You have to be a pretty hardcore fan to know who Nick Burdi is. If you’re a loyal TPOP reader, you probably are, but I’ll excuse you if you need a refresher:
- In December 2017, the Phillies selected Nick Burdi in the Rule 5 Draft from the Twins
- They promptly traded Burdi to the Pirates for $500,000 in international slot money for the 2017-18 period
- Burdi was recovering from a May 2017 Tommy John surgery at the time, so the Pirates were able to stash him on the 60-day DL
- He made his minor league debut with the Pirates in July 2018 with the Bradenton Marauders, then made some cameo appearances with both Altoona and Indy before making his Major League debut in September
- He pitched a whopping 1.1 innings over two appearances in September
At the time the Pirates traded for him, I loved the deal. I thought it was a creative use of their international slot money and a good way to pick up a potential late inning bullpen arm for very little money. I also liked that he could be stashed for most of the year on the 60-day DL and in the minors while rehabbing.
When a team selects a player in the Rule 5 draft, said player has to stay on the Major League roster for at least 90 days before they can be optioned down to the minors. With Burdi accruing 30 last September, that means he’ll have to be in Pittsburgh for essentially all of April and May before spending the rest of the season in Triple-A for development.
But that may not necessarily be Burdi’s path. Typically, I’m not in favor of Rule 5 picks. They’re usually on low-upside guys that every minor league system has. If you’re a rebuilding team, they’re good because you can get cheap talent for essentially free. But if you’re a contending team or one that has designs on contending, you’re tying up a roster spot that can be used on a more viable player.
Burdi, however, may not need to be treated like a Faberge egg. Sure, he’ll be getting only low leverage type of work (Pirates either way up or way down), but the Pirates bullpen is shaping up to be so strong at the back end that his services may not be needed all that much anyway. With Vazquez having the 9th on lockdown, Kela and Crick controlling the 7th and 8th, and Rodriguez as the strikeout fireman, the number of key innings is already spoken for by the best quartet in the NL Central. If Burdi was already going to be the seventh reliever on a 12-man pitching staff, he wasn’t going to work a ton in the first place.
And it’s not like there’s a lot of pressure coming from Indianapolis in terms of elite bullpen options. I think we’ve all seen enough of the Dovydas Neverauskas Experience. Clay Holmes is not anything extraordinary. Edgar Santana is out all year while recovering from his own Tommy John surgery. If you want to build a case for Aaron Slegers, I’ll listen I suppose. If Jesus Liranzo can guarantee he knows where the ball is going after it leaves his hand, I’m intrigued.
But Burdi has good stuff at present. Sure, it is a nanoscopic small size, but his pitch velocities and mix were intriguing. As per Statcast, Burdi’s four seamer came in at 96.6 mph, his sinker at 96.1, and his slider at 85.7. That is a power mix of pitches. Essentially, he’s combining Kyle Crick’s fastball velocity with Felipe Vazquez’s slider velocity. Here’s a GIF from Pitching Ninja showing you Burdi in Spring Training:
Nick Burdi, Stealing Jorge Polanco’s Soul. pic.twitter.com/XAeAjI9mRs
? Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) March 20, 2019
This does not mean that Burdi is a true nightmare combination of these two pitchers and destined for greatness. Burdi needs to refine his command and control. The same was said, however, of Kyle Crick while he was with the Giants and even upon his arrival here last year.
NIck Burdi has far more upside than a typical Rule 5 pick and, if properly harnessed, could add to the already-strong Pirates bullpen to create a devastating fifth head of the hydra.