by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)
Are you someone constantly on the lookout for the next potential closer? That’s what we are trying to pinpoint here, with our Top 5 Closer In Waiting Power Rankings. These rankings look at the pitchers who appear capable of taking over their team’s respective closing duties (though in some cases, will need some help to get there). Keep in mind, if a pitcher is currently part of a committee they will not be included in these rankings despite not currently “holding” the job outright.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at how things stand (all stats are through Sunday):
1) Tony Watson – Pittsburgh Pirates (2)
Current Closer – Mark Melancon
Melancon’s velocity remains down (89.36 mph on his cutter over the past week, through Saturday), so despite better results in his recent performances he remains a significant concern. It may just take one more blowup for the Pirates to make a change, and it seems like that could come at any moment at this point.
There’s no doubt that Watson is waiting in the wings to take over. He’s proven to be one of the elite setup men in the league over the past few seasons, and 2015 has been no different (2.35 ERA, 0.78 WHIP, 8.80 K/9). Could the fact that he’s a southpaw work against him? It shouldn’t, considering right-handed hitters are slashing a mere .163/.182/.302 against him this season.
2) Rafael Betancourt – Colorado Rockies (NR)
Current Closer – John Axford
With both Adam Ottavino (out for the season due to Tommy John surgery) and Latroy Hawkins on the DL, Axford has been given the role by default. Does anyone truly have faith in his abilities to lock down the job, despite his success thus far?
Betancourt is a proven closer who also has been lights out this season, with a 1.69 ERA, 0.56 WHIP, 12 K and 1 BB over 10.2 IP. Granted he’s not the future for the Rockies (40-years old), but that hasn’t stopped them from using Hawkins or Axford already. Any stumbles should lead to Betancourt’s opportunity, and it’s only a matter of time.
3) Keona Kela – Texas Rangers (NR)
Current Closer – Neftali Feliz
We had initially thought it would be Shawn Tolleson who overtakes Feliz, but he’s imploded in recent outings and may be falling out of the role. Kyuji Fujikawa could ultimately get an opportunity, but he needs to prove that he’s healthy and can do the job (4.91 ERA, 1.91 WHIP over 7.1 IP during his rehab assignment). Enter Kela, who has been considered a potential closer of the future.
Kela is certainly living up to that billing. While the strikeouts haven’t been there, yet, he’s averaging 94.2 mph on his fastball and has the upside potential (12.23 K/9 in the minors). The question was always his control (4.53 BB/9), but thus far he’s held his own (3.00 BB/9). He’s a rookie, which could help the Rangers delay his ascent, but that’s no guarantee. It’s certainly not like we’ve never seen a rookie rise to closer duties, is it?
4) Sergio Romo – San Francisco Giants (1)
Current Closer – Santiago Casilla
I still believe that Romo will ultimately overtake Casilla, but he’s hit a little speed bump along the way having allowed runs in each of his past two outings (1 earned and 1 unearned). The thing is, Romo remains the better option for San Francisco:
- Romo – 3.24 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 14.04 K/9, 3.24 BB/9, 42.1% GB%
- Casilla – 2.31 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 6.17 K/9, 3.09 BB/9, 58.3% GB%
It’s really just a matter of time before the Giants make a switch, the move just isn’t imminent at this moment.
5) Bryan Shaw – Cleveland Indians (NR)
Current Closer – Cody Allen
It’s been a disastrous season for Allen, with a 10.00 ERA and 2.44 WHIP over his first 9.0 IP. His control has been awful (7.00 BB/9) and opponents have teed off on him to the tune of a 26.9% line drive rate. Sure he’s still striking batters out and has allowed just one home run, but that’s of little solace. He’s only had two clean innings on the season, consistently putting runners on.
Shaw hasn’t been tremendous in his own right, with a 3.24 ERA and 1.80 WHIP, but he’s certainly been better. Unfortunately he’s been a mess of late (7 H and 2 BB over his last 2.2 IP), but the team doesn’t have any obvious alternative in their bullpen at the moment. Both Shaw and Allen could be on the hot seat, in all honesty, so keep a close eye on the bullpen to see if another option rises. Maybe Zach McAllister? Maybe someone else?
Others We’re Watching:
- Aaron Barrett – Washington Nationals – Drew Storen has been pitching well, of late, so Barrett isn’t close to overtaking him. That said, Barrett is the closer of the future and could easily takeover at some point in 2015.
- Ken Giles – Philadelphia Phillies – He’s worth watching, because of the potential for a Jonathan Papelbon trade, but Giles has had his own issues putting a significant number of base runners on. He’s simply no guarantee to thrive.
- Jake McGee – Tampa Bay Rays – Will the Rays put him right back in the closer role, or will the southpaw have to work his way back to replace Brad Boxberger?
- Cody Martin – Atlanta Braves – He’s not on the precipice of taking over, but eventually you have to figure Jason Grilli will be traded and Jim Johnson is not the long-term solution. Martin, a starting pitcher in the minors, has taken to the relief role (11.30 K/9, 2.51 BB/9) despite not being a hard thrower (89.4 mph average fastball) and should continue to see his role expand.
- Roberto Osuna – Toronto Blue Jays – Toronto has turned things back over to Brett Cecil, but does anyone really trust him at this point? Until another alternative is imported, Osuna could get a shot (especially now that Miguel Castro was demoted).
- Carson Smith – Seattle Mariners – Fernando Rodney appears to have re-solidified his role at the back end of the bullpen, but what if he blows up again? Could the team make a change?
- Junichi Tazawa – Boston Red Sox – Koji Uehara is starting to settle in (finally), but until he proves his issues are fully behind him Tazawa remains on our radars.
- Brad Ziegler – Arizona Diamondbacks – Doesn’t Addison Reed just always feel like a ticking time bomb?
Fell off Rankings:
- Shawn Tolleson – Texas Rangers (3)
- Aaron Barrett – Washington Nationals (4)
- Roberto Osuna – Toronto Blue Jays (5)
Make sure to check out all of our recent articles:
- Streaming Starters: May 4-10: Mike Foltynewicz, Deep Sleepers & More
- Believer or Deceiver: Should Fantasy Owners Believe in Michael Pineda and/or Matt Garza?
- Three Hitters Not To Push The Panic Button On & Keep In Your Lineup (Adrian Beltre & More)
- Fantasy Training Room: When Will Rendon Return, Should We Bench Cozart & More
Sources – MLB.com, Fangraphs, Minor League Central, Brooks Baseball