Williams: The Pirates are Taking Steps Towards Having a Strong Future Bullpen

The Pirates made two additions in the Rule 5 draft today that could help their bullpen in the short-term and long-term. We still don’t know whether the team is going to be buying or selling this offseason, and Neal Huntington didn’t give any hints today with his public comments.

I’ll have more on that subject tomorrow, but the summary is that I wouldn’t take his comments here at face value. I think they have an idea of what direction they’re headed in, and I don’t think it benefits them to make that direction public before any moves are made. We’ll find out the direction eventually, but we won’t get a sneak preview.

Regardless of what the Pirates do with the overall team, they took a step closer today to having a good bullpen in the future. I’ve written that the Pirates need a good set-up man this offseason, but that really only makes sense if they’re trying to contend in 2018. If they’re not trying to contend, then it makes more sense to load up on young arms and hope that a few of them emerge as late inning relief options.

The Pirates already had two internal options in Edgar Santana and Dovydas Neverauskas. They both made their MLB debuts last year, and both will be competing for the bullpen on Opening Day. They also have a lot of starters who could switch to the bullpen, and have discussed this possibility in terms of Steven Brault and Tyler Glasnow, to ease them into the majors.

Today’s additions of Nick Burdi and Jordan Milbrath give the Pirates two more hard throwers to add to the mix.

Milbrath was their Rule 5 selection. He’s a sidearm right-hander who has reportedly gotten his fastball up to 98-99 MPH, and saw a massive increase in ground balls this year with the new sidearm delivery, getting a 74.5% rate in Double-A. He also has a good breaking pitch that leads to over a strikeout per inning. He does have some control issues, and there would be questions about how much his strikeouts and ground ball rate would carry over from Double-A to the majors. I don’t see a huge upside here, but potentially a Jared Hughes reliever for cheap.

I see more upside with Burdi. He’s a hard throwing reliever who was dominating Double-A before going down with Tommy John. Without that, he might not have been available. The Pirates added him in a trade from the Phillies, who took him in the Rule 5 draft. That means he follows the same rules, requiring him to be active for 90 days in 2018 in order for the Pirates to keep him. That shouldn’t be difficult with the injury.

Burdi had his surgery at the end of May. By comparison, Nick Kingham had his surgery at the end of May in 2015, and didn’t start his rehab until July 8th, 2016. Under the same timeline, Burdi would start his rehab in early July. He would then have 30 days of rehab, putting his MLB return in early August. That would give him about 50-60 days on the active roster, and only a few weeks where the Pirates are limited to 25 players.

I don’t think they’ll be contending in August, so it should be an easy decision to keep him on the roster. Even if they are somehow contending, it wouldn’t be difficult to stash him away for three weeks. It also wouldn’t be difficult to roster him for the 30-40 days extra required in 2019. And honestly, if he’s not ready to be in the majors then, at age 27, it’s not really a big loss to let him go.

The Pirates need an eighth inning guy to step up and join Rivero. They’re pretty set as far as middle relief depth, but need that one-two punch at the end of the bullpen like they had with Mark Melancon and Tony Watson during their contending years. Fortunately, they’ve got some good candidates to step up into that role, and just added another potential late inning guy today. If they end up selling, and going for a rebuild, then they could use the 2018 season to give chances to guys like Santana, Neverauskas, and Burdi, in order to see if their future late inning complement to Rivero emerges.

Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.

Support Pirates Prospects

Related articles

join the discussion

Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Kerry Writtenhouse

Hopefully this takes them out of the running for Jared Hughes


Tim … I think you meant that Burdi would be 26 at the start of 2019.

I love that pick up by the way for all the reasons you stated, DL for a majority of the year, leverage expanded rosters, low risk of not being ready in 2019…


The first thing I’d do is move Rivero out of the closer’s role. Make him the high leverage guy again. He has 4 years of arbitration and if we want to keep him, why let him pile up useless save stats that he can use in his arbitration hearings. Get a strike throwing 9th inning guy, (maybe even Kontos) and give him all those easy 2 and 3 run saves. What about Trevor Williams as closer? Or trade for Ziegler from the Marlins and let him close.

Scott K

In a laboratory environment you’re idea makes sense, but in the real world with human emotions added to the equation, I’m pretty sure it would be an epic fail.

Rivero has proven himself as a Closer. Closer’s are the RP’s who get paid the most. Taking him out of this role will be the same as stealing food from his pantry. He isn’t going to smile and say thank you.

Look what happened to Nats former Closer, Sean Something or Other, who was highly successful, then got demoted after Nats traded for Red Sox jackass Closer, Papelbon. He turned into a Grade A turd who couldn’t get anyone out anymore.

Do you want our most successful Pitcher to turn into a turd?


I believe the name that is escaping you is Drew Storen.

Scott K

Yes, that’s him. I had my mind stuck on Sean Doolittle, but knew it wasn’t correct.


I’m ok with the Burdi trade, on the surface. My problem with it is that the Pirates gave up $500k in International money to get him.

