The idea of drafting a reliever in the first round is rare and usually a pretty poor idea. However, Zack Burdi is not your typical reliever. He hasn't been a reliever because that's the only way he's successful. He's been one because Louisville has had plenty of arms in the rotation. There apparently are several teams that think they can convert him to a starter.
Who doesn't want starter who consistently throws upper-90's and even has been clocked at 101 MPH.
He throws 101 mph, son!
But, he's not just a fastball guy. He has an upper-80's slider that he uses as a strikeout pitch. It allows him to rack up strikeouts very well with the fastball to the tune of a 15.00 K/9. Impressively, he hasn't been outrageously wild with a 2.33 BB/9. So he's definitely posted the numbers and has the stuff to be an attractive target. But, he has just 67 total innings in college. That's a bit of a problem with projecting him as a starter. He's pitched less innings in three years of college than most other high picks do in a single season.
Mechanically, he's a lot like his older brother Nick Burdi (2nd round pick in 2014 by Minnesota Twins). Typical 3/4 arm slot. He has very good use of the lower half and has good forward rotation. My reservations with him mechanically are that he can get a little long in the arm on the back end leaving his elbow flexed less than 90 degrees in critical moments. The other is that he can get firm on the front side at times which makes him miss pretty bad. That one should be able to get cleaned up pretty easily. He also has some recoil in his arm that may be able to be cleaned up.
He always come from the stretch which as a reliever isn't a bad thing for a reliever.
The fastball will be fine. The slider will dominate the back of a lineup. However, most of his whiffs are sliders way out of the zone that better hitters will lay off of. At worst, he's a flame throwing reliever in the majors that is not quite consistent enough to be a closer.
Because he's mostly a two-pitch pitcher with a changeup rarely used and under-developed, it's tough to project him higher than a #3 as a ceiling. There's a lot that has to break right for that to happen because of pitching a lot more than he's used to and the changeup becoming a regularly used pitch. If not, it's very easy to see him as a closer.
Projected Draft Round
He's likely to get popped in the first round. Although, many thought the same thing with his brother who went in the second. A team sold on him being a starter could nab him the first half of the first round.
Will he sign?
I don't see any reason not to. Unless he falls to the second round and Louisville promises him the opportunity to start as a senior and the drafting team says they want him the pen. And, that's if he wants to start. The chances of him not signing are about as slim as they can get.
FUTURE: Guys who throw 100 mph don’t grow on trees but they’re no longer an endangered species. More guys in baseball can touch triple digits than at any time in the sport’s history. Burdi is one of the better true relievers in this class and will be drafted as such. How quickly he progresses will depend on fastball command and the continued development of his slider.
That said, it's easier to project Zack as a possible starter because he has a cleaner delivery and throws more strikes. He also has the makings of a plus changeup with sink, though it can get a bit firm at times and he hasn't used it much as a reliever. Louisville has kept him in the bullpen, as may the team that drafts Burdi in hopes of expediting him to the big leagues.