Zack Burdi’s debut means something different now

When the White Sox drafted Zack Burdi with the 26th overall pick in the 2016 draft, where did the team think he would be on Aug. 8, 2020?

The best-case scenario had Burdi helping the White Sox during their last gasp at contending in the Robin Ventura era, but their hopes crumbled before Burdi started matriculating up the organizational ladder.

Limit the exercise to elements directly within Burdi’s sphere, and he probably would’ve been introduced into a major-league role at some point in 2017. Three years later, he either would have been on the verge of his first year of arbitration, or the Sox might have already signed him to an early-career extension in order to keep save totals from inflating his pay scale to amounts worth rethinking.

What they probably didn’t envision for August 2020 was Burdi making his major-league debut as a 25-year-old, and without any recent minor-league success to warrant it.

But that’s how it happened, thanks to Tommy John surgery, an exceptionally arduous recovery from Tommy John surgery compounded by knee surgery, and a pandemic. One’s normal, one’s not unheard of, and one’s a once-in-a-century occurrence.

The good news? Burdi’s promotion didn’t look like charity, or necessitated by worldwide calamity. A guy who threw triple-digits in college, then battled for years to even touch 96, sat at 98 mph over the course of his first 12 fastballs in the majors. He generated swinging strikes on four of them, and his changeup had enough juice (91 mph) to register as a two-seam fastball on Statcast.

If you want to keep feeling great, you might not want to ask him how he found what he’d been missing:

Burdi claimed that his stuff just took a jump a month and a half ago after some mechanical tweaks he adapted from a video he saw on Twitter, so perhaps everyone is still adjusting to his new reality.

“Not long is the short answer,” Burdi said of how long his stuff has looked the way it did Saturday. “It kind of brought everything back together, and I was able to feel myself riding down the mound again, and the way my arm was working three years ago was all coming back.”

Burdi isn’t out of the woods yet. Even before Tommy John surgery, the White Sox were reluctant to use him on consecutive days, and he didn’t pitch well in the few such appearances he made. His introduction to the majors is also his reintroduction to competitive pitching, so he’s likely going to be used in a cautious manner.

But the debut is a triumph enough for one of the many, many fine products from Downers Grove South High School, made sweeter by the fact that it stopped being a given somewhere along the way.

Burdi might benefit more than anybody else with regards to the preservation of the 28-man roster, because it’s pretty easy to find a hiding spot in a 10-man bullpen until a situation is conducive, provided there aren’t three other guys bickering behind the curtain over which one needs to leave.

Ideally, Burdi finds a way to be a big part of a White Sox bullpen, even if it’s one rebuilding cycle later than the team intended. Ideally, the White Sox see how else they’ve been able to amass their other promising arms and understand that a relief-only profile isn’t a good use of first-round resources:

  • Codi Heuer (sixth round)
  • Aaron Bummer (19th round)
  • Evan Marshall (non-roster invitee)
  • Jimmy Cordero (waivers)

(And while it’s premature to lump Matt Foster in with this group due to lesser stuff and/or a shorter track record, he’s struck out nine batters over his first 5⅔ innings, which means he’s already exceeded all expectations for a guy picked 19 rounds after Burdi.)

The Sox are doing well enough with relievers to make Burdi’s renaissance-by-Twitter more of a curiosity than a cry for help, even if he’s one of two first-round Humpties Dumpty the Sox couldn’t restore on their own. The good news is that there’s no correlation between what the White Sox invest in a reliever and what they get out of him, which is also the bad news.

Burdi’s status has been so volatile over the last four seasons that it’s hard to project him beyond his next appearance. That said, if Burdi’s comeback has staying power, this most indirect of paths stands a chance of helping the Sox twice over: Burdi would give the Sox sorely needed production from a first-round draft pick while encouraging the Sox to avoid making such a first-round pick again.

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karkovice squad

I’ll take a first round success story even with the caveats and winding route.

His parents were a delight during the broadcast, too.


I think my biggest takeaway/concern is a lack of pitching development and general response within the organization. Burdi conducting his own research on YouTube coupled with Giolito’s going outside the organization to change his mechanics signify that something is wrong with the Sox pitching approach, both at a high level and tweaking form, etc. Missing on a guy like Fulmer will happen, but why are these guys with obvious talent seeking instruction from outside? It may be time for a complete overhaul here starting with a change at the top with Cooper.