Not sure of the direction, but if you are trying to win this year, I’m not sure having 2 guys from AA in your bullpen isn’t instilling confidence.

eric i

I wouldn’t worry about the $500,000. They weren’t going to spend that money anyways. Once they didn’t sign any of the Braves prospects that were available, we knew that money that was left over wasn’t getting spent. Hopefully they use the rest they have left in the same fashion.


A strong bullpen is only an asset if you score more runs than you allow. I just don’t see that happening. Blow it up!

Phil W

Regarding Huntington’s ’18 vs. ’19 comment, it could be that he has a clear plan and is not going to show his cards. Or, it could be reasonable that there are multiple roads he could go down depending on how the trade markets materialize. Let’s just say the current plan is to try to compete in 2018, but the Yankees make an offer he can’t refuse and that offer includes Clint Frazier. Well now it might make sense to move McCutchen and go into rebuild mode.

This idea that a GM has to have a single strategy mapped out is flawed. It’s a fluid situation that he needs to be able to react to.


That is what I thought of NH’s comments as well. They are talking to the Yanks apparently. We’ll see if they offer excess value, and if they do then on to the rebuild. If not then they focus on 2018. Sounds sensible.


His strategy seems clear to me:
Address 3B and set up reliever while maintaining their current budget.
This setting allows them to see which of their below strategies is the best fit for this offseason’s market.

Option 1:
They are probably trying to free up cash by jettisoning smaller, pricier players in the $5 million range like Hudson and Freese or S-Rod

Option 2:
Trade a $10 million guy like Cervelli or Harrison. But that is trickier since they would require a 3B, Set Up, C, or 2B in return or else they would open other holes

Option 3:
They are so impressed with a trade offer for Cutch or Cole that they retool for 2019. But there is no reason to employ this strategy if no one is blowing them away with high level prospects




Thing is, if you read further on what Huntington *actually* said, it’s the last two years almost verbatim. And the last two year’s worth of strategy is exactly what has led them into the directionless path we basically all agree they’re in today.

Don’t take this quote abstractly. Apply the real-world results of what it actually looks like when a small market GM waits around without a distinct plan of attack.

More David Freese acquisitions aren’t getting them out of the mediocrity trap, my friend.


I’m glad there’s a camp of people who follow the pirates AND understand markets


Go ahead and let us know how bending to the market’s will treats an underfunded entity.


The pirates can’t go back to ’16 in the time machine where they should have rebuilt completely because the weren’t able to add 15MM. And they shouldn’t take the first offer they get when they have plenty of time to trade Cole.


Age 17


74.5% ground balls is absolutely absurd haha.

Pirate or not, i just love weird outlier type players. And that’s what Milbrath is.

Stephen Brooks

And they still have an outlier in DuRapau sitting in AAA. 5’11” with a low 90s fastball, and keeps increasing his K% at every level. You can’t not root for the guy.


Nice article, Tim!

Now don’t focus on the results, but I consider today the most inspired bullpen work Huntington has done since the winter he signed Allen Webster and Radhames Liz.


Seriously, both guys acquired today have legitimate upside for little cost. And yes, that’s an improvement on the last two winters. I’m skeptical Milbrath ever develops enough command for his stuff to translate, but he was a nothing prospect with a recent, significant delivery change. *If* this is something that clicks, then you have to credit impressive advanced scouting to identify the change and project its effectiveness. That’s a huge positive from a process perspective.

I got less excited once I realized they traded for Nick Burdi, not his better brother Zack who’s also a hard-throwing rehabbing from TJS, but it’s still a sneaky-good pickup. The biggest concern here is obviously health. Burdi essentially hasn’t pitched in two full seasons because of recurring elbow issues. Only the dealing team has access to a player’s medicals in the R5 draft, and they’re the ones who were willing to lose him for nothing, so the very real possibility of a diminished prospect exists. That being said, it’s worth a shot. They also have the added “bonus” of utilizing some of the IFA cap space they obviously weren’t going to use signing actual IFA’s, so there’s that. I’d also argue they got a better prospect for it than any of the clubs who fell victim to the Ohtani hype.

Add these guys to Glasnow and Clay Holmes, maybe Santana/Garcia, and you have a handful of legitimate arms to compliment Rivero. Good pens go at least three deep with leverage these days, so they’ll need ’em.

Blaine Huff


I see what you did there…


I was confused earlier when someone on here said they wanted Burdi in the Rule 5. I thought to myself, “I swear that dude just got drafted.”

I didn’t know there were two of them

John W

I don’t think much of all of Neverauskas but do love Santana’s slider and hope he takes the next step this year. Also like rolling the dice on these Rule 5 guys. If Burdi can return healthy he could be a steal.


Go back to the Reds in the 70s. They actually won pennants while doing this kind of thing.

Thanks for the good coverage.

Share article

Pirates Prospects Daily

Latest articles

Pirates Prospects Weekly

MONDAY: First Pitch

TUESDAY: Article Drop


THURSDAY: Roundtable

FRIDAY: Discussion

SATURDAY: Pirates Winter Report

SUNDAY: Pirates Business

Latest comments