Zack Burdi was the White Sox first round draft pick at 26th overall in 2016. Since being drafted, the 23-year-old has been highly touted as the organizations top relief prospect and one of the best relief prospects in all of baseball. During the year he was drafted, Burdi shot all the way up from Arizona Rookie League to the Triple-A Charlotte Knights in the span of not even a full season. Between the four levels of the farm system, he amassed a 3.32 ERA to go along with 51 strikeouts in 38.0 innings. During the 2017 season in Charlotte, things took an unfortunate turn as the righty tore his UCL, resulting in him having to get Tommy John surgery. Recently, I had the chance to talk with Burdi to see how he is recovering from the injury as well touch on some other topics regarding his career.
The University of Louisville has an outstanding baseball program and always seems to prepare pitchers for the Major Leagues. How did playing for the Cardinals help you in your development in becoming the pitcher that you are today?
I think playing for the university had a huge impact me. The biggest thing for me was being surrounded by guys who had the same goal as me. We all wanted to be the best player we could be, and our work ethics bounced off one another. That still affects me today on how I approach my days at the field and during the offseason.
Growing up as a White Sox fan, what was your initial reaction to getting drafted 26th overall by your hometown team that you spent your life rooting for?
It was surreal. To get drafted is a tremendous honor in itself but to be drafted by the team I had followed since I was young, it hit home. Literally. Not a day goes by that I don’t feel blessed to be given this opportunity. Definitely forever grateful to the Sox organization for that.
Your brother Nick is a pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Do you and him feed off each others success and have somewhat of friendly competition that drives you to train harder and ultimately compete better?
For sure. My family is crazy competitive so my brothers and I were always competing. Whether it was video games or backyard sports we were always going at it. That competitiveness still exists today and kind of revives itself when we get to workout together. There’s always a part of me that will cheer for Nick and only wish good on him. There’s also a part that is competing with him and watching his moves and trying to better myself from things he does and learning from experiences he’s had.
Throughout your Minor League career, you have bolted throughout the White Sox farm system and fans were prepared to see you in the bullpen as early as last season. When you heard the news that you had to receive Tommy John Surgery, how did you take it?
In short, I just took it. I accepted it and didn’t try and fight the facts. I was injured and needed to be fixed. The time I got off from the game allowed me to grow in many different aspects of my life. I obviously never wanted the surgery but in retrospect, it allowed me to become who I am today. There’s positives in everything just have to take the time to find them and build on them.
After grinding all last season to recover from the surgery, what have you learned from that process that will carry with you for the rest of your baseball career?
The biggest thing that I’ve learned is respecting the game. You can love this game with your entire heart but it owes you nothing. That’s with anything in life. You can work and work and work but sometimes the stars don’t align. With that though, you got to be willing to adjust to the situations that the game throws at you. This surgery has allowed me an experience that I will be able to look back upon and realize that I accomplished a recovery and came back from a very low point.
Being ranked 12th (according to MLB Pipeline) in the Sox farm system shows how talented of a player you are, given that it is widely considered as one of the best in baseball. What excites you about some of the things you can accomplish with those players?
It’s exciting to play with guys who are highly acknowledged as some of the top minor league dudes. I think we can accomplish a lot with one another.
What types of relationships have you created with those aforementioned players and how crucial are those relationships to the success that you look to achieve together in the future?
I try and get along with everyone in the organization. I want to be friends with anyone who represents the White Sox. One of the things that allows for a great culture is people feeling welcomed and comfortable. Guys play best when they’re loose and that’s the type of environment we want to create.
On the mound, does your mentality or approach change depending on the inning you throw in as a relief pitcher? Does it also change based on how many innings you will be asked to throw in a game?
Not really. I try to maintain my approach no matter the situation. Just stay calm and hit my keys. Everyone has their own approach and it’s important to know who you are and not try and be something your not.
With pitchers and catchers reporting for Spring Training, Burdi will look to continue working in Arizona to get back to his peak form. White Sox fans should watch for Burdi to appear in the bullpen sometime this season with a good shot at being the team’s closer in the not-so-distant future. On behalf of everyone at Sox On 35th, I would like to wish Zack tremendous luck with the 2019 season and personally, would like to give a huge thank you for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer these questions.
Featured Photo: Laura Wolff Photography / @LauraWolffPhoto