Twins draft glut of college relievers, likely will keep them in bullpen
JUN 09, 2014 1:15p ET
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire was asked over the weekend if he's thought about what it would be like to have a reliever who throws 103 mph as a weapon in his bullpen.
"Daily," the skipper replied.
That reliever would be Nick Burdi, the University of Louisville closer whom Minnesota drafted in the second round of the Major League Baseball Draft on Thursday. In fact, the Twins took several relievers in the first 10 rounds of this year's draft with the intent to keep many of the power arms pitching out of the bullpen.
That includes third-round pick Michael Cederoth, whose fastball, like Burdi's, can touch triple digits. Twins scouting director Deron Johnson said sixth-round pick John Curtiss, a reliever for the University of Texas, is perhaps the only one of the seven college relievers taken by Minnesota in the first 10 rounds who has a chance to start.
Minnesota stocked up on plenty of hard-throwing relievers early in the draft. It's in part a byproduct of how big league bullpens are set up in this day and age where there's so much more specialization among relievers. But it's also partly because a team may need to draft a handful of relievers in order for one or two to pan out.
"If you want to hit on a guy, you're probably going to need about four or five of them because you're going to hit on one of them and your odds are better if you get multiple rather than just one guy," Johnson said after the first 10 rounds were completed Saturday. "It wasn't a plan going in. It was just kind of like a snowball effect."
A look at the Twins' current bullpen will show several pitchers who began their careers -- especially in college -- as starters before they were converted to relievers. That includes Minnesota's All-Star closer, Glen Perkins, who was drafted as a starter out of the University of Minnesota in 2004 and spent two seasons starting for the Twins before he eventually transitioned to the bullpen.
After struggling in Minnesota's rotation, Perkins has since thrived as a reliever and is now in his second full season as the Twins closer.
"It went well for me. I think I could have done that a lot sooner," Perkins said of the transition to the bullpen. "Mentality-wise and all that, it fits me better, personality-wise. The transition was really easy for me. It would be harder for me to go back to starting than it was for me to go from starting to relieving."
The same was true for left-hander Brian Duensing, a starter at the University of Nebraska who was taken by the Twins in the third round in 2005. Duensing has made 61 career major league starts and was in the rotation as recently as 2012, but he has since become a full-time reliever.
"I was basically a starter all my career in college, started all the way up through the minor leagues. I never really thought anything about being a reliever," Duensing said. "But at the same time, I also told myself as long as I'm up here I'll do whatever they want, just to be in the big leagues and to help the team win. I never thought about it. It never even crossed my mind of being put in the bullpen."
Things are different now than they were when Perkins and Duensing were drafted. Teams are actually drafting college relievers with the vision of keeping them in the bullpen, possibly grooming future closers. Some teams may try to convert relievers into starters, but the Twins don't sound as if they'll do that with many of the early-round relievers they took.
It's a trend that started to develop back in 2004 when the Oakland A's took University of Texas reliever Huston Street with the 40th overall pick. Street never started a game for the Longhorns, instead relieving all 105 college games he pitched in. Now with 540 major league games and 252 saves under his belt, he has still yet to make a start during his time as a closer with the A's, Rockies and Padres.
"It's different now. You see those closers being developed," Gardenhire said. "You're always saying, the only way for them to get better is innings, to give them innings rather than just one inning at a time. But now we are actually developing guys we think could be closers in the minor leagues. Even though we tell our guys we really like these relievers to pitch two and three innings to get innings in, but some of them are closers -- at the higher levels, especially. But we're developing them, which is the right thing to do because of the way the system's set up."
In the Twins' case, that could be the trajectory of Burdi, even though Minnesota is currently set at the closer spot with Perkins. A bonus of drafting college relievers with the intent of keeping them as relievers is that they're likely the closest to being major-league ready of all the players drafted.
There's a chance Burdi could reach the majors by late this season or early next year. Gardenhire was ready this past weekend to pencil him into the bullpen.
"Is he ready? If he throws 103, what are we going to gain?" Gardenhire said. "What's he going to fix in the minor leagues? That would be my question. Bring him. We'll take him right now."
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