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Weekly Top-10: Closers in Waiting

Every spring, most fantasy owners tend to wait too long on closers in their drafts and end up with uninspiring options to choose from. They then spend the rest of the season chasing saves and trying to grab the next new closer.

In competitive leagues, newly anointed closers are grabbed quickly. That’s why it’s important to get ahead of the game and look for the next good reliever that might get a chance to close. If any of the below 10 guys are free agents in your league and you’re looking for a closer, give them a look. They could help your team right now even without saving games.

Note: Dellin Betances and Brad Brach would be No. 2 and No. 3 on this list, respectively, if they weren’t currently closing due to injuries to Aroldis Chapman and Zack Britton.

Click here for last week’s top 10, which details the top breakout players of 2017.

And without further ado, here’s this week’s top 10.

#10 Mike Minor, Kansas City Royals

I’ll start with my sleeper pick of this list. Mike Minor might not appear to be next in line for saves in Kansas City, but he’s been their best reliever this season. It doesn’t look like the Royals will be contending this season, so Kelvin Herrera could be an option to be dealt before the trade deadline. Recent reports have said the Nationals have been keeping a close eye on Herrera. Expect more reports like this as we get closer to the July 31st trade deadline.

After not working out as a starter, Minor has turned into a pretty solid reliever. His ERA currently sits around 2.00, and he’s been striking out a batter per inning. Joakim Soria has the experience factor, but his WHIP is currently pushing one and a half. If Herrera leaves town, it would be wise for the Royals to give Minor a look at closer.

#9 Carl Edwards, Chicago Cubs

Over the last several years, the Cubs haven’t really developed too many good pitchers. Carl Edwards was supposed to be a mid-rotation arm for them, but that never panned out. He’s always been able to throw hard, but his slight frame and durability concerns have turned him into a reliever. He’s condensed his arsenal into a two-pitch mix. His fastball sits in the mid-90s, and his cutter (more like a slider) sits in the 80s and is his strikeout pitch.

Even though the Cubs have struggled this season, the closer position hasn’t been one of the reasons why. Wade Davis currently sports a 0.89 ERA and is in no danger of losing his spot. It will take an injury for Edwards to become the closer for this team. If that happens, though, he certainly has the stuff to succeed in the role.

#8 Blake Parker, Los Angeles Angels

Over the first couple months of the season, Blake Parker was one of the best relievers in the American League. For relievers that have thrown over 20 innings, his 13.66 K/9 mark ranks fifth in baseball. He doesn’t throw overly hard, as his fastball average 94 MPH, but he doesn’t need to. His splitter is his bread-and-butter pitch. Out of his 43 strikeouts, over half have been on his splitter.

The Huston Street era is over, and Cam Bedrosian is currently on the shelf, so the Angels have turned to former starter Bud Norris as their closer. Although Norris been solid this season, he’ proven to be pretty mediocre in his career, especially over the last few years. If Norris gets hurt or traded, expect Parker to get a shot at closing.

#7 Trevor Rosenthal, St. Louis Cardinals

There was a time when Trevor Rosenthal was considered an elite closer. In 2014 and 2015, he had a combined 93 saves with a solid 11.0 K/9. A mediocre 2016 season saw him lose his ninth-inning gig to Seung-Hwan Oh and slide into fantasy baseball obscurity. Rosenthal’s velocity was still high (97.1 MPH), but he just couldn’t locate his heater with consistency. His BB/9 almost doubled from 3.28 in 2015 to 6.47 in 2016.

That has all been reversed so far this season. His BB/9 is back down to 3.32, and his 14.95 K/9 rate is the highest of his career. A big part of that rise in strikeouts is added velocity. Rosenthal’s average fastball velocity this season is 99.2 MPH. Before this year he had been averaging 96-97 on the gun. Oh had a strong finish to last season, but he has been inconsistent in 2017. If he begins to struggle again, St. Louis can turn back to Rosenthal and not skip a beat.

#6 Chris Devenski, Houston Astros

Through his first two seasons, Chris Devenski has been everything the Astros could want out of a late-inning reliever. He throws hard, limits walks, and strikes out a ton of batters. He has the durability to start if needed and did so five times last season. This year he has already racked up 53 whiffs, which is tied with Craig Kimbrel for the second most in the majors by a full-time relief pitcher.

Houston’s current closer, Ken Giles, isn’t necessarily on the hot seat, but his ERA currently sits at 4.07 and is trending in the wrong direction. The Astros are currently the best team in baseball and need to have a closer they can count on. If Giles continues to struggle, don’t be surprised if they make the switch to Devenski.

