Identifying Four Relief Pitcher Prospects Who Could Rise To The Closer’s Role In ’18

by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)

Relief pitching prospects are often overlooked, though the game is quickly changing.  No longer do starting pitchers work deep into games, putting more emphasis on the bullpen (and leading to pitchers being developed for the role).  There are quite a few young relievers who could play a significant role in their team’s bullpen, despite their rookie status, so let’s take a look:

 

Dillon Maples – Chicago Cubs
2017 Statistics – 63.1 IP, 2.27 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 14.21 K/9, 5.26 BB/9

Maples pitched across four levels in ’17, including 5.1 innings in the Majors, impressing along the way with a big strikeout rate and an impressive 63.3% groundball rate.  With a 15.0% SwStr% there’s obviously a lot to like, the question is going to be if he can limit the walks just enough.  The other skills can overcome a bloated walk rate, if he can keep it in the 4.50-5.00 range.  If it’s better than that?  He could be among the best in the league.  As Rich Wilson of Prospect 361 described him:

While Maples mechanics suggest he will never be a control artist, his stuff is what futures closers are made.  His fastball can hit triple-digits and he has a nasty curveball that can miss bats.

With Wade Davis no longer in the mix, the Cubs appear primed to open the season with Brandon Morrow closing games (barring another addition).  Hardly a given to thrive in the role, there could be an opportunity.  Considering his stuff and turning 26-years old in May, Maples could rise quickly.

 

Jimmy Sherfy – Arizona Diamondbacks
2017 Statistics – 49.0 IP, 3.12 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 11.20 K/9, 1.84 BB/9

Sherfy got the job done with strikeouts (courtesy of an 11.9% SwStr%) and control as he pitched the year at Triple-A before making his MLB debut (10.2 IP).  The control was the big development, especially after posting a 5.01 BB/9 over 23.1 IP at Triple-A in ’16, but he did carry to the Majors (1.69 BB/9 over 10.2 IP).  Home runs could be an issue, especially pitching half his games in Arizona, which is something to watch closely.

It’s going to take a few dominoes to fall for Sherfy to rise into the closer role, with Archie Bradley and the newly imported Yoshihisa Hirano ahead of him on the depth chart.  Still, last year’s success, the overall upside and no true “lockdown” option puts him on radars.

 

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Jimmy Herget – Cincinnati Reds
2017 Statistics – 62.0 IP, 2.90 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 10.45 K/9, 3.05 BB/9

For Herget to get an opportunity it would take a trade of Raisel Iglesias to clear the way (something that has been rumored).  If that were to happen the role would be wide open.

There is going to be questions as Herget’s strikeout rate fell upon his promotion to Triple-A:

  • Double-A (29.2 IP) – 13.35
  • Triple-A (32.1 IP) – 7.79

His 8.8% SwStr% at Triple-A supports the drop, and without groundball stuff it’s a red flag that can’t be ignored.  If he can rediscover what he did at Double-A (13.7% SwStr%), the upside will be there.

 

Luke Bard – Los Angeles Angels
2017 Statistics – 65.1 IP, 2.76 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 13.64 K/9, 3.31 BB/9

Bard was selected in the Rule 5 draft from the Twins’ organization, meaning the Angels need to keep him on the MLB roster or send him back to Minnesota.  The Angels have shown a willingness to give anyone an opportunity, including Blake Parker a year ago, so the 27-year old Bard could conceivably rise.  It’s not like Parker is a given or that the team has shown much faith in the injury plagued Cam Bedrosian before.

Sources – Fangraphs, Prospect 361

Make sure to check out all of our 2018 Preseason Top 10 Prospect Lists:

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