Early on in spring training, Thad Levine said that Brandon Kintzler would be "given every opportunity to start the year in the closer's role." That statement all but solidified the assumed reality that Glen Perkins will open 2017 on the disabled list for the Minnesota Twins. What's worth wondering is, who closes out the most games for the hometown nine when the dust settles?
For Minnesota, having an elite closer in a season that .500 looks to be a solid effort, there's no denying that being anything but a luxury. However, given the way the sport has trended, bullpens are anchored by the guy who can slam the door on a victory. Although Paul Molitor won't have Aroldis Chapman to call on out of his pen, he'll have some solid options even if it isn't Kintzler that racks up the biggest number.
So who are the candidates and where do they fall?
Coming in as the incumbent, Kintzler will likely get the longest leash of any pitcher entering in the 9th inning for Minnesota. He racked up 17 saves a year ago and did so to a respectable 3.15 ERA. The problem for Kintzler could come in the fact that he simply doesn't miss bats. He totalled just 5.8 K/9, and that's not far off from his 6.5 career mark. Throwing just 92 mph, he doesn't bring swing and miss stuff, and if there's a place that it falls apart, that could be it.
Perkins is a three time All-Star, and pushed his Twins career saves total to 120. He's held his own in the role since the 2012 season, and outside of injuries, he's been one of the best under-the-radar-pitchers in the game. That injury though, it's real, and it's scary. Perkins had to have his labrum reattached to the bone, and his shoulder may never be the same. He's going to open the year on the DL, and frankly, I'm not sure he should be relied upon in any great measure for the rest of his career.
A college closer, Chargois has been among the touted fireballing relievers coming up through the Twins system. He beat the likes of Nick Burdi and Jake Reed to the show, and there's plenty of reason to be excited about him sticking. While his first 23 MLB innings were a mixed bag, that 96.6mph average on his fastball is legit. Chargois is going to need to settle into the highest level, but the Twins would gladly welcome his minor league career 10.6 K/9
A former Rule 5 draft pick, Pressly has long been one of the most underappreciated arms in the Twins pen. Last season, his fourth in the big leagues, Pressly picked up his first save. He's generated a nice 7.8 K/9 over the past two seasons and his velocity sat at a career best 95.2 mph average in 2016. If inexperience is working against Pressly, it might be wise to be reminded that Glen Perkins had to start somewhere as well.
Maybe thrown in somewhat for fun, but Duffey has a legitimate reason to be named in this space as well. He was college teammates with Chargois at Rice, and the operated as co-closers. Working as a starter for the Twins thus far, I think Duffey's best cast as a relief option. He has a three pitch mix that's focused mainly around a fastball and a curveball. His 90.4 mph velocity should see an uptick with lower usage rates though. I'd put him in a middle innings role first, but Duffey could work his way to the back of the bullpen.
The Best of the Rest
If one of these guys ends up leading the Twins in saves during the 2017 season, the injury bug has a wrath that really has no fear. Regardless, Nick Burdi, Jake Reed, and even Trevor Hildenberger could all be in line to call the closer space their home in the not-so-distant future. Burdi is the hardest throwing of the trio, while Hildenberger is the most advanced at this point. Each of them has some command issues to deal with, but expecting them to be quality big league pen options seems like a really good bet.
If you ask me to put money on it right now, I'd go with J.T. Chargois leading the Twins in saves this year when everything is said and done. I think Kintzler works better as a lower leverage type, and I just don't know what to expect out of Perkins. Pressly would be a fun option to run out there, but I'm not sure the Twins will move him out of his setup-type role.
No matter who closes games for the Twins this year, Paul Molitor will be hoping they have ample opportunity.