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Leaving Nick Burdi unprotected from the Rule 5 draft probably doesn’t matter

Even if the hard-throwing reliever is drafted by another team on Thursday, the Twins took a smart risk.

Minnesota Twins Photo Day
I’m like a Burdi, just wanna fly away!
Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images

Last month when the Twins had to finalize their 40-man roster ahead of the Rule 5 draft, they decided to protect three pitchers, but hard-throwing reliever Nick Burdi was not among them. Leaving Burdi exposed didn’t seem like an issue at the time, because he underwent Tommy John earlier this year and is expected to miss most, if not all, of 2018.

However, it now seems there’s actually a lot of interest in Burdi. Mike Berardino reports that the righty is expected to be taken within the first five picks of the Rule 5 draft on Thursday. Both our friends at Bless You Boys and South Side Sox, among others, have mentioned him as a potential draft target.

Before we declare the entire Falvine experiment a failure and pull out our pitchforks, however, let’s take a look at why teams are interested in Burdi and why, in the end, it probably doesn’t matter.

Why the interest?

Because Nick Burdi has shown he’s a good pitcher — duh. Burdi, 25, was a second round pick in the 2014 MLB Draft and has been considered one of the Twins’ best relief prospects. When healthy, his fastball reaches the high 90s, topping out at 101 mph, and he’s got a nice slider as well. In 2015, his first full year in pro ball spent between High-A and Double-A, Burdi put up a 3.82 ERA with a nice 11.1 K/9 over 63.2 innings.

The problem is that Burdi hasn’t been healthy. Not by a long shot. The 2015 season was his only real “full” season in pro ball so far. In 2016, Burdi was limited to just 3.0 innings because of a rare bone bruise to the humerus in his pitching arm. After pitching just 17.0 innings for the Double-A Chattanooga Lookouts in 2017, Burdi was again shut down due to the UCL tear that required Tommy John surgery.

Hence, Burdi has only thrown 20.0 innings since 2015 — albeit a good 20.0 innings. Over that short time he posted a 1.80 ERA with 21 strikeouts and five walks. The small sample size makes Burdi a relative unknown, which I think is what has attracted interest from other teams. It looks like there’s something there, and teams want to see more. They might catch lightening in a bottle.

Why does it probably not matter?

Because even if a team does take Burdi on Thursday — and one probably will — I highly doubt they will have the patience to keep him. Catching lightening in a bottle sounds great, until you realize you have to stand there holding out a bottle for a year and a half, and even then, you’re not guaranteed anything.

See, Rule 5 draftees generally have to stay on the claiming team’s major league roster for the entire next season, otherwise the player is returned to their original club. You probably already knew that. What you might not know is that placing a player on the 60-day DL — which is where Burdi will be placed once the season begins — is not a work-around to that roster requirement. Hence, once activated in mid-to-late 2018, Burdi will still have to spend 90 days on the active major league roster — a period of time that will almost certainly spill into the 2019 season.

To keep Burdi permanently, a major league club will have to: A.) use a 40-man roster spot on him for the rest of the offseason before he can be moved to the 60-day DL during the regular season; B.) successfully rehab him from Tommy John surgery; C.) throw him — a pitcher who’s never pitched above Double-A — straight into the majors; and D.) keep him on the major league roster until sometime in early 2019, at the earliest. If there’s any setback in Burdi’s recovery, it’ll just extend the timeline, and Burdi becomes semi-dead weight on the roster for even longer — potentially through two offseasons.

Not to mention, what if Burdi doesn't come back at full strength, as is often the case with pitchers after undergoing Tommy John? He’ll have to deal with that while also suddenly having to face the best hitters in the world. That doesn’t sound like an ideal situation.

Drafting Burdi could potentially be a high-reward pick for some team, but it’ll also be a bigger undertaking than most Rule 5 picks, and it’s definitely not guaranteed to work out. I can see why teams are interested in at least taking a flyer on him, though — basically, they can pick him and just monitor his recovery, and if they don’t think it’s going well enough to warrant him taking up a roster spot once he’s ready to be activated, they can return him to the Twins. No harm, no foul.

Personally? I think that’s exactly what will end up happening.

While it won’t be a good thing for the Twins if Burdi is selected in the Rule 5 draft, leaving him unprotected wasn’t necessarily a misstep by the Wonder Boys in the front office. There are only so many spots on the 40-man roster (40 of them, to be exact), and the front office inevitably has to take some risks with who they do or do not put on it.

It’s possible everything does go well with Burdi’s recovery, he isn’t returned, and he becomes a light-outs reliever in the majors, in which case we can groan with the aide of 20/20 hindsight — but the risk of all those things happening seems so improbable, I don’t think the Twins front office was wrong to take it.