In advance of Thursday's draft, we will be conducting Q&A interviews with many prospects who are projected to be drafted in the first round. For a complete listing of these interviews, click here.
Next is Zack Burdi, a 6-foot-3, 205 lb. right-hander from Louisville. Burdi has posted a 2.20 ERA with 46 strikeouts in 28.2 innings for the Cardinals this season, and is one of the top pure relievers in this year's draft. The hard-throwing Downers Grove, Ill. native is the brother of Nick Burdi, who was taken by the Twins in the 2nd round of the 2014 draft and is currently pitching at Double-A. For more on Zack Burdi, check out Minor League Ball's scouting report.
Burdi, who has consistently throws in the upper 90s and has hit 101 mph, is one of the hardest throwers in this year's draft, and projects as a reliever who could reach the majors fairly quickly. In the latest mocks, Burdi is projected at 12th to the Red Sox (by Baseball America) and at 22nd to the Pirates (by both MLB.com and ESPN). BA recently ranked him as the 21st-best prospect in this year's draft, and he spoke at length with MLBDD recently:
When did you first get into baseball as a kid and realize you loved playing the game?
"Probably at a really young age, when I was like 8 or 9. My dad coached my older brother's team, so I was always around them and always around the tournament circuit. Just around that, I fell in love with the game and realized it was something I wanted to do for a long time. I'm lucky enough to be able to do it."
Who was your favorite team growing up? Favorite player?
"Probably the Cubs. Kershaw for a player."
When was the moment you realized you could turn your dream of playing pro ball into a reality?
"Probably in the last year or so, the last six months. It kinda hit me that this was the next step and that I'd be fortunate enough to take it. Definitely something that didn't hit me until recently."
What went into your decision to choose Louisville? Which other schools did you consider?
"I was originally committed to Iowa. My senior year, their coaching staff got relieved. I got to apply for my release from the school. To be honest, not a lot of schools had interest. I wasn't really heavily recruited. Louisville stepped in because of the relationship they had with my family and my brother so I ended up going there. I fell in love with the place."
Most people would say it's a basketball school, first and foremost, but Louisville is a successful sports school all around. How important is it to have a student body that really buys into the athletic program and is so passionate about its school's teams?
"It's crazy. You can tell around campus that it's athletics first when it comes to the community. Everyone is involved tremendously. When it comes to boosters, they're great with making sure that all of the facilities are taken care of equally and that the girls' sports and the guys' sports are all set no matter how they're viewed in the community or how people rate them. No matter where you look around campus, there are great facilities and great people taking care of us. We're all pretty lucky to play here."
The ACC is one of the best baseball conferences in the nation. How beneficial is it for you to be going up against such strong competition all the time?
"Playing great competition every single week, you're going to see not only your game grow, but also your team's game grow. My roommates and I talk about this all the time, always saying how lucky we are to play in the ACC and how much we benefit from the competition of the NC States and the UNCs and Miami, all those guys. That Miami team is one of the best teams in the country right now and we get to play them in the season. It's great, when it comes to the postseason, we have the ability to look back at that series and fall back on it."
Your brother, Nick, was a 2nd-rounder in 2014 and went through a similar process as you're going through right now. How important of a resource is he as you prepare for Thursday?
"He's huge. It's awesome having a guy so close to me who I have a great relationship with to be able to talk to about things. Not only about the draft, about baseball as a whole. He's two years ahead of me and has gone through things that I'm going to have to go through. To have that resource and that relationship is a huge advantage for me."
Is there a friendly competition between you guys in terms of where you're picked? Hoping at least a little bit that you'll go higher than he did (46th)?
"No. Not at all. Whatever happens with the both of us in our careers, we're happy for one another. Whether Nick sees more success or I see more success, we're just happy. We're always pushing each other to grow and get better as the years progress. There's no hard feelings or any bad competition there. It's all healthy."
Some scouts say that you and Nick are identical on the mound, or at least very similar. What would you say is the biggest difference between your pitching styles?
"I think mechanically, we're not a whole lot different. Nick shows a little more violence while I'm a little quieter on the mound. Our biggest difference is probably the mental side of things. Nick takes a real football approach to pitching, and is a little bit crazier out there. I'm a little less mentally going. Nick would take like a war-type atmosphere, but I'm kind of mellow out there. I let the game come to me."
Both you and Nick have hit 100 mph in your careers, a rare feat in baseball but especially one for brothers. Where does that velocity come from? Is it genetics?
"I think we're both really blessed with our arms and our skill set. Our mom was extremely athletic, everyone in the family is extremely athletic. My dad is a huge guy. God only knows, I think it's a mixture of all that. Nick obviously had a great work ethic and that rubbed off on me. My oldest brother, Drew, was a quarterback at Western Michigan. From a young age, we realized what it took to play Division 1 sports. With all that, it's a combination of a lot of things."
Scouts say you're a pure back-end reliever, though some power arms in the majors are being looked at as starters. Where do you see yourself at the next level, as a starter or reliever?
"I haven't really put much thought into it. I'm basically willing to do basically anything as long as a team will put me on the mound and let me pitch. Whether it's as a starter or reliever, I'm not too worried about it."
Closers are usually thought of as different animals, guys who are a little bit out there? Do you fit that personality type, or do you think you're a lot more relaxed and grounded than the typical closer?
"I think I'm a little bit more relaxed. Obviously, I'm going out there as a different person than how I would act on the streets or with my friends. I don't try to put my emotions outward, I keep them inward. I try not to show too much when I'm out on the mound."
Who is the most comparable major-league pitcher, current or former, who you compare yourself to the most?
"I don't really compare too much. I watch a lot of Corey Kluber and I like the way he attacks hitters. I like the way he approaches guys from the right side. I wouldn't say I'm comparable to him, but that's definitely someone I try to base my game off of and watch as much as I can. I look at other guys, how they're attacking guys and getting through lineups."
What is your biggest strength as a player?
"Probably just being a good teammate. I don't do anything for eight innings, so I'm in the dugout a lot. Just hanging out with the guys, making sure there's good energy in there."
What is your biggest weakness, or thing you want to work on the most going forward?
"My secondary pitches, just making sure I can throw those whenever I want and where I want. At the next level, if you don't do that you're going to get abused. Just making sure I'm comfortable with everything."
Do you have any expectation for Thursday? Any specific teams with the most interest?
"There's not really an expectation. Obviously, I want to get picked in a certain spot, but I'm not expecting that to happen. It's in the teams' hands now, I've done all I can. Just looking forward to next week, to spend time with my family and my teammates and just see what happens."
One more question...are you rooting to go to the Twins so you can play in the same system as your brother?
"If I go there, it would be awesome to play with Nick again and learn under him again. I think it would be really cool. If it doesn't work out, it doesn't work out. It would definitely be something that would be awesome for me and my family."