, the Cubs are really tapping into that program to improve performance across the system.
While Burks solo shot on Saturday may have put him on the map with many Cubs fans, he will get plenty of time to develop before he gets to Chicago. He’s got some pop in bat, some major speed, and an improving eye. While the kind of player he will turn out to be might be unclear, there is real potential. Just on his defense and speed, he could be a bench player. If the power changes in 2017, like I think it could in the more hitter-friendly Southern League, Burks could put himself into play if he can get 15-20 HRs. Last year, he had 11 HRS total in the pitcher-friendly Carolina League and at Myrtle Beach where the wind blows in every day. Saturday’s home run, though, might portend more to come.