In uncertain times -- like those we're living in right now -- it's easy to lose sight of the big picture. The long game. The reasons for making sacrifices or taking calculated detours.Clear heads prevail when the path appears to be straight and unobstructed, but emotion often clouds judgment at
In uncertain times -- like those we're living in right now -- it's easy to lose sight of the big picture. The long game. The reasons for making sacrifices or taking calculated detours.
Clear heads prevail when the path appears to be straight and unobstructed, but emotion often clouds judgment at the first sign of risk or failure. The urge to cut your losses and move on can become overwhelming.
After a rookie campaign that was as straight a line to the Majors as imaginable, Zack Burdi found his road to the South Side of Chicago derailed by injuries. The White Sox never wavered from their investment in the 2016 first-rounder, and with a clean bill of health entering the upcoming season, the organization's No. 17 prospect is determined to prove he was worth the commitment.
And early returns from the right-hander over four outings at big league camp this spring were bullish. Burdi yielded a hit and a walk while fanning four over four scoreless Cactus League frames.
"I worked really hard this offseason and made some changes to my mechanics, and I was adamant about coming into spring focused and ready to make an impact," Burdi said. "I'm just so thankful [to the organization] for keeping that faith in me and always making me feel wanted and like they're on your side about everything. … I was in some pretty low places not too long ago. After a whirlwind that first year, watching guys pass you up, sitting on the sideline 'cause you can't be out there. It's tough. But I know it's all going to help me going forward and I'm better for it today.
"Right now, I'm just determined to make good on the risk the White Sox took on me. I owe a lot to them, not just with baseball. So my goal is be the guy they envisioned when they drafted me that high in 2016."
Taken with the No. 26 overall pick that year, Burdi signed for $2,128,500 after a dominant season as Louisville's closer and was expected to be on the fast track to the Major Leagues. Armed with an 80-grade fastball, a plus-slider and a changeup, the 6-foot-3, 205-pound righty did not disappoint.
"He was a kid that we were very excited to draft," White Sox director of player development Chris Getz said. "We brought him into the system and he moved quickly, really showing all the things that made him attractive and why we drafted him so early."
After making a single appearance in the Rookie-level Arizona League to open his debut professional season, Burdi was assigned to Class A Advanced Winston-Salem, where he tossed just five innings before being promoted to the Southern League. In 12 games with Double-A Birmingham, Burdi posted a 1.00 WHIP, whiffing 24 and holding opponents to a .132 average over 16 frames. That performance earned the Illinois native a promotion to the Minors' highest level. Burdi completed his rookie year with nine appearances for Triple-A Charlotte. There he posted a 2.25 ERA while limiting International League batters to a .161 average and punching out 22 over 16 innings.
"It was so crazy," Burdi said. "I got to the Arizona League, but before I could even learn people's names, I got sent out to Winston. A couple of good outings there and then the next thing I know I'm in Birmingham. That was a really good experience for me. I feel like things just kinda clicked there, had about seven to 10 solid outings ... I was feeling really good about myself and making friends. Then I got sent to Charlotte and that was really eye-opening. Suddenly you're around guys with kids and families, and it's a whole new perspective. But it was definitely something that helped me grow right out of the gate and made me realize that, even at new leagues and new levels, the game is the same.
"The experience was definitely something I'll never take for granted."
Burdi opened 2017 back with the Knights and made 29 appearances before blowing his elbow out in July and undergoing Tommy John surgery.
"It was pretty crushing," he said. "To feel like I was so close to the bigs and the opportunity to showcase what I could do at that level and then have it taken away, it hurt. But I know it's something that just happens. Look, it happens a lot. So I just quickly changed my thinking to, 'OK, how do we beat this? How do we start the clock to recover and get back to playing?' You can't do much about the situation, but you can control your attitude towards it and that's what I did."
Burdi returned to the mound on Aug. 4, 2018 in the Arizona League and went two-thirds of an inning. He finished the year with a combined 6 1/3 frames over seven rehab appearances in the AZL.
"He did a really good job coming back from the Tommy John," Getz said. "We wanted to make sure we got him back on a mound at the proper rate, give him every resource to succeed, and he did well every step of the way."
Burdi started off last year's campaign on April 22 with Class A Kannapolis. After three outings for the Intimidators, he returned to Birmingham on May 2. He went through a bit of a rough stretch early in his second stint with the Barons, but then the flamethrower began to show flashes of his old self. Over seven appearances in June, Burdi allowed two earned runs on five hits and four walks with six strikeouts.
That's when the injury bug struck again.
While stretching and doing agility work before a game, Burdi tore the patellar tendon in his right knee. He tried to rehab the injury, but when that cartilage became loose as a result of the tear, surgery was the only option.
"My stuff was just turning the corner. I was finally finding my groove again and to have that happen, something not really to do with baseball, it was pretty upsetting." Burdi said. "The next thing I know I'm watching White Sox games from a mattress on the floor of my family's house. … But again, it's just one of those things. It all happens for a reason and pushes you in a direction you didn't see coming and when it's all said and done, it'll be for the best. ... And that time off definitely helped me mentally and physically. It's showing now with how I've done this spring and the approach I'm taking every day."
"He was really starting to make strides again and then we had to shut him down," Getz added. "The surgery was another unfortunate turn for Zack. But just like he did with the elbow, he took on the rehab really well with the knee. And so far, he's looked really good in Spring Training. This is the best we've seen him in a while."
Burdi made his second trip to big league camp last month and took the mound for the first time since his second surgery on Feb. 25 in a split-squad game against the Giants. Through his first four professional seasons, the 25-year-old was limited to 100 1/3 innings.
"With anyone that's faced with two injuries and that kind of adversity, it's never an easy road back. I'm sure some doubt starts creeping in your mind," Getz said. "So to be out here and be in the mix and get in daily work and be in Major League games and be with teammates -- there's a different kind of energy about him. It's exciting for the organization to see and more importantly for his own confidence."
Over his four shutout Cactus League frames this spring, Burdi limited batters to a .077 average and posted a 0.50 WHIP.
"The ball is coming out of his hand really well. The velocity is right where we hoped it would be for March," White Sox pitching coordinator Everett Teaford said. "We've asked him to make some mechanical changes and he's really bought in and really worked hard. And he's seeing the fruits of his hard work now."
Chicago reassigned Burdi to Double-A Birmingham on Wednesday just before the coronavirus pandemic shut down operations for the foreseeable future the following day. So while uncertainty remains as to when the season actually will get underway, Burdi is certain of one thing -- he'll be ready.
"It was nice to go in this spring and have success against big leaguers. Definitely huge confidence-wise," he said. "And with everything going on right now, everything at a standstill, as a baseball community, a sports community, we all know we gotta put ourselves aside for the time being and do what's best for everyone. But I'm excited to get back out there, whenever that time is, and keep building off this spring."
In the meantime, Burdi's tremendously grateful about being able to get back on the mound in the Cactus League.
"In the end, I'm just thankful for everything that got me here," he said. "The injuries, it just felt like one of those things where I couldn't catch a break. But now, it's two times I can look back on and know I accomplished everything I wanted to through that adversity. Not just a baseball thing, but a life thing. Those were two huge experiences for me.
"I want to be in the big leagues and winning games in Chicago playing in front of friends and family. That's always been the goal. Making sure I'm doing everything I can to help the White Sox win games and making good on the investment they made on me. ... I think it's going to be a special year -- whenever it starts -- so I just have to go out there and work and let it all fall into place."
Rob Terranova is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter, @RobTnova24.