As Cirensica

I have been saying for a few years, Cooper’s golden years are behind him. He might have not changed anything, but he probably hasn’t embraced new strategies on pitching developments either. Anyway, I am just saying things without actually knowing, but I do remember when the White Sox were successful in developing starting pitchers either from drafts or from reclamation projects and keeping them healthy to boot. The Indians are thriving in this area, I wonder what are they doing we aren’t.

John SF

Stiever and Lambert are both high ranking pitching prospects in our org who credit their huge leaps forward to Sox pitching staff— in case you need a counterfactual.

Meanwhile, Coop has very little to do with prospect development. His success with Marshall / Swarzak/ Kahnle / Quintana etc is all big league, where his focus is.

This year multiple aces and closers have added a cutter to their repertoire, and the high fastball that Coop was preaching years ago is fully en Vogue.

Coop is adapting about as quickly to the advanced data as we could expect from someone his age. His time will be up soon enough, probably on his own terms. I just don’t see the value in railing against him.

Daryl Boston on the other hand is probably a rapist and provides no obvious value at 1B. And I’ve never loved our 3B coach’s send/hood calls. The Hahn / Williams front office is complicated but worth complaining about.

I like having a bilingual coach, but some of Ricky’s lineups infuriate me.

There’s plenty of coaching to complain about, but I just don’t see the need to worry about Coop who is still a valuable coach to have.


Even if Coop hasn’t lost it he Likely past his sell by date here. Good coaches often wear out their welcome over time.

Tito Franconia got stale in Boston. Coaches tend to have a sell by date across sports especially in European soccer.


I’d be really interested to see if this is just a paralysis by fandom situation. It would not surprise me at all to hear that nearly every organization has pitching prospects going out on their own to make tweaks to their pitching profile. We live in a wild west era of pitching where guys have all the access they could ever need to data, video, coaching, ect. The days of all the best talent being in the MLB are over. You could have super nerds sitting on their couch that just love baseball that could truly offer beneficial insight to some guys, I’m sure of it.

Basically, I dont think its necessarily a knock on the Sox that they’ve had a couple guys go out of the organization to find success.

I do think I am finally moving to the side that is ready for a change in direction from Cooper. I think Cooper is still a good coach, but I dont know that he is well suited to be an organizational pitching czar anymore.

I think it is worth pointing out that it is the Sox themselves that found guys like Bummer, Heuer, Marshall, Cordero, Kahnle, Swarzak, Cedeno, ect. Its been a long while since we’ve seen major success on the starting front, but I think we as a fan base we’ve been a bit spoiled by our average bullpens


I suspect it is true that a lot of guys are seeking help from a broad array of resources. Probably best they take their careers into their own hands.

Is there anything in particular Coop is known for these days. At one time, it was learning the cutter and working fast. Not sure what else offhand. Or if he has perhaps had some unique pitcher whisperer abilities. And whatever the org was doing to keep pitchers healthy doesn’t seem to be a factor now.

karkovice squad

I’m not concerned that some guys need to go outside the org for coaching. I’m concerned that there doesn’t seem to be enough progress through the system unless guys go outside the org.

Yeah, you can’t make a horse drink. That’s still not a reason not to bother leading them to clean water in the first place.

The success with relievers is nice but hardly sufficient.


The Sox are assembling quite a stable of young guns for the bullpen. With Hamilton, Burdi, Bummer, Fry, Cordero, Heuer, Foster, Marshall (not so young) on the major league roster and Thompson, Dahlquist, Tyler Johnson in the minors, they look to be in good shape for the future. Plus, I think Lopez and maybe Rodon’s future are in the bullpen. That’s 10 players currently in the majors to pick from. And with the busts in free agent relievers going all the way back to LInebrink and Scott Downs, and now Herrera and possibly Cishek, Rick needs to spend money in other places and let all those young guns sort themselves out in the pen. If Burdi’s velocity yesterday is real, and with Hamilton, Heuer and Foster looking good so far, The bullpen’s future could be in very good hands.

Patrick Nolan

Alright since it’s out there we now need to debate the merits of Humpties Dumpty vs. Humpty Dumpties. Jim, you have the floor.

John SF

I’ve never understood— is horses a synecdoche in that line or not?

If not, how exactly did the king expect his horses to help assemble a broken egg? And if so, how are the “knights who ride horses” or whatever any different than “all the King’s men?”

Or is it just an old ATM Machine situation?


The fact that Humpty Dumpties is not particularly funny while Humpties Dumpty is probably the funniest line I’ve read in a week is merit enough for me.

It’s possible I’m simply easy to please, however.



karkovice squad

I’d really like some on the record comments from Ben Hansen about what the Sox are doing but I don’t really expect him to be made available or allowed to speak candidly.