by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)
It’s not easy for a prospect to make the leap all the way to the closers role shortly after arriving in the Majors. Teams tend to want some type of experience at the back of the bullpen, though there are times that pitchers have been able to force the issue (assuming the back of their team’s bullpen is in shambles). There are a few relievers that are in situations where they could arrive quickly (due to recent injuries), so let’s take a look at who we should be watching:
Alberto Baldonado – New York Mets
The injury to Jeurys Familia has put a new spotlight on the Mets bullpen. While Addison Reed is going to step into the closers role, at least for now, the rest of the group hardly makes you feel secure. The bullpen owns a 4.29 ERA overall, though it has come with a 1.44 WHIP and 53 BB over 126.0 IP. There is going to be opportunity for someone to rise, maybe even as far as the ninth inning, and Alberto Baldonado is an intriguing arm that is making a strong push.
Recently promoted to Triple-A (though at the time of this writing he has yet to appear there), Baldonado tossed 16.2 scoreless innings at Double-A this season. That alone is impressive, but he also racked up 6 saves to go along with a 13.70 K/9 and 2.70 BB/9.
One of the biggest questions facing him entering the year was his control, after he posted a 5.13 BB/9 over 40.1 IP at Double-A last season (he owns a career 4.1 BB/8). If he has solved that, and early on it appears that he has, there’s the potential to be an impact arm before long.
Already 24-years old, the biggest obstacle may be that he’s left-handed. Obviously it’s a long-shot that he earns enough trust to close at the highest level, but we also can’t say that it’s impossible. He at least should be a left-handed weapon, especially with LHH managing just a .100 BAA this season and strikeouts never being a question (9.8 K/9 for his career).
Reyes Moronta – San Francisco Giants
While the expectation is that Mark Melancon won’t be out for very long, that’s what was initially thought of Zach Britton and we’ve seen how that’s gone. Both Derek Law and Hunter Strickland have failed to thrive since Melancon’s injury, so is it impossible to envision another name rising up the ranks?
The 24-year old Moronta has done the job thus far at Double-A, with a 13.50 K/9 and 3.18 BB/9. Those marks are right in line with what he did over 59.0 innings at High-A a year ago (14.19 and 3.05), and he has the potential to arrive in short order at this point.
Prior to the season MLB.com described him by saying:
“Moronta’s live 95-97 mph fastball can reached triple digits and seems to get on hitters even quicker because of deception in his delivery. He backs up his heat with an improving slider that arrives in the mid-80s with late bite. He also can cross up hitters by mixing in a changeup every once in a while. Moronta expends effort in his delivery, which costs him some control and command. If he can throw more strikes and refine his slider into a plus pitch, he could develop into a closer at the big league level. He’ll also need to watch his weight because he carries much more than the listed 175 pounds on his 6-foot frame.”
Considering the way the Giants’ bullpen has pitched in general, don’t be surprised to see the right-hander not only arrive but rise into a prominent role before long.
Sources – MILB.com, MLB.com, Baseball Reference, Fangraphs
Make sure to check out all of our 2017 Prospect Rankings: