Over the weekend, Relief Pitcher Cory Burns made his major league debut with the Friars, and managed to pitch 1.2 Innings of scoreless ball during his first big league outing. It was nice to see Burns promoted after a successful stint in Triple-A Tucson where in 53 appearances he logged a 2.63 ERA and 77 Strikeouts over 65.0 Innings of work.
Burns however is not the only relief pitcher in his early to mid-20’s which will be hungry to contribute out of the Padres’ bullpen in the near future. Brad Boxberger (24 years old), Brad Brach (26 years old), and Miles Mikolas (23 years old) are already on the big league roster and have gained a decent amount of big league experience. And while Nick Vincent (26 years old) is in Tucson with Burns (24 years old), he has spent a decent amount of time in the big leagues as well (1-0, 8.0 Innings, 4.50 ERA with Padres in 2012).
Due to the fact that MLB rosters will be expanding next month with September call-ups, we should get a few extended glimpses of these guys as the 2012 campaign winds down. With this in mind, I think that the Padres are in a terrific situation to evaluate what they have “waiting in the wings” and ready to willing to help the bullpen down the stretch.
How Padres and Bullpen Can Benefit
Right now, I believe that the Padres are in a bit of a “win-win situation” when it comes to the development of the young bullpen arms. With a group of veterans like Luke Gregerson, Dale Thayer, Joe Thatcher, Huston Street, etc. already there, these younger guys will not be burdened about going out each and every day and having to pitch “lights-out” for more than an Inning or two when they inevitably are called up and asked to pitch. If all goes according to plan and everybody can stay healthy (which has sadly not been a theme this season for the pitching staff), the overall innings and overall work load will be available to everybody to take advantage of, but not on an overly extended basis.
Also helping the situation will be the fact that San Diego will be out of postseason contention, and has been for the last two months. Because the Padres will not be in the pennant race come early September, the pressure to perform so early in their major league careers’ will be lessened, and less responsibility will be placed on these young pitchers so early in their careers. In the present, these guys can focus on their development and pitching for a spot on the 2013 25-man roster, not going out in game 160 with a .5 game lead in the Wild Card race. All that will be required of them is to do their jobs, and make a positive impression on Bud Black and Darren Balsley.
It has not hurt this group however that each of these Pitchers already have some big league experience under their collective belts’. In fact, guys like Brach, Boxberger, and Mikolas all have seen some time at the big league level coming out of San Diego’s bullpen in 2012.
Brach has gained the most experience of the five as he has pitched in big league contests in each of the last two seasons with the Padres. While Brach has taken his lumps here and there this season, he has still logged a respectable 3.86 ERA, Struck Out 50 compared to only 25 Walks, and pitched 42.0 Innings over 41 appearances and been an available arm for the Padres all season long. Called up to replace Burns, Mikolas has come up for three different stints with the Padres this season and made 15 appearances during his Rookie year. Overall, Mikolas has pitched 16.1 Innings, Struck Out 14 batters, and has not allowed a Run in 8 of his last 9 outings of relief.
The pitcher I am most intrigued to see finish the season with some extended work is one of the four pieces from the “Latos to Cincinnati trade:” Boxberger. Flying a tad under the radar as Yonder Alonso and Yasmani Grandal have enjoyed solid auditions with the Friars in 2012, Boxberger has done a nice job in his stints with the big club when called upon. Boxberger’s most recent outing on Saturday was effective as he filled in for an ineffective Edinson Volquez. Overall, Boxberger lasted a career-high 2.1 Innings in relief, gave up 1 Hits, Walked 1, but Struck Out 3 over 43 total pitches. If Andrew Cashner is moved to the starting rotation full-time next season, it would not shock me in the least bit if Boxberger is at least given a shot to replace the fire-baller as San Diego’s Set-up man and back-up Closer to Street in 2013.
Bud Black really said it best when he was asked the young arms vying for spots in the bullpen in an article by Padres.com Beat Writer Corey Brock:
I suspect that Corey will be back. … These guys — Mikolas, [Brad] Boxberger, [Brad] Brach, [Nick] Vincent, Burns — those guys are cutting their teeth,” Black said. “This is all a part of becoming a part of a Major League staff. It doesn’t happen overnight where a guy gets called up and spends 12 years in the Major Leagues as a reliever.
I cannot wait to see how all of these guys finish the season as they will likely be coming out of San Diego’s bullpen come early September. While the pressure might be off for “W’s,” the competition will have already started as all five will be jockeying for positions in San Diego’s 2013 bullpen. It is still very early in the “Byrnes & Co.” rebuilding effort, but the development and subsequent performance of these five guys as a whole over the next few years should very well be key to San Diego’s success in 2013 and beyond. With another month and a half to go, the Padres will be looking to get better and prepare themselves for an improved 2013 season. One of the nice things to watch this season has been watching players like Alexi Amarista taking their extended opportunities to new levels, and I for one hope at least some of these bullpen guys can do the same.