Backstop Consistency Pays Off for Burg
Alex Burg had two goals upon joining the Ducks for the first time in 2017: to win an Atlantic League championship and to earn a contract from a Major League organization. While he came up just short of accomplishing the former, he can now celebrate achieving the latter.
The catcher, who had signed on for a second season with Long Island back on February 1, was inked to a minor league contract by the Los Angeles Dodgers this weekend. He will head to Glendale, Ariz. to join the team at its spring training facility, looking to prove his worth to the organization.
“I’m really excited for this opportunity,” Burg said via telephone. “I’m hoping it all works out and that I get the chance to show I can play every day.”
Getting to this point required a decision that Burg made back during the spring of 2017. Prior to beginning his first experience in the Atlantic League, he knew exactly what he hoped to gain from the opportunity. The Washington native was looking for some consistency after spending seven seasons as a utility player in three different Major League organizations.
“I told [Ducks President/GM] Mike [Pfaff] that I wanted to catch every day,” Burg recalled. “I felt like it was my best position but was something I hadn’t really done much of.”
During his time in the San Francisco Giants, Miami Marlins and Texas Rangers’ systems, the first place to look for Burg was not behind the plate. He spent most of his innings in right field (803.2) but was also frequently found at third base (649.0). He spent some time at first base, second base and in left field as well. Versatility is a tremendous asset for any ballplayer and a trait that field managers adore. However, Burg’s belief was that his best position was at catcher and that the key to returning to an MLB organization would be to spend a full season there.
“I felt like that was the best way to get back into affiliated baseball,” he opined. “If I could show that I could catch and still carry an offensive stick, I would obviously be more valued. Throughout my time in minor league baseball, everyone knows that I could go play any position with no issues. However, proving that I could catch would make me more appealing.”
Burg had never caught more than 25 games in a single regular season entering his inaugural year with the Flock in 2017. By year’s end, he would catch 98 games during the season and seven more in the playoffs. While the result was not, at least immediately, a contract with an MLB club, the outcome was what Burg called “the most fun [he’s] ever had playing baseball in [his] entire life.”
2017 represented a little bit of everything for the 30-year-old. While taking to a specific position for the duration of the season, the experience required a great deal of work to prove his worth behind the plate. As the season progressed, Burg received a great deal of help from his teammates and coaches and put in extensive work to refine his craft. The results on the field, in his opinion, were certainly a positive development.
“I was really happy with my defense,” Burg exclaimed. “That was something that was a definite question mark of mine. It was my first year of catching every day and was something I had to prove to myself that I could do. I felt like I made a lot of strides catching-wise. I still have a ways to go in that aspect, but I was really happy with the way I was able to play defense.”
A major reason why the Washington State University alum was able to develop defensively was the work he did with teammate Jordan Pacheco. The former big leaguer, who, like Burg, was signed by an MLB organization this offseason (Twins), was also fine-tuning his craft behind the plate. After suffering a shoulder injury the previous year, Pacheco needed to build back up the strength in his arm while also reacclimating to the role. This dynamic offered the forum for an exchange of tutelage between the two backstops.
“It was never a competition between us, which was really cool,” Burg reminisced. “Baseball can be kind of a dog-eat-dog world, but it never felt like that. He told me that I threw really well and would ask me what I would do to get those results. Hitting-wise, I would tell him that I loved the way he swung and would ask what he did there. It became almost like an offseason friendship where every day we would show up, go over what we wanted to work on and then get out there to get better.”
Though he was happy with the improvements made in his defensive game, his offensive performance was a bit of a bumpy road. Burg got out to a strong start to his season, driving in seven runs over the season’s first eight games and bringing a .278 batting average into the month of June. After securing a spot in the Atlantic League All-Star Game, the wear and tear from catching so frequently began to take its toll. Burg struggled in the second half despite the Ducks earning a postseason berth, and he ended the year with a .225 batting average, well below the .260 average over his previous seven seasons.
“I was extremely disappointed in how I broke down at the end of the season, in terms of my offense,” Burg noted. “I had a huge first half and made the All-Star Game. Being that it was the first time catching full-time, my body wasn’t used to the rigors of that second half. I was really disappointed in the way that I finished.”
Fortunately for the former Giants draft pick, a playoff spot gave him the opportunity to wipe the slate clean and show that he could still be dangerous offensively. In Long Island’s seven postseason games, no other Duck had a batting average within 50 points of him. Burg hit .348 (8-for-23), with the next closest teammate being Marc Krauss at .296. In addition, Burg clubbed two of the team’s three postseason homers, scored five runs and drew four walks.
Because of his tremendous turnaround, the Ducks were able to claim their second consecutive Liberty Division Championship over the rival Somerset Patriots. Looking back now on what allowed Burg to flip the proverbial switch, he was able to attribute the success to a conversation with a close friend and fellow ballplayer whom he works out with in the offseason.
“[Arizona Diamondbacks third baseman] Jake Lamb is a really good friend of mine,” he noted. “He had a second half struggle as well. We were talking, and I asked him, ‘what are you trying to do?’ He said that he just tried to back up on the ball a little more and simplify everything. Being in the playoffs and knowing that you’re 0-for-0 and get to start over helps a ton. Your numbers in the playoffs don’t matter. It’s just about trying to win as many games as possible and trying to bring home a championship. That mindset helped me and reenergized me offensively for sure.”
While his goal of bringing home a championship came up short against the York Revolution, his first experience in the Atlantic League was an overwhelming success. He was able to enjoy a high level of play, focus on winning and develop a consistent presence at one position. All of that has now culminated in a second chance at achieving his Major League dream, a chance that might not have happened otherwise.
“I feel like it exceeded all my expectations,” Burg asserted about his year with the Flock. “I really had no clue what I was walking into, and I had no idea that the baseball would be that good. The star power that you see in the league and the guys that can still play, it was truly awesome. I had more fun playing baseball last year than I probably had in my entire life. That was the main reason I was ready to come back [before the Dodgers offered a contract].”
Now that he has a full year of catching under his belt, Burg knows what to expect from the position. The mental and physical grind is tougher than just about any other position on the field. It has a significant effect over the course of time. Knowing this, and his desire to avoid a downturn as the season progresses, Burg has focused his offseason workouts on keeping his endurance high.
“I’ve just done a little bit more leg work and endurance-type activities,” he claimed. “You’re trying to feel stronger for a longer period of time. I’ve just developed a routine of doing similar things to what I had been but focusing more on my legs or increasing the number of reps. I also created a better maintenance program for the season. I think that will be a big help too. My lifts weren’t as good during the season as I would have liked them to be. I’m just trying to figure out a way to keep my body in better shape.”
It remains unclear where Burg will begin his 2018 season. He split time at Double-A and Triple-A in 2016 prior to joining the Flock, leaving either of those as his likely destination. However, the sky is the limit for him with the Dodgers. With a new workout regimen to keep up his strength, a full year of catching experience in his arsenal and a second chance at living out his dream, Burg could one day be wearing Dodger blue in a big league ballpark.
Posted on February 19, 2018, in Feature Articles and tagged Alex Burg, All-Star Game, Atlantic League, Catcher, Championship, Jordan Pacheco, Long Island Ducks, Los Angeles Dodgers. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.