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As I mentioned in the first installment of the 2014 Fantasy Baseball Closer Report, I’m a huge proponent of investing in top-tier closers. Grabbing yourself an eighth-round Greg Holland or Aroldis Chapman is a great way to supplement your strikeout totals and keep your ratios tight and balanced and, in truth, with the way so many undervalue the position, the cost really isn’t all that high. Seriously, how many guys who are at the top three at their position go in the eighth round?
But for those who still insist on shorting themselves at the position, or maybe for those of you who, like me, like to grab yourself a third closer heading into the season, there’s a very noticeable trend I’ve witnessed in the multitude of mock drafts I’ve already done. The top 10 closers tend to be off the board by the end of 10th or 11th round. The next 10 are gone by the 15th or 16th. After that, they are being left alone and suddenly there you are 23 rounds into your draft and there are still plenty of potential saves left on the board. On the whole, they’re not the greatest lot in the world, but in some cases, there is strong enough upside that you’d be a fool to let them go.
Most people lean towards unproven youth with potential upside in the later rounds, but if you can get a leg up in a particular category with someone who already has a job locked, why wouldn’t you? Most of the high-end prospects – guys like George Springer and Oscar Taveras – usually get scooped up a little earlier and the hopefuls you’re fishing through late tend to be more longshot than safe bet. So if a guy can help boost you in saves and not hurt you in the ratios, then going with him should prove to be the smarter play, no? It is if you’re looking to win now.
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Here’s a look at who’s been left over and where the most upside lies:
Tommy Hunter, BAL – With the trade of Jim Johnson and the displeasure with Grant Balfour’s physical, the Orioles have opted to fill their closer need with an in-house candidate in Hunter. Last season he was moved to the bullpen which proved to be a tremendous success. Not only did he see a spike in velocity, but he had an increased strikeout rate, a lower walk rate and a reduced HR/FB. The reduction in HR/FB might have more to do with an increase in his fly ball rate, but the other improvements gave the team hope that he could fill the role. It is unclear how long the leash will be, but the team likes Darren O’Day and Ryan Webb in the eighth a little more, so it could be longer than some might expect.
Nate Jones, CHW – We discussed him in the Bullpen Battle installment and I have to reiterate just how underrated he is right now. As a ground ball pitcher who posted a 10.27 K/9 over 78 innings last year, he appears to be the strongest candidate to succeed. His slider looks nasty and with his fastball clocking in at just under 98 mph, he should continue to post strikeout totals and ratios well worth a late-round investment.
LaTroy Hawkins, COL – He’s another guy we highlighted in the Bullpen Battle piece and while many are still holding out hope that Rex Brothers steps into the role, Hawkins may not give him too much of a chance to step in. Sure, it’s Hawkins and there’s always the possibility of an injury, but he’s proven to be a fairly reliable option as his skill set hasn’t really diminished all that much for a guy who is heading into his age-41 season. If you’re considering him as more than just a third option for you, then you’ll want to handcuff him to Brothers, but if he’s just supplementing your closer personnel, then you can simply use him up until he’s got no more value.
Jose Veras, CHC – Similarly to Hawkins, Veras is the veteran with the job in-hand heading into the season, but has another able arm waiting in the wings. Pedro Strop should receive consideration this spring and ultimately, the Cubs could go with a closer-by-committee approach. But Veras proved capable last year with Houston and notched 21 saves, though he lost a little off his strikeout rate and gave up more fly balls. We’re probably looking at a similar situation to last year where he closes for the first half and ultimately gets traded to set-up somewhere else in the second. If you can find someone to buy into him after the first two months of the season, then you should easily turn a profit on your original investment.
Joakim Soria, TEX – Two Tommy John surgeries and the loss of Joe Nathan puts the Mexecutioner (yes, I know he doesn’t like the nickname but it’s far too cool to just omit) as the Rangers top ninth inning option. He missed all of 2012 and most of 2013, but still managed to throw 23.2 innings. The results were mixed as he experienced some expected command issues and posted just a 3.80 ERA, but he also had a 10.65 K/9, his highest mark since 2009. He’ll compete this spring with Tanner Scheppers and Neftali Feliz, but his experience in the role should give him a slight edge.
Josh Fields, HOU – He closed out the 2013 season as the Astros closer and should get the early nod for the job this year. He struggled with his command at times and posted an ugly 4.97 ERA, but he also had a decent 9.47 K/9 over the 38 innings he pitched. The high fly-ball rate is a bit of a downer, especially in hitter-friendly Minute Maid Park, and he could have veteran Chad Qualls looking over his shoulder, but if he can harness that command even just a little, he’ll hang onto the gig long enough to help boost your saves.
Remember, none of these guys are going earlier than the 23rd round of most mock drafts happening right now. Obviously a strong spring could put a few of them on more people’s radar, but they should stay as late-round options for the most part. If you’re one of those people who believe in punting saves, maybe think twice and just make a simple low-end investment. Finishing in the middle of the pack in saves is definitely better than finishing last.
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