Closers are often a hot commodity in baseball. I’m not entirely sure why. Most closers can be built. They don’t have to be bought. The Padres seem to be working on both this off-season. One closer they bought. Huston Street. Two potential closers they plan to build. Brad Boxberger and Cory Burns. However, both Burns and Boxberger can’t both close. One can be a set-up man of course, but the team will eventually (assuming things stay according to plan) have to choose their closer of the future.
Let’s start with Boxberger. According to USC’s Player Profile page, Boxberger excelled in High School. He was the 2006 CIF Division II Player of the Year, he was Orange County Player of the Year, he earned NBCA All-America second team honors, and he earned All-Sea View League. That’s a lot of awards for one player. Boxberger went on to pitch for USC, but he didn’t show overly impressive numbers. His ERA for each of his seasons at USC was as follows:
In all, he finished his career at USC with a record of 11-12, an ERA of 3.81, and 223 strikeouts in 234 innings pitched. These were decent numbers, but a far cry from what we would expect a future Major League player to put up in college. To be fair, Boxberger suffered an elbow injury in 2008. He seemed to have recovered fully by 2009 though, and he was drafted 43rd overall by the Cincinnati Reds.
Cincinnati’s plan all along was to send Boxberger to the bullpen and use him exclusively as a relief pitcher. He showed flashes of brilliance then signs of faltering before recovering and dominating the 2011 season at Double-A. He got his shot toward the end of the season to pitch at the Triple-A level, and he impressed. He threw 27.2 innings, had a 2.93 ERA and averaged 12 strikeouts per nine innings.
According to Joseph Werner of Seedlings to Stars, and others including Keith Law for that matter, the Padres may have found their future closer in Boxberger. Here’s what Werner had to say about Boxberger’s stuff:
Brad Boxberger has quietly thrust his name up among the game’s elite relief prospects. His fastball sits in the mid-90s and can touch as high 95 mph. He complements that above-average pitch with two others: a promising changeup and slider. Meet Brad Boxberger, a future 30+ save closer who’s likely to be around for a long, long time.
So where does that leave Cory Burns? We’ve previewed Cory Burns’ addition to the Padres already, but it’s best to compare him against Boxberger directly. Let’s first examine their 2011 minor league stats:
Both pitched in almost the same number of games, had similar ERA’s, and gave up the exact same number of runs and earned runs. Burns, however, had a much higher H/9 ratio at 7.1 verse Boxberger’s 4.6. Boxberger walks more batters, but strikes out more as well. In all, these are two very similar pitchers, and the decision regarding who will be the team’s closer will likely come down to the actual stuff each pitcher has.
As we discussed, Boxberger has a mid to upper 90’s fastball, while Burns’ fastball tops out around 91. Boxberger has been known to rely on his fastball too much at times, but seems to have got that under control this past season. Burns is a deceptive pitcher who will have to rely on his throwing motion and locating the ball to be successful.
In all, it looks like Boxberger is the more Major League ready closer. Burns certainly could step into that role, but based on the comparisons we’ve made, Boxberger seems to be the better fit. No matter who they choose, the Padres look to have a very formidable 1-2 punch coming out of the bullpen in the very near future.