Get to Know a Guy: Chris Burgess
Why should you keep your eye on O’s minor league catcher Chris Burgess this year? Here’s why…
In the summer of 2019, while recuperating from a serious bike accident, there wasn’t much I was allowed to do. However, living within walking distance of Ed Smith Stadium, I was able to make it there and keep my spirits up by watching my boys play ball. Inside those walls was one of the most intriguing and exciting baseball teams I’ve ever seen, the GCL Champion (man that feels good) 2019 Orioles. Watching them perform at a high level every day was a privilege, and I started bringing pens and paper along with my stash of Gatorade to take notes. Baseball momentum became a very powerful positive force again. I had a winning squad in my neighborhood.
A team full of future had been gifted to me, right at the location where my body could pretty much get to and every day there was a new performer to steal the show. Jake Prizina on the hill leading into John Pendergast and Nick Roth to close it out. Yea, I’ll take that! Line drives from Darell Hernaiz and backhand stabs from Gunnar Henderson. Lamar Sparks turning the dirt into a track meet. How is nobody else here?
Through the short and very hot season there was one player who earned my focus due to his play and consistency. He was one of a very impressive catcher group. He was Chris Burgess.
Burgess was signed out of Middle Georgia State just weeks before his GCL debut. The league wasn’t too tough an adjustment for him and he did well throwing out runners in a league where stolen bases are certainly a weapon. He caught six of 14 attempted base thieves and finished with a .976 fielding percentage. Also, Burgess did his best work at the plate batting cleanup. He finished up the season batting .286 with a pair of home runs and an .840 OPS.
Covid provided a temporary speed bump but there is major progress to be made in the system in 2021 and to that end I got in touch with Burgess, on May 2, not realizing this was also his birthday. I asked him some questions I’d been wondering about for a while and was especially curious about his time away from everyday baseball. I wanted to know how good it felt to be back.
“Man it feels great to have baseball back,” he said. “Having that whole year off from baseball, made me realize how much this game means to me. With the season starting in two days, it’s time to put all that hard work to the test!”
On the Gulf Coast League team, which was dotted with big prospect names and products of a fruitful 2019 draft/signing period starting to mix with international players, it was hard to stand out. I asked Burgess what it was like to get his introduction to pro ball on such a strong team.
“From the first time I got there,” he explained, “the Orioles staff and players were very welcoming. Everybody on the team was either fresh out of high school or fresh out of college and everybody was eager and hungry to get their professional careers started. The team’s chemistry hit right off the bat on day 1 and having a manager like Alan Mills really added the cherry on top”.
O’s fans of many generations love Millsy and we remember fondly his appearances out of the O’s pen. He was a bulldog righty reliever. Now he’s a manager and a brilliant instructor down in the Florida sun. Burgess was quick to note the teaching aspect of having Millsy as his first skipper.
“Millsy did bring the best out of me during that GCL season. Playing for a man with that much experience in the big leagues was an honor. I’m all ears whenever that man talks about baseball.”
On the field, Burgess looked more than comfortable initially. I wondered how a guy so new to a very high level of competition could just join an undefeated team (4-0) and look so ‘take charge’ when his number was called. His game was clean, but the stare stayed on all nine innings. His answer revealed some serious baseball lineage.
“That play style came from my mother,” Burgess said. “That’s how she played back in the day and also how her dad and uncles played when they played Negro Baseball with the Cumberland Sluggers in Virginia. Ever since I realized that this is what I wanted to do in life, baseball was more than a game to me. Also without my dad keeping us balanced, preaching good attitude and discipline, this game would have eaten me alive. His experience of being a two-sport athlete, two-time hall of famer, and a coach for 40 years helped get through times that were tough.”
Just like the early stages of his development, this answer really just made me smile. Burgess isn’t the only young Oriole with an arrow pointing in a good direction, but he’s also not the only Burgess! Chris’ twin brother Brent is an excellent right handed pitcher in the Braves system, and I asked what it was like growing up being a pair of baseball star brothers and who’s got the advantage when it’s brother vs. brother.
“Me and Brent always knew we were going to be professional baseball players no matter what kind of setbacks we were going through. We always knew if we stayed with it and trust the process that eventually the dream was going to come true. You know, playing on every team with him from tee-ball to college, we were each other’s biggest competitors. I want to see him achieve and he wants to see me achieve. I can’t wait to see him compete in Augusta this year. To see him excel in Braves organization is a blessing and makes me a proud brother. But make no mistake: when he’s 60 feet 6 inches away, he is the enemy. I know his pitches better than anyone and know when he likes to throw them so I’ll have a little advantage [laughs] so bring it on brother!”
