Pittsburgh Pirates 2020 Breakout Candidate: Reliever Nick Burdi


After injury cost him nearly all of the 2019 season, reliever Nick Burdi is ready to break out for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2020

At the 2018 MLB Winter Meetings the Philadelphia Phillies added reliever Nick Burdi in the Rule 5 Draft. Later that day, he was acquired in exchange for $500,000 of international signing bonus money by the Pittsburgh Pirates.

During Spring Training 2019, hype began to build for Burdi. Using a power fastball and a wipeout slider, the converted starter showed why he was once the Minnesota Twins’ top pitching prospect. His spring performance led to Burdi making the Pirates’ Opening Day roster.

Burdi would log just 8.2 innings in 11 games for the Pirates prior to suffering a season-ending nerve injury. Burdi posted a 9.35 ERA in these 8.2 innings, but his FIP was just 1.83 and he struck out 17 of the 40 batters he faced.

A big reason for Burdi’s ugly ERA was him allowing 5 runs while recording just a single out during the game in which he suffered his nerve injury. In his other 10 outings, he posted a -0.15 FIP, did not allow a home run, walked two batters, and struck out 17 while allowing just 4 runs in 8.1 innings of work.

Now, Burdi is healthy and ready to make an impact.

This past weekend Burdi threw a 20 pitch bullpen session at PNC Park. This was his fourth bullpen session of the off-season. So far, Burdi has had zero issues during these bullpen sessions.

Unfortunately for Burdi, injuries have always been a big part of his story. In addition to his nerve issue that required surgery to relieve symptoms of thoracic outlet syndrome last season, he pitched in just 19 games from 2016-2018 due to a bone bruise in his elbow and Tommy John Surgery. Hopefully, this is the year the hard throwing righty can finally stay healthy and reach his potential.

There is no denying Burdi’s pure stuff. Last season his 5.1% walk rate and 43.6% strikeout rate were both well better than league average. His power fastball averaged 96.9 MPH and held opposing batters to a .333 slugging percentage. As for his slider, it generated a 49.0% swing-and-miss rate. Overall, Burdi was able to generate a 34.6% chase rate and a 36.6% swing-and-miss rate in his short 2019 season.

Entering the 2020 season the Pirate bullpen is in flux. While general manager Ben Cherington would not commit to it at Pirate Fest over the weekend, Keone Kela figures to be the team’s closer. That said, Kela has been the center of trade rumors throughout the off-season so there is no guarantee he is even on the team on Opening Day. Kyle Crick and Richard Rodriguez are coming off seasons in which they took huge steps backward after strong 2018 campaigns, Edgar Santana will be returning from Tommy John Surgery and Michael Felz was inconsistent at best in 2018. So, there is plenty of opportunity and high leverage innings to go around for Pirate relievers in 2020. Burdi’s stuff is more than good enough to, if healthy, seize this opportunity.

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Burdi must remain on the Pirates’ active roster for over a month to start the season, or else the Pirates will have to return him to the Twins as he still holds Rule 5 status. Due to this, as long as he is healthy, you can expect him to be on the team’s Opening Day roster. Combine this with his electric stuff and Burdi is in a position to be a breakout candidate for the Pirates in 2020.