#5 Brad Hand, San Diego Padres

Once again, the San Diego Padres are a bad baseball team. The beauty of bad teams is that when they win, it’s usually close. That means plenty of save opportunities to go around. Heath Bell was able to rack of plenty of saves on bad San Diego and Miami teams. San Diego’s current closer is Brandon Maurer, but he’s been junk this year and pretty mediocre overall in his career.

Teams falling out of contention in past seasons usually have unloaded whatever good reliever they have for prospects. Just look at what the Yankees did last year. The most valuable reliever on this team is Brad Hand. After leading the league in appearance in 2016, Hand has registered a solid 2.18 ERA and 11.7 K/9 this season. The Padres would be wise to make Hand their closer to enhance his trade value before the deadline. All it should take is one more ugly outing from Maurer for the switch to happen.

#4 Archie Bradley, Arizona Diamondbacks

The one thing that baffles me the most is how Fernando Rodney continues to land closer jobs. Yes, he has a ton of experience. Big whoop. So does Jonathan Papelbon, and no one picked him up to be their closer this past offseason. Out of all the closers on the hot seat, Rodney has to be the one feeling the most heat. Arizona is actually contending this year and having a closer with ERAs north of 5.00 in two of the last three seasons isn’t going to get it done.

It wasn’t that long ago that Archie Bradley was one of the top starting pitching prospects in all of baseball. Now he’s a reliever and a darn good one. Over 20 appearances, Bradley as a 1.35 ERA and 11.5 K/9. It’s clear who should be closing games for the Diamondbacks, and they should realize that sooner rather than later.

#3 Felipe Rivero, Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pittsburgh Pirates are quickly falling out of playoff contention in the National League. They’re currently 9.5 games behind Arizona and would have to leapfrog six teams to make the playoffs. It doesn’t look promising. The worst thing for a bad team to have is a solid closer. Tony Watson isn’t lighting the world on fire, evidenced by his mediocre 4.44 ERA, but he has proven to be a reliable reliever over the years. Plus, he’s a lefty, which contending teams always covet at the trade deadline.

If Watson were to get traded or lose his job outright, 25-year-old left-hander Felipe Rivero and his sterling 0.58 ERA would likely step into the closer role. Rivero does a great job limiting base runners with his three-pitch arsenal and has been striking out more than a batter per inning. His fastball is up two MPH (97.8) over last year ,and that should help him succeed if he gets a chance to close.

Update: Just before this article was published, Pittsburgh yanked Watson from the closer role and named Rivero and Juan Nicasio co-closers. Rivero is the recommended add here.

#2 Tommy Kahnle, Chicago White Sox

There has been trade speculation surrounding current White Sox closer David Robertson since last season. With Chicago again not contending this season, the chances of him being traded are promising. If and when a trade happens, the White Sox have a few solid in-house candidates to step into the closer role. Both Nate Jones and Anthony Swarzak would be decent options, but the reliever with the most upside in this bullpen is right-hander Tommy Kahnle.

After floundering for a few seasons in Colorado and Chicago, Kahnle has found his stride this season and has turned into one of the best relievers in the American League. His 1.52 ERA and 15.59 K/9 (third in MLB) are enough to help fantasy owners even without the saves. If Robertson is dealt, expect Kahnle to step in and be a highly valuable fantasy closer the rest of the season.

#1 Andrew Miller, Cleveland Indians

One of the five most valuable pitchers in all of baseball without question is Andrew Miller. No, he doesn’t start, but what he does out of the bullpen is downright insane. I firmly believe that Cleveland wouldn’t have made the World Series without Miller doing what he did last season. He’s that much of a difference maker. Over 74 1/3 innings in 2016, Miller had a 1.45 ERA, 12 saves, and a stellar 14.9 K/9 rate. Really good, right?

Well, apparently it wasn’t good enough for him because this season he’s been even better. He added a changeup to his already unfair arsenal, and opposing batters now have less of a chance against him than they already did. In 25 appearance, the tall, lanky lefty has allowed only one run. One! That’s good for a 0.33 ERA to go along with his 0.65 WHIP.

He’s too valuable to strictly be a closer, but if Cody Allen goes down, Miller will see plenty of added save chances, which will only raise his already sky-high value.

That’s all for this week’s list. Check back again next Saturday as we unveil another top 10. Think I missed someone? Comment with the player below, and as always, thanks for reading.

  1. Joe Lapinski says

    I really like Kahnle and Bradley off of your list. They both have elite stuff and questionable closers in front of them (as Robertson is likely going to be traded and Rodney has been so-so). Pat Neshek, Arodys Vizcaino and Shane Greene are three more guys I have been keeping my eyes on.

    1. Eric Cross says

      Vizcaino was another name I had in the running for this list.

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