Chris’ hometown in Georgia has quickly become a hotbed for amateur baseball talent. Because they stayed local, the Burgess’ extended baseball family includes lots of Georgia names across the game with more on the way.
“Georgia has always been a big baseball state, especially since the Perfect Game complex got up and running in Emerson, Georgia,” Chris explained. “But being a GBSA baseball alumni, I’m pulling for every player to excel coming out of that organization. Best decision of my life was to join the GBSA family. The director of GBSA is Rob Cope, who’s also out agent. I’m also excited to see some of my buddies I grew up with excel in their organizations as well, like my twin brother Brenton Burgess (Braves) Akil Badoo (Tigers) Isiah Gilliam (Yankees) Matthew Swain (Twins) MJ Rookard (Indy Ball) Justin Washington (Indy Ball) Christian Griffin (Indy Ball).”
Being part of a talented system is something that O’s farmhands are getting used to. That’s a foundational aspect of the rebuild so I asked what it was like to be entering a rising organization, something that every young professional looks forward to.
“Man,” he exclaimed, “it’s really an honor to be a part of the Orioles’ organization. As a baseball player, we look for opportunities and we have that here. The minor league coaching staff in the organization really take pride in maximizing our skills every day we show up. From the basic fundamentals, they take pride in perfecting our craft for us to be the best that we can. I believe this year, the O’s minor league teams will turn some heads for sure. I’m pumped to get started and see the outcome of our seasons.”
Music to any O’s fans ears! And to think, Burgess is one of many names who are climbing up the depth charts. Lots of them are pitchers too, so who better to ask about the upcoming crop of aces than the guy they throw to.
“Catching all the pitchers in Spring Training last month, I was impressed by everybody. We really have some dudes that are gonna shove this year and get what they deserve. During the whole month of April, I could see the fire in all of their eyes and feel their urge to get the season started. I can say that all of our pitchers took advantage of that year off and got some good quality work in. I’m excited to catch and watch these guys shove this year”.
And there are catchers too. Plenty of talent shines through up and down the system behind the plate and it’s my favorite position to examine.
“This spring training, I got to work with Maverick, Cody, Adley, and the newest member to the O’s Chris Hudgins. It was a blast working and competing with these guys all month. I definitely learned and picked something from each one of them. I can say I left camp a better catcher then when I reported”.
Playing such a challenging and demanding position requires such a high level of dedication. I wondered who he looked up to as far as catchers.
“I grew up watching guys like Salvador Perez and Yadier Molina. But I love watching baseball on TV because the catcher is always in the frame. I don’t watch it as spectator, I watch it as a student. I’ll always be a student of the game,” he said.
In case you haven’t noticed, the minor league part of the rebuild is on schedule. League championships were won in 2019. No-hitters were pitched. The rankers recognized that things have become better in Birdland and the Orioles minors are now solid all over the globe. Things can get even better. What does a young pro like him have in his mind as he looks forward to the year?
“In 2021 I expect a healthy and winning season. I want to see everybody go out there and compete at the highest level they can. There’s nothing like playing on a team where everybody leaves it all on the field. It’s a long season so health, discipline, and consistency will be factors”.
The lost season wasn’t lost on Chris as he found ways to improve his game on the field and on the greens. Golf became an escape and he’s even pretty good. Brent’s team is the Augusta Greenjackets so maybe another twin thing. But baseball is always priority number one.
“Golf was definitely the go-to that whole year without baseball. I guess it did work my hand eye coordination a little bit! [laughs] But mostly videoing my swing, receiving, footwork, and blocking is what helped my game. I would notice small things on video and then make some adjustments to better it”.
One day when they’re old and done with the game they love, he and Brent may switch from curve balls to critics as their off field favorite is movie breakdowns. But just like the crispness in his game, the dude’s got high standards.
“I love a good movie!,” Burgess told me. “Me and Brent take our movies serious. We like to watch movies with Academy Award nominations. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen every movie that won best picture in the last 4 decades.”
For now though, he’s got a season to start as an Ironbird and every day is a chance to climb upwards. Players throughout the system always appreciate the support so find him on Instagram or watch the updates that the team provides. Chris is one of the hundreds of names you should be following and watching play this year. You’re going to like what you see!