GLENDALE, Ariz. — He already carries the confidence of someone who throws 100 mph. But Zack Burdi felt even more secure entering camp after receiving sound advice from his older brother, who also happens to play pro ball.
Burdi — selected with the 26th overall pick of the 2016 draft — hasn't felt too overwhelmed over the past five weeks even though he's experiencing big league camp for the first time. A process-oriented pitcher, the White Sox prospect said he owes his comfort to the guidance of his brother, Minnesota Twins farmhand Nick Burdi.
"Act like you belong," Burdi said of the advice. "Don't make it out to be something it isn't. It's still a game. You're still going out there and playing a game you've played for the last 19 years. That was the big thing."
If it weren't for a gaggle of talented, newly acquired prospects alongside him in camp, Burdi might have been the hot topic in camp this spring. He features a fastball that rates 75 on the 20-80 scouting scale, a 60-slider and a 55-changeup, according to MLB.com. The arsenal has many of the belief Burdi could one day be a stalwart in the back of a major league bullpen. The Louisville-product is also very advanced compared with most 2016 draftees and was considered to be the most major league-ready player at the time of last June's draft.
But until the club made a series of moves Tuesday, Burdi, who has a 2.70 ERA and 12 strikeouts in 10 innings this spring, was just one of a bevy of talented prospects in the White Sox clubhouse. Of the team's top seven prospects, five are right-handed pitchers. Burdi is the team's No. 7 prospect, according to MLBPipeline.com.
Armed with his brother's advice, Burdi has focused on keeping his head low and his eyes and ears open this spring. He said one of the best parts about the advice that Nick Burdi — who also went to Louisville and was drafted in the second round of the 2014 draft — offered is that he had a sense of how the camp would be run. Though no two camps are alike, having a sense of what the day-to-day operation is like gave Burdi comfort.
"Nick's someone I've looked to in countless situations in baseball or outside of it for advice," Zack Burdi said. "It has been nothing but good advice throughout it all. To come to camp and kind of have a little insight of how it's going to go, how it's going to be, was a huge personal advantage for me because I like to know how certain things are going to go. I don't like going in too blind."
Burdi is in an enviable position as his first big league camp is coming to a close. He's the highest-rated prospect left after a series of moves Tuesday sent second baseman Yoan Moncada and pitchers Lucas Giolito, Michael Kopech, Reynaldo Lopez and Carson Fulmer to minor league camp.
The White Sox head back to Chicago next Wednesday.
General manager Rick Hahn said the White Sox merely want to give the Downers Grove-product a little more time to soak up the big league atmosphere. While its more likely he begins the season at Triple-A Charlotte, Burdi ranks high on the team's depth chart and could be in line for a late-innings role were the White Sox to trade a reliever. Either way, Burdi isn't worried about anything but his own performance and conduct.
"I'm confident with where I'm at," Burdi said. "I'm just excited to see where the season's going to take me. If it's Triple-A then that's awesome. Going to go there and do my best to help the team. if it's the big leagues then it'll be the same thing: go up, do my best and keep learning day by day and just trust the process and keep growing."
SURPRISE, Ariz. — James Shields wants to regain the aggressive style that made him successful for so long. He feels like he's on the way.
Even though he didn't think his delivery was very sharp on Tuesday, Shields made his pitches when he needed to over six scoreless innings. The White Sox bullpen allowed four late runs in a 4-3 loss to the Texas Rangers at Surprise Stadium. Shields allowed three hits, walked one and struck out six in a 75-pitch effort.
"Yeah, I think so," Shields said when asked if he got away from being aggressive in 2016, when he posted a 6.77 ERA for the White Sox. "I think my ball was flat. It wasn't down in the zone. And when you're not down in the zone, it's hard to be aggressive. Because if you're up in the zone and being aggressive, hitters are going to take advantage of that."
Shields said he made several mid-game adjustments after feeling erratic in the bullpen and early in the contest. He threw all of his pitches on Tuesday night but mostly focused on commanding his two-seam fastball. The right-hander wants to induce more ground balls this season. Over the past two years, Shields has allowed 73 home runs in 384 innings. His groundball rate is down nearly five percent from 2014, according to fangraphs.com.
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Mostly, Shields wants to rediscover the aggressive nature that helped him produce 29.1 Wins Above Replacement from 2007 to 2014. That was a message he's heard from both his current pitching coach (Don Cooper) and his former one, the San Diego Padres' Darren Balsley.
Balsley called this winter to support Shields, his pitcher of a season and a half. As Shields notes, the advice wasn't anything new — it was merely a pick-me-up from an old friend.
"(Balsley) just called me and said, 'Hey, the best piece of advice I can give you is trust your stuff,'" Shields said. "'Believe what you're doing is going to get the job done.' In general, I do think that. He's just kind of giving me a little reminder as an ex-pitching coach.
"Just the fact he called me even though he's not my pitching coach any more shows me that he cares a lot about me, man. I have a lot of respect for him.
"More or less he wants me to be aggressive, and he was telling me that when I was with them. It wasn't something that was new."
After coming over from the Padres in a trade, Shields worked tirelessly with Cooper on mechanics last summer to keep the ball down in the zone. He found it for a period of seven starts between June and July but couldn't maintain any consistency. The veteran has maintained all spring that he's ready to move on from 2016 and feels like he's in a good place both mentally and physically.
"I feel good now with my stuff and I'm being more aggressive and my locations are better," Shields said. "Just working the process and I’m feeling good now."
Tim Anderson and Jose Abreu each had two hits and drove in a run in the losing effort.