The White Sox had a very interesting 2021 draft. After diverting from their usual strategy of college players in the first round by drafting Colson Montgomery, they followed it up by drafting Wes Kath in round 2. After those two players went off the board, the White Sox got the #53 ranked prospect heading into the draft at pick #94 in Sean Burke.
Burke, 22, is a 6’6″, 230-pound right-hander out of the University of Maryland, where he missed his first season due to Tommy John Surgery. In two seasons out east, Burke pitched in 18 games (17 starts), compiling a 2.97 ERA and striking out 25 of the 73 batters he faced (34.3% K-rate). He quickly moved from the Arizona Rookie League to Low-A Kannapolis with the White Sox, where he posted a 3.21 ERA in 14 IP, walking 10 and striking out 20 (32.3% K-rate).
Burke has been touted for his explosive fastball that can touch 98, which he pairs with a Knuckle Curve and Slider with a developing changeup. He has struggled with command at times but has some incredible strikeout potential.
Burke took some time to talk about his time at Maryland, his transition into professional baseball, his pitcher profile, goals for 2022, and much more!
To start, can you tell the readers a little bit about yourself – where did you grow up, when did you start playing baseball, and when did you decide that you wanted to make a career out of it?
I grew up in Sutton, Massachusetts, and started playing baseball when I was 4 years old. I knew it was something I wanted to do for a career when I was about 7 years old.
You received the opportunity to play college baseball at the University of Maryland, though you had to miss your freshman season due to Tommy John Surgery. What were your experiences like at Maryland, with both your teammates and coaches? How difficult was it to navigate the recovery process through Tommy John Surgery?
I had an amazing time at Maryland. I was surrounded by some of my best friends as teammates and was able to build relationships that will last me a lifetime. I think Coach Vaughn is setting up the program well for success in the future. TJ was very hard for me initially because it was the first real injury I’ve ever had. But looking back now that year I had off was such a huge developmental year for me both physically and maturity-wise that I now look at the surgery as a huge blessing in my life.
The White Sox drafted you in the 3rd round of the last year’s draft out of the University of Maryland. What was your draft experience like – all the way from when teams first started scouting you up until your draft day? What was it like to get the call from the White Sox?
The draft process was fun at times and then very stressful at other times. Draft Day for me was crazy just because you talk to all these teams for a year or so and then it comes down to an hour or so when you’re sitting there with your friends and family waiting to see who’s going to take you. I knew going into the draft the white Sox were high on me and as the picks kept coming in and I wasn’t hearing my name, I began to get more and more anxious. I fell a little lower than I was expecting to go, and that feeling of sitting there watching the picks go by without a call is something I’ll never forget and will always motivate me for the rest of my career. Once I got the call that I was going to the Sox I was so relieved and happy to be going to an organization with such a bright future. I’m very excited for the next few years with the White Sox.
You had a brief introduction to professional baseball in 2021, throwing 17 innings (most of them at Low-A Kannapolis). What was the transition like from college baseball to professional baseball last season – how did playing at Maryland help this transition? What are some of the most important lessons you’ve learned early on in your professional career?
I thought the transition from college to pro ball went very smoothly. I felt very well prepared from the experiences I got at Maryland both on and off the field to succeed at this level. The biggest lesson I’ve learned so far is that the game of baseball doesn’t define who I am as a person and the ability to separate baseball from life has made my life much simpler.
You recently posted an off-season workout with Hop’s Athletic Performance on Twitter. How have you built your offseason plan given the current situation within baseball, and what is the value you feel you’re gaining by incorporating Hop’s Athletic Performance into your offseason plans?
I had a few focus points this off-season that I wanted to hammer down. From a physical standpoint, I wanted to get more explosive and put on about 10 pounds. From a pitching standpoint, I’ve been working on cleaning up the rotation of my hips and timing of my delivery, along with developing a harder slider and working on my fastball command. I’ve thrown with John DeRouin (Hop’s Pitching) for about two years now and have loved the progress we’ve made. Throwing with him helps me nail down any adjustments we’re trying to make very quickly and efficiently.
What kind of pitcher do you consider yourself to be? Do you have a “go-to” pitch, and what do you consider your best pitch to be? How do you like to attack hitters?
I want to be a frontline ace of a staff and I know I can be that in the future. My go-to pitch is my fastball and I use that as much as possible to get swing and misses and attack hitters. My goal is always to work ahead of guys and not give in to hitters.
What are some of your focus points heading into the 2022 season? How are you looking to develop in 2022, and what would you consider a “successful” 2022 season for yourself, given that it will be just your first full professional season?
My main goals for 2022 are to improve my fastball command and be in the zone at a higher rate. I want to show the best version of myself this season and for me, I would consider it a success if I’m able to play to my full potential because I know I have what it takes to dominate and move up the system.
Let’s set the stage: Guaranteed Rate Field, and you’re walking out of the dugout for your Major League debut. What song are you walking out/warming up to?
This is a tough one for me since my warm-up song in college was a Boston “themed” song, but I’d have to go with either “I Get Money” by 50 Cent or “100 Black Coffins,” but you’ll have to circle back with me when that [major league debut] happens, because my answer will probably change a million times, hahaha.
What do you like to do when you aren’t playing baseball? Do you have any hobbies that you enjoy or other sports you enjoy watching?
I played basketball my whole life so I love hooping when I’m not playing baseball. I love fishing, surfing, going to the beach, playing video games, and just hanging out with my friends and family.
Lastly, to what – or whom – do you owe your success thus far throughout your career? Is there a piece of advice you would share with younger players who are hoping to be where you are one day?
I owe my success to my parents, hard work, and the ability God blessed me with. I have obviously had many coaches and teammates that have been vital to my success and development, but I’d say if I were to pick just a single thing it would definitely be my parents and family with all the support and belief they’ve had in me since I was a kid. My dad was always coming home from work to throw or hit with me and teach me how to play, and my mom was always there to help me with whatever I needed, bring me to my games, and support me while I’m playing.
If I had one piece of advice for younger players I’d say to work incredibly hard at perfecting the things you can control and good things will happen.
On behalf of the entire Sox On 35th team, I would like to thank Sean for taking the time out to answer our questions. I loved his answer about the type of pitcher he is, but it’s always great to see the personality of the players we really only get to see in the stat sheets.
Burke clearly has a bright future ahead of him, and it’s cool to see the focus he has heading into 2022 – as well as the chip on his shoulder. We wish Sean all the best in 2022 and beyond, and we hope to see him on the South Side in the near future.
You can follow Sean on Twitter @TopShelfBurkey – go show him some support!
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Featured Image: Maryland Baseball (@terpsbaseball) / Twitter