As the South Bend Cubs go through a rough streak, losing seven of ten, Charcer Burks is one player that shows up every night to play left field and be a spark in an offense lacking one. Burks is hitting in the leadoff spot, getting on base for Gleyber Torres, Chesny Young (until last week), and Cael Brockmeyer to drive in. Burks is currently hitting .308 in 40 games with 22 runs and 13 stolen bases. He has walked 14 times for an OBP of .364. And to top it off, he had a 12-game hitting streak that ended on Saturday night.
Burks was the first high school player taken by the Cubs in the 2013 MLB Draft. A ninth round pick out of William B. Travis High School in Austin, Texas, he was seen as a surprise pick. He was not well known in the high school circuit in Austin until the end of his senior season, when scouts began to take notice. Burks told the South Bend Tribune about his excitement over being selected by the Cubs:
“Coming up through high school, the Cubs were one of the first teams that started scouting me. When I heard my name called on draft day and it was the Cubs, it was awesome. It was like a dream come true. Just being a part of what they’re doing now, it’s kind of special. All the guys they have coming up, trying to win a championship at Wrigley is amazing.”
At 6 feet tall and 170 pounds, Burks has ideal size and speed for a center fielder but has been in left for South Bend. In 2013, Burks hit .269 in rookie league while stealing six bases. He played seven games in left, 22 in left and one in right.
In 2014, Burks got his first taste of being a professional for a whole season. He did much better, between rookie ball and short season Boise, Burks hit .311 with an impressive .393 OBP. Still, Burks managed to only play 56 games total. He played 34 in right for Boise with 1 in center and 1 in left, and 20 games in center at Arizona.
This year, Burks will likely play 140 games, so the key will be to stay mentally ready on a daily basis. A deeply religious young man, Burks likes to set routines to keep him on an even keel. These habits include reading the Bible every morning and keeping in contact with his parents as often as possible.
When it comes to baseball, Burks pays more attention to the mental aspect of the game. He likes to do the same physical routines every day which help keep him focused. In an article by Steve Krah of The Elkhart Truth, Burks praised Cubs mental conditioning 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.”
What gets lost in analyzing minor league development is the grind of playing such a long season. 140 games can wear down 19 and 20-year-old young men. For Burks, setting physical routines is what allows his mind able to grind it out every day. He will have good days and bad days, but keeping an even mental keel will allow him to show up physically as well.
When it comes to his swing, Burks uses quick hands to get to the ball. He is not going to hit for power, but his quick hands will allow him to spray the ball and wait on a ball deep into the zone. See this video for a great slow motion capture of his swing:
— Mike Monaco (@MikeMonaco_) May 22, 2015
For manager Jimmy Gonzalez, Burks’ greatest asset is his hustle. Here is an example of Burks’ all out play in this fantastic catch:
Burks has been one of the bright spots for the South Bend Cubs this year and his routines are big part of preparing to play every day.
As the season goes on, players will move in and out of South Bend. Burks, having just turned 20, is likely in no rush to go to a crowded outfield in Myrtle Beach. As a result, he will likely be in South Bend most of the summer. Hopefully, Burks’ routines can rub off on some of the other younger players struggling to put it together this season.
With the draft approaching, Burks is an excellent example of how makeup can play such an important role in selecting a prospect. Most players that are selected in the draft have obvious physical tools, as Burks clearly does, but not all prospects have the mental acuity to develop routines to grind it out for 140 games. Charcer Burks is a name you should hear more as the summer gets longer, since he will be getting stronger.
His manager agrees:
“He’s a young kid who is still learning. This is his first full season. But he plays hard, he hustles and he forces the defense to make throws because of his speed. That’s all you can ask for. Plus, he’s able to make adjustments…And for a young kid, 18 or 19 years old at the time, that’s big. If you can do that at that age, he’s only going to get better.”