06/14/2013 05:05 pm ET Updated Aug 14, 2013

Sidearming His Way to the Majors: How Reliever Greg Burke Reinvented His Pitching Career

Greg Burke's career trajectory might not be as drama-filled as Josh Hamilton's, as awe-inspiring as Rick Ankiel's, or as dynamic as Jose Bautista's, but to finally hold down a major league bullpen spot after eight years of toiling in the Independent and minor leagues -- as an undrafted free agent -- is certainly noteworthy.

Despite originally being selected by the New York Mets as the 1262nd overall pick in the 2000 draft, Burke instead opted to attend Duke University. Yet, after graduating, no major league organization came knocking.

Wanting to keep his arm fresh, the right-handed pitcher spent the 2005 season with the Atlantic City Surf, an independent team in the Atlantic League. Mediocre season aside (3.70 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, and 2.31 K/BB over 48.6 relief innings), the San Diego Padres inked the 23-year-old to a minor league contract.

The Padres initially used Burke as a starting pitcher, where he enjoyed moderate success (3.58 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 6.21 K/BB over 120.6 innings at Single-A in 2006). But once the righty got promoted to Advanced-A, hitters began to knock him around (combined 5.32 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 2.30 K/BB between 2006 and 2007).

Out of the bullpen, Burke seemed to come into his own. In 2008, at Double-A, the New Jersey native posted a sublime 2.24 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, and 5.41 K/BB over 84.3 innings. He even notched twenty-three saves. And after similar dominance at Triple-A the following season (2.25 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, 3.50 K/BB over 16 innings), the Padres promoted Burke to the show.

For the first time since being a starting pitcher at Advanced-A, Burke experienced difficulty getting hitters out. The then 26-year-old posted a 92 ERA+, with a 4.5 percent BB/9, and just a 6.5 percent K/9. The Padres banished Burke back to Triple-A in 2010, where he stayed through 2011-only to combined for a 5.69 ERA, 1.62 WHIP, and 2.00 K/BB. At age 29, and without a pitching job, it seemed like the end of the line for the rest of this article on Guy Speed.