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Pittsburgh Pirates: Down on the farm, a minor league spotlight-Nick Burdi

An in-depth look at Pirates pitching prospect Nick Burdi

Pittsburgh Pirates Nick Burdi
Pittsburgh Pirates Nick Burdi
Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

The young career of Pittsburgh Pirates pitching prospect Nick Burdi has been one that is riddled with incredible promise and gut-wrenching disappointment. Burdi looks to finally turn things around this season with the Pirates after injuries have claimed most of his young career.

Originally drafted by the Minnesota Twins out of Downers Grove High School in Downers Grove, Illinois in the 24th round of the 2011 draft, Burdi decided to forgo his professional career and instead enrolled at the University of Louisville in hopes of bettering his draft status with a solid collegiate showing.

Louisville used Burdi as a starter to begin his college baseball career before eventually converting him to the closer role for their program. He posted a 0.78 earned run average with 61 strikeouts in 34 2⁄3 inning pitched his sophomore year and would follow up with a 0.49 earned run average and 65 strikeouts in just 37 innings pitched his junior year.

His impressive performance at Louisville did exactly what he had intended it to and boosted his draft stock from the 24th round in 2011 to the second round in 2014. What did not change was the team that selected him. The Minnesota Twins opted to select Burdi again in 2014, this time with the 46th overall selection in the draft.

After signing a $1.2 million contract, Burdi would pitch 20 1⁄3 innings between Low-A and High-A for the Twins in 2014. In 2015, he would pitch 63 2⁄3 innings in relief between High-A and Double-A for Minnesota, en route to being named the top pitching prospect in the Twins organization before the 2016 season.

However, that is when things began to unravel for Burdi. In 2016, he would be limited to only three innings pitched due to a deep bone bruise in his right elbow. The following season, he would be forced to undergo Tommy John Surgery after tearing his UCL, which caused him to miss the entire 2017 season.

After missing almost two entire seasons and with uncertainty surrounding his status for the 2018 season due to his recovery from Tommy John surgery, the Twins decided not to put him on their 40-man roster, exposing him to the Rule 5 Draft.

The Philadelphia Phillies would select Burdi in the 2018 Rule-5 Draft but would trade him to the Pittsburgh Pirates the same day in exchange for $500,000 in international signing bonus money.

In 2018, Burdi would pitch 13 1⁄3 innings in his return from Tommy John surgery, pitching at High-A, Double-A, Triple-A and eventually throwing 1 1⁄3 innings at the end of the 2018 season for Pittsburgh.

After making a full return from Tommy John surgery to pitch in the major leagues, the Pirates felt that they had stolen an elite pitching prospect in exchange for $500,000 of international signing bonus money. Before the 2019 season, there would be a great deal of hype surrounding Burdi’s future with Pittsburgh.

The hype continued to grow as Burdi’s electric pitching arsenal immediately produced results out of the Pirates bullpen. However, on June 25th of 2019, while pitching against the Arizona Diamondbacks, Burdi struggled, giving up five earned runs while recording just one out.

The injury bug would strike the Pirates reliever again, this time in scary fashion as he collapsed on the mound grabbing his right bicep and writhing in pain after throwing a pitch. Medical exams would reveal that Burdi would require thoracic outlet surgery to repair the thoracic nerve in his pitching shoulder.

The procedure required Burdi to have a rib and multiple muscles removed from his body, while decompressing a series of nerves. The surgery required a lengthy hospital stay and even more grueling rehab process. As a result, he would miss the remainder of 2019.

Before being shut down with the injury, Burdi has pitched to an incredible 43.6% strikeout rate with a minuscule 5.1% walk rate. He had 17 strikeouts in just 8 2⁄3 innings pitched, appearing in 11 games for the Pirates.

The Pirates recently announced that Burdi is 100% pain-free and has reported to Spring Training, where he is pitching with no restrictions. He is likely to make the Pirates roster out of Spring Training, as the Pirates must keep him on the 40-man roster for at least one month to begin the season or they would have to send him back to the Minnesota Twins, per the specifications of the Rule-5 Draft.

He is currently projected to be a major part of the back end of the Pirates bullpen. Most believe he will serve as the setup man for current Bucs closer Keone Kela. However, with Kela being a plausible option to be traded to a contender at the trade deadline this season, Burdi could end up being the closer by the end of the season with a solid performance.

Burdi possesses two elite pitches in his arsenal. The first is a power fastball that he throws over 100 miles per hour and that averages 97 miles per hour on the radar gun. His second pitch is a devastating power slider that had a 49% swing-and-miss rate on last season. Burdi reaches 90 miles per hour with his wipeout slider.

The 6’3” and 225-pound Burdi is only 27-years old and is currently rated as the 30th overall prospect in the Pirates organization. There is no question that with his two elite pitches, he has the makeup to be a dominant closer for the Pirates. The question is whether he can put his injury history behind him.

If this is the year that Burdi finally regains his health, it could be a huge year for him. The Pirates and their fans would be ecstatic if he represents the closer of the future, especially after the team lost their star closer, Felipe Vasquez, due to his arrest last season.

There is no doubt that Nick Burdi should be a player that Pirates fans watch closely this season, as it could represent the season that he puts it all together. With the hard-luck that Burdi has endured in regards to his injury history, he has the chance to become a fan favorite for his perseverance.