Fantasy owners always have their eyes on the waiver wire, especially those chasing saves, as they try to find the next big thing. While there are financial reasons for teams to utilize veterans in the closers role (not helping a youngsters arbitration case down the road), it doesn’t mean that it’s impossible that a rookie assumes the role. There are two noteworthy bullpen prospects rising up the ranks that need to be monitored, because it’s not impossible that they get a crack at the job before the year is out:
Junior Fernandez – St. Louis Cardinals
The 22-year old right-hander has pitched at three levels this season and dominated at each:
- High-A (11.2 IP) – 1.54 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 11 K, 8 BB
- Double-A (29.0 IP) – 1.55 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 42 K, 11 BB
- Triple-A (13.1 IP) – 0.68 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, 16 K, 3 BB
There’s no questioning the strikeout stuff, with 69 K over 54.0 IP and a highly impressive 19.8% SwStr%. He’s also shown an ability to get groundballs, with a 48.8% mark this season. The question has generally been his control since his move to the bullpen (which came due to arm troubles), though he’s been significantly better since his promotion to Triple-A.
He throws extremely hard, with reports of him reaching 99 mph, and that obviously could play well. With Carlos Martinez struggling the assumption would be either that the Cardinals acquire a closer ahead of the trade deadline or they utilize someone like Andrew Miller in the role. At the same time the Cardinals seem more open than others to utilize youngsters late in games, as evidenced by Jordan Hicks being thrust into the role before getting hurt.
While Fernandez hasn’t been closing at Triple-A, don’t underestimate the potential he has to hit the ground running if he gets the opportunity. He’s not currently on the 40-man roster, but with the Cardinals in position for a Wild Card they aren’t going to let that keep them from putting their best team on the field.
Jordan Romano – Toronto Blue Jays
He’s already made 4 appearances in the Majors, but otherwise has spent the year at Triple-A (34.0 IP). His overall numbers are skewed by three starts (10.45 ERA), but he’s been significantly better coming out of the bullpen:
23.2 IP, 3.80 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 32 K, 10 BB
Obviously the control isn’t ideal, though he showed more as a starter last season (2.69 BB/9 over 137.1 IP at Double-A) and it’s possible it’s been more about his transition. He hasn’t walked more than 1 in an appearance since May 14, yielding just 4 BB over 15.1 IP. That helps to ease that concern, and with an ability to miss bats (13.7% SwStr%) it’s a dangerous combination.
We’d like to see more groundballs from the 26-year old, but the Blue Jays bullpen could really open up in the next week (there are rumors of both Ken Giles and Daniel Hudson potentially being moved). While it’s hard to envision the Blue Jays giving a rookie an opportunity, if they lack a true alternative it’s not impossible.
Sources – MILB.com, MLB.com, Fangraphs