Amidst all of the hoopla of the Jason Bay divorce and the Wright/Dickey contract negotiations -- or lack thereof -- the Mets made an under-the-radar roster move last week. On Wednesday the club announced the signing of right-handed relief pitcher Greg Burke to a minor league deal with an invite to spring training.
If you're anything like me this is the part where you might be saying to yourself, 'Who?' Well, don't feel too bad. Burke is far from a household name, having less than a season of major league experience under his belt, garnered back in 2009 no less. So while he won't likely be the move of the offseason for the Mets, let's get to know him a little bit.
Coincidentally, the 30-year old, Camden, N.J. native was originally drafted by the Mets, out of Gloucester Catholic High School back in the year 2000. However, the 42nd rounder opted to go to Duke instead, pitching all four years out of the Blue Devils rotation. Unfortunately, following a mediocre collegiate career that amounted to an ERA well over five and little national attention, Burke went undrafted during his senior season in 2005.
Contemplating life after baseball, Burke took one more chance on the advice of a former coach and accepted a roster spot in the nearby independent Atlantic League -- of Long Island Ducks fame -- that following spring. Playing for the Atlantic City Surf, the 6'4" righty impressed a low-level scout on assignment with his decent stuff and good build and soon after signed a minor league contract with the Padres in 2006.
So Burke had found his way in through the back door and spent the next couple of years showing just enough to remain interesting -- and making an impression on then Special Assistant Paul DePodesta. San Diego converted him to relief almost immediately and thanks to his improving command began utilizing him as a closer.
However, by 2007 Burke knew that as a 25-year old putting up so-so numbers in A-ball he was once again on the fringes. Therefore he admittedly got much more serious about his preparation that winter, only to post much more positive results the following spring. In 2008 Burke had his breakout season, posting a 2.24 ERA with 23 saves and a 9.82 strikeout per nine in his Double-A debut.
Suddenly he was on the map and by May of '09 Burke was in the bullpen at Petco. He would spend the entire season with the Padres, posting a 4.14 ERA in his rookie season. Unfortunately, he exhibited some regression the following spring and so, after spending a couple years with the Padres' Triple-A affiliate -- to the tune of a 5.69 ERA -- Burke was ultimately released.
The good news is that Burke latched on with Baltimore this past season where a change of scenery seemingly did wonders. He rebounded to save 17 games and post a 1.53 ERA both at Double and Triple-A, showcasing his previously excellent command (2.0 BB/9) along with improved strikeout rates and less than a hit per inning at each level.
So now we know his story. However the question remains, what can we Mets fans expect of Burke going forward? While he's clearly not Sandy's end-all relief option for 2013, Burke is immediately somewhat high on the depth chart of organizational bullpen depth based on the Mets clear dearth of existing options in that department. Whether he breaks camp with the big league club or not, it's a decent bet that we'll see him in Queens at some point in 2013.
In terms of stuff, Burke is your typical right-handed fastball-slider relief pitcher. Based on Pitch F/X data -- gleaned back in '09, mind you -- his heater clocks in 91.2 MPH, slider at 83.0 MPH. Again, pretty standard.
However, the key to watch for the Mets purposes is the success he's historically had against righties. Back in '09 he held major league righties to a .208 average with a .578 OPS. Last season, he exhibited similar success between the Double-A Eastern League and Triple-A International League (.182/.204/.209). Conversely, that means he's pretty much been crushed by lefties throughout his career (.346/.430/.556 in MLB).
In other words, Burke is a definite ROOGY candidate for 2013. Now as Manny Acosta has demonstrated again and again, the high minors are still a very different animal from Major League Baseball. So take those minor league numbers with a grain of salt. Additionally, the ROOGY is not a role you love to waste a roster spot on as you'd ideally like your righty relievers to have the kind of stuff to face both sides. However, if the Mets bullpen has taught us anything it's that beggars can't be choosers. And with the bullpen as it is currently constructed, the Mets are most certainly beggars.
Burke is currently pitching out in the Mexican Pacific League for the Yaquis de Obregon. Through 15.2 innings he's posted a 1.15 ERA with 15 strikeouts and zero walks.
Upon further review, it seems that Burke re-invented himself during the summer of 2012 as a sidearmer. See the proof below:
That's an image from August 25th. He comes pretty far down though he's not quite a Chad Bradford, knuckle-scraper. I'd say he's more like a Darren O'Day, to stick with relievers that the Mets have claimed off the scrap heap. In any case it certainly helps with the ROOGY narrative. In fact, based on this new information, coupled with the extreme splits he showcased last season, I'd say we're going to hear his name quite a bit come spring training. Nice pick-up.
And good catch by Mike in the comments below.