Who is Nick Burdi, Yankees pitcher coming up with tantalizing stuff?

Nick Burdi is a non-roste relief pitcher invited to Yankees spring training camp in Tampa.
Charles Wenzelberg/NYP
Michael Bennington
Monday February 19, 2024

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Spring training buzz often whispers of unexpected contenders, and this year, the New York Yankees might have found one in 31-year-old Nick Burdi. The non-roster invitee, a late addition to camp, has turned heads with his fiery performance against hitters, igniting hopes of a potential bullpen spot.

Pitching coach Matt Blake, known for his keen eye for talent, couldn’t hide his admiration. “Really impressive,” he declared, echoing the sentiment of those who witnessed Nick Burdi’s electric arsenal. His fastball, consistently clocking in at 98 mph in recent seasons, is a flamethrower’s dream. And his slider? Top-tier, according to those in the know.

Blake’s interest in the Nick Burdi brothers isn’t new. Both Nick and his younger brother, Zack, were once highly touted prospects out of Louisville. Drafted in the second round by the Twins in 2014, Nick’s journey has seen him suit up for several clubs, including the Cubs last season. Zack, drafted first overall by the White Sox in 2016, also had a brief stint with the Rays in 2023. While their paths diverged, both have tasted the major leagues, a valuable experience that could now benefit the Yankees.

About Nick Burdi

Nick Burdi isn’t just another arm-throwing heat in spring training. He’s a testament to perseverance, a rare breed in baseball history. Battling back from not one, but two Tommy John surgeries, coupled with a grueling thoracic outlet surgery, Nick Burdi stands as one of only two pitchers ever to return to the majors after such a gauntlet. The other? Shawn Hill, who managed a fleeting comeback in 2012.

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Hailing from Downers Grove, Illinois, Nick Burdi is a pitcher with a curious story. Despite possessing a strikeout weapon, his previous major league stints (primarily with the Pirates) haven’t translated to dominance, with a high 9.39 ERA across 19 appearances. But Nick Burdi, resilient as ever, fought back.

Returning from his second Tommy John surgery, a renewed vigor sparked in Triple-A last season. His ERA plummeted to a promising 3.20 over 21 appearances, demonstrating control beyond just raw power. A brief call-up to the Rays saw him allow three runs over three innings, further hinting at progress.

Nick Burdi is a potent arm, that much is clear. Injuries may have derailed his career, but 27 strikeouts in just 15.1 major league innings and 191 Ks across 136 minor league frames speak volumes about his raw talent. Now, healthy and motivated, he yearns to rewrite his narrative.

But the elephant in the room remains injuries. While currently healthy, the Yankees know they must handle his case with prudence. His potential as a late-inning shutdown artist is undeniable, but it hinges on staying healthy.

2019 seemed to be Nick Burdi’s year. He earned a coveted spot on the Pirates’ Opening Day roster, ready to unleash his blazing fastball. But fate had other plans. In April, a wrenching pain struck his right biceps, tearing not just tissue, but his hopes for the season. Surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS) followed in June, and then another in September to address a nagging forearm issue.

By 2020, his appearances were limited to a mere three, and just as Nick Burdi started to glimpse a comeback, another blow: a second Tommy John surgery in October. This wasn’t just another setback; it was a battle against his own body. Yet, he wouldn’t give in. Even in 2022, he faced another procedure, a transposition of his ulnar nerve.

These injuries weren’t merely statistics; they were battles fought and scars earned. But through it all, Nick Burdi’s spirit remained unbroken. He kept coming back, each time determined to prove himself, each comeback a testament to his unwavering passion for the game.

The immaculate stuff

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But Nick Burdi’s story isn’t just about defying statistics; it’s about grit. Last year, after a triumphant return with the Cubs, his momentum was cruelly halted by an appendectomy. Yet, here he is again, a non-roster invitee with the Yankees, grabbing everyone’s attention with his fiery fastball and undying spirit.

His presence isn’t just a chance for him; it’s a chance for the Yankees. Could they be the team to unlock his full potential, the team to witness another improbable comeback etched into baseball lore? Spring training whispers are swirling, fueled by his early performance. Nick Burdi, the underdog with a heart of steel, might just have another chapter to write in his extraordinary journey.

Nick Burdi expressed on Sunday that he believes he still has the capability to perform. He mentioned his optimism that his health will improve over time. Reflecting on his experience in the locker room, he recalled a saying from his time playing with some of the guys last year: “We have a jersey, we got a chance.” He emphasized his determination to seize any opportunity given to him and make the most of it.

