Since When are First Round Picks Not Even Tried Out as Starters?

All the hype surrounding Zack Burdi revolves around him being the future closer of the White Sox. Burdi was drafted late in the first round of the 2016 Draft out of the University of Louisville. His first season in the minors went well as he displayed the fireballs his arm has the ability to throw, striking out over twelve batters per nine innings.

But I’m not sure why designating this arm as a bullpen piece is being celebrated. Since when are first round picks drafted to be relievers?

Yes, some of the best relievers in the game today are former first round picks. However, they weren’t drafted to be relievers and if you talk to people in their organization they might even call it a scouting error on their part. Andrew Miller was drafted 6th overall in 2006 but couldn’t get his ERA south of 5.00 until Boston turned him into a full time reliever. From there he became one of the most dominating relief pitchers in the game, but if you ask Detroit if they would’ve drafted Miller that high if they knew his future…they’d probably pass.

You can look across the MLB and find dominant closers who weren’t drafted as high as Burdi. Zach Britton, Wade Davis, and Craig Kimbrel were all drafted in the third round. Britton was a starter early in his career but has now become possibly the most dominating closer of the past three seasons. Davis, another failed starter, turned in a string of seasons where he was untouchable and is now closing for the World Series champs. Kimbrel is the only one of these guys that has never been tried as a starter, but again, he was drafted in the third round.

I’m not numb to the fact that relief pitchers are more important than ever in today’s game. The bullpen is just as important as the starting rotation and the starter’s job is getting shorter, and quite frankly easier. I also don’t like to blur the lines between a closer and a relief pitcher because I believe there is a mentality that a closer needs to have (though it’s not nearly as impactful as we once thought). So yes, having a shutdown closer is important to a team’s success, especially in the postseason. But they still aren’t throwing as many innings as a starting pitcher, and thus are less valuable. If you’re drafting a pitcher in the first round knowing full well you’re not even going to attempt to make him a starter, he better be at the Mariano Rivera level.

Allllllll that being said….maybe it makes sense for a team like the White Sox who are clearly in a rebuilding mode. Instead of risking a late first round pick on a high school arm who we might never hear from again, why not take the guy that can fly through the minors because he throws 100 MPH? Then when your team is on the verge of competing you can flip him to someone who’s willing to overpay, which might then actually equate to a first round pick. I guess when you’re as bad as the Sox you’re just looking for assets.

So maybe I’m overreacting. Shocker.

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