Since the Twins drafted Nick Burdi in the second round of the 2014 MLB Draft, he has been looked upon as something of a bullpen bombshell. Out of college Burdi was credited with a fastball that flirted with triple digits and a power slider that registers in the low 90s. That combination of velocity and stuff is difficult for anyone to ignore, and Minnesota eagerly snapped him him 46th pick to secure themselves a pitcher that was the consensus best reliever in the draft.
Going back and looking at Burdi's draft profiles, multiple sources pegged him as a future closer in Major League Baseball. Baseball America not only anointed him with the best fastball in the draft (for a collegiate pitcher), but claimed that he could be one of the first pitchers from the 2014 draft class to reach the Majors. It was common to read reports that stated Burdi was nearly MLB-ready.
Burdi now seems more determined than ever. He's always been an exceptionally driven player, motivated and focused almost to a fault (I highly recommend you watch the video here). His blistering performance in the Arizona Fall League (11K, 8 IP, 1 BB, 0 R) redeemed an up-and-down 2015 campaign and seems to have set him on course for a 2016 debut with the Twins.
Part of the discussion around Burdi has to do with his velocity, his stuff, the strikeouts, and his demeanor. Part of the excitement around Burdi has to do with the impact he could have in the Minnesota bullpen from Day One. All of that is yet to come, and yet people continue to talk about his role as the club's future closer.
Which is something he clearly wants for himself as well. From the MLBTR Q&A between Burdi and Zach Links:
Zach Links: What can you bring to an MLB organization?
Nick Burdi: I think what I can bring is just being a reliable relief pitcher. I’m already comfortable in that role and I’m ready to be the seventh or eighth inning guy, know my place, and help a team out.
ZL: Ultimately, though, you want to close, right?
NB: Yes, absolutely.
Bernie Pleskoff noted that "Burdi has unlimited upside as a quality closer." In the "Don't Print That" section of Charley Walters' weekly entry with the Pioneer Press:
Pitcher to eyeball in spring training: Fireballing right-hander Nick Burdi, 23, destined to become the Twins’ eventual closer if he can throw strikes.
Command is an issue that Burdi fought early in his collegiate career, although he successfully bridged the gap from "hard thrower" to "power pitcher." The problem did re-emerge in Burdi's first spin through Double-A in 2015, which was the biggest source of his struggles last year, but he regained his composure late in the season and, with just one walk in the AFL, demonstrated that he has the aptitude to adapt and overcome.
Burdi's talent and his drive are unquestionable. If he can convert all of that into an effective Major League presence, then yes - he could very well be the Twins' next closer.
The biggest obstacle, and I say that in terms of Burdi's career path and certainly not as a complaint, is Glen Perkins. Perkins is one of the premier closers in the American League, racking up 102 saves over the last three seasons to go with a 3.08 ERA (3.11 FIP) and 1.10 WHIP. While strikeout rates have dropped from year to year, the biggest culprit there has been the injuries that Perkins has encountered at the end of the 2014 and 2015 seasons.
Perkins won't be usurped anytime soon. He's under contract with the Twins for the next two years at a very team-friendly level, and his $6.5 million option for 2018 is very palatable - even if that would be Perkins' age-35 season. Barring something unforeseen, Burdi will need to wait his turn.
Depending on when he makes his Major League debut (assuming he does make his debut this season), the Twins will have Burdi under team control through 2021 or 2022. He'll be in his age-25 season in 2018, which is still young for a pitcher to take over a closer's role in this league. The players Burdi mentions in his MLBTR interview (Trevor Rosenthal, Aroldis Chapman, Craig Kimbrel), those tall closers who profile like the 6' 5" Burdi, took over as their club's closer at ages 24, 24 and 23 respectively. Will Burdi be able to bide his time?
It's very early to start thinking about who will follow Perkins in the closer's role for the Twins. When the time comes, there will plenty of arms vying for that throne. Alex Meyer, who the Twins need also need to find a role for in 2016, has long been thought to have a career as a shut-down closer if his career as a starter doesn't pan out. J.T. Chargois, whose career as a reliever also appears to be back on the fast track, was a co-closer for Rice University (with Tyler Duffey). All three pitchers offer velocity, strikeout potential, and the upside to be slam-the-door relief pitchers in the Major Leagues. Burdi will have his work cut out for him.
A consensus Top 10 prospect in the organization, Burdi is entering his age-23 season. The early part of his year will probably be spent between Double-A and Triple-A, and if all things go well we'll see him make his Major League debut this summer. It will present fans with an opportunity to view something they really haven't seen: the ascension of their future closer. Rick Aguilera, Eddie Guardado, Joe Nathan, and Glen Perkins weren't bred for the role they were ultimately given; it was tried, and it worked. In Burdi, and indeed in Chargois and Meyer as well, we have an opportunity to see something that hasn't been done - the Twins' grooming of their first developed closer.