Pirates Gamble On Health Of Rule 5 Pick Nick Burdi

The Pirates exited the Rule 5 draft with a reliever who, despite his high upside, has no chance to make the Opening Day roster.

Righthander Nick Burdi offers tantalizing, triple-digits velocity, but he will be unavailable in the first half after having Tommy John surgery last May. In fact, various arm injuries limited him to just 20 total innings at Double-A Chattanooga the last two seasons.

The Pirates acquired Burdi from the Phillies, who selected him third overall from the Twins in the Rule 5 draft. Pittsburgh sent $500,000 in international bonus pool money to Philadelphia to acquire the rights to Burdi, who will be 25 next season.

“Obviously, he has a big arm and has shown the ability in the minor leagues to get strikeouts,” general manager Neal Huntington said. “It seemed like over the last two years, his ability to throw strikes has improved some. We understand the injury risk, and his Tommy John surgery is the reason why we believe he’s available, because otherwise, he might have finished the season in big leagues.

“But his potential upside was worth the gamble.”

Burdi excelled in college as the closer for Louisville, when he boasted a high-90s fastball and devastating slider. The Twins took him in the second round of the 2014 draft, and he reached Double-A in 2015 before missing most of 2016 with a bruised right humerus. He tore his ulnar collateral ligament in 2017.

In 17 innings before the injury, Burdi allowed only one run while striking out 20 and walking just four. For his career, he has struck out 12.3 per nine innings.

“He has the fastball-breaking ball combination, the ability to get swings and misses, the ability to get soft contact,” Huntington said. “He has that big arm you can dream on.”

Because Burdi will begin the season on the disabled list, the Pirates won’t have to waive him when he does not begin the season on the 25-man roster. However, he must accumulate a combined 90 days on the active roster in 2018 and 2019 to remain in the organization.

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