By Jason Shetler
Prior to the 2014 MLB Draft, Nick Burdi was projected as one of the best relief pitchers in college baseball, while pitching for the University of Louisville. In that draft, the Minnesota Twins took Burdi as a second round selection.
During his time in the Twins organization, Burdi flashed dominance with an upper-90’s fastball and plus slider combo. However, injuries started to play a part in his development. Burdi missed a big chunk of the 2016 season, as he sustained a bone bruise on his right elbow. The following year, he underwent Tommy John surgery in May to repair his UCL and was out for the remainder of the season.
Even with the injuries, Burdi still provided plenty of upside, so it was a surprise that Minnesota left him off their 40-man roster and exposed him to the 2017 Rule 5 Draft. The general consensus was that Burdi would be one of the first players chosen, and indeed that was the case, being selected by the Philadelphia Phillies. Shortly after though, the Phillies dealt Burdi to the Pirates in exchange for half a million in International spending money.
Burdi spent the first half of last year recovering from the surgery and building his arm strength back up. In mid-July, he returned to the mound on rehab assignment for High A Bradenton, followed by stints with AA Altoona and AAA Indianapolis. Burdi would arrive to Pittsburgh as a September call up, but only appeared in two games.
The Pirates bullpen was a plus for them in 2018, with All-Star Felipe Vazquez, trade deadline acquisition Keone Kela and the emergence of both Kyle Crick and Richard Rodriguez. A couple of spots in the bullpen will be up for grabs, one of which opened up due to Edgar Santana having Tommy John. Out of all the players to watch this Spring Training for the Pirates, Burdi will be the most intriguing. In his brief showing with the Bucs last offseason, he displayed a tremendous arsenal, averaging 96.6 mph on the four-seam fastball, a power sinker that averaged 96.1 mph and the slider at 85.7 mph, which creates good velocity separation from his fastball and sinker. Since Burdi is still under Rule 5 restrictions, he would obviously need to make the club in the Spring, but his upside over most of the other reliever candidates gives him a great chance to claim a bullpen spot.