Could 2024 be the year Nick Burdi defies the odds once again? The 31-year-old has already overcome a mountain of adversity, battling back from two Tommy John surgeries, a grueling thoracic outlet surgery, and even an appendectomy that stole his momentum last season. This relentless spirit echoes the journey of Billy Hamilton, another player who carved his own path after multiple setbacks.

Like Hamilton, who signed a minor-league deal with the Yankees just a year ago, Nick Burdi has found himself bouncing between organizations, searching for a place to call home. Yet, both men share a relentless pursuit of success, as evidenced by Hamilton’s impressive rookie season. Could Burdi’s early spring training brilliance be hinting at a similar trajectory?

Blake mentioned that the previous year, the pitcher had adjusted his arm slot slightly, claiming that it aided in his recovery process. According to Blake, the pitcher expressed that he experiences less strain with this adjustment. Despite this alteration, he continues to throw pitches in the mid-to-upper ’90s. Additionally, Blake noted that the pitcher has developed an impressive slider.

Spring training whispers often bring tales of change, and for 31-year-old Nick Burdi, that change takes the form of a revamped pitching arsenal. Arriving at camp sporting a modified arm slot, he isn’t just tinkering; he’s making a bold statement.

This isn’t a last-ditch effort. The seeds of this transformation were sown late last season, with Nick Burdi experimenting before fully committing during the offseason. His motivation? Not just innovation, but survival. After battling through two Tommy John surgeries and a grueling thoracic outlet surgery, Burdi needed a way to protect his frequently operated arm.

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Fortunately, this adjustment wasn’t just about safety; it proved to be a boon for his pitches. In his own words, they’ve even improved. Saturday’s live batting practice session served as his unveiling, showcasing a mid-to-upper 90s fastball that crackled with life. And that wasn’t all. A sweeping slider and a deceptive changeup joined the party, all delivered from his new, lower arm slot.

“That was real,” pitching coach Matt Blake said. “That was impressive.” 

The problems and prospects

Nick Burdi’s story isn’t a conventional one. Once lauded as a prospect capable of storming through the minor leagues, his path took a sharp turn when injuries intervened. In May 2017, the dreaded news arrived: Tommy John surgery, a hurdle that would sideline him and force him to rewrite his career script.

Undeterred, Nick Burdi embarked on a grueling comeback journey. Drafted by the Pirates in the 2017 Rule 5 Draft, he continued his rehab within their organization, finally stepping onto the big league stage in September 2018. But the road wouldn’t be smooth. Despite flashes of brilliance, setbacks persisted, culminating in a second Tommy John surgery in 2020.

Now, at 31, Nick Burdi stands at a crossroads. He’s older, yes, but also wiser, his arm potentially stronger thanks to advancements in modern surgical techniques. His spring training performance hints at a revitalized pitcher, showcasing improved control and a burning desire to prove himself once again.

Clay Holmes remarked that Nick Burdi is one of the hardest workers he has encountered, having crossed paths with him during their time in Pittsburgh.

He mentioned that it was the most challenging experience because it was the first time he encountered numerous setbacks. He explained that he had a hematoma and an infection in that area, and every time he threw, it caused pain. He recalled that during the summer of 2022, he started considering looking for a job or exploring other interests because he wasn’t sure if he would be able to continue with baseball.

Now, with the Yankees bullpen roster seemingly set at eight and only one potential opening, Nick Burdi’s early spring training brilliance has placed him squarely in contention. Can he translate his newfound control and improved ERA into a coveted spot in the pinstripes?

Blake expressed that it seemed like there was potential to discover something valuable there with their assistance and ensuring his presence on the field. He added that it was among the top arms available.

Nick’s spring training performance has been more than just impressive; it’s been an eye-opener. His raw talent, combined with his veteran experience, paints a picture of a potential late bloomer, a dark horse contender vying for a coveted bullpen spot. As spring training progresses, all eyes will be on Nick Burdi, the unassuming invitee who might just surprise everyone and claim his place among the Yankees’ pitching ranks.

Blake mentioned that he is familiar with the Burdi brothers and has observed them over the years. He noted that they have gained recognition due to their ability to throw hard but pointed out that both of them have struggled to remain on the field consistently.

This desire for longevity fuels Nick Burdi’s drive. He envisions pitching for another 6-8 years, and the Yankees, renowned for their ability to unlock hidden bullpen gems, might just be the perfect incubator for his next chapter. They have a proven track record of turning castoffs into stars, and Nick Burdi hopes to be the next success story.

Nick Burdi expressed that as a father, he hoped that in the future, his children would see that he didn’t give up, but rather continued pushing himself so that if they ever had a dream, they would pursue it with passion.

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