Closers are the most frustrating part of building a fantasy team. How many of you have entered April without a worry about your fantasy pen, only to find yourself sifting through the waiver wire rubble for anything breathing that might net you some saves for your injury ridden or underperforming relievers? The closer position is incredibly volatile, and the one thing you can bet on for the 2018 season is that there will again be a high level of turnover in the closing ranks due to injury or under-performance. Every MLB manager knows this is a possibility for his team, and you can bet that he has an idea of which player would step into the 9th inning role should something happen to his current relief ace.
As a manager yourself, it is very important to also have your “Next Man Up” list ready so that you know who to stash or target as a potential source of saves should the need arise. Once the season begins, keep tabs on which closers are struggling so that you can better identify who may take over their role as the season progresses.
For now, here are a few interesting bullpen arms that either have a good shot of stepping up to the position due to poor performances by those ahead of them, or represent the next best option for their team should the current closer succumb to injury.
AJ Minter RP ATL
Minter has only pitched 15 big league innings in his career, but made the most of that small audition by striking out 26 batters in that period, looking every bit the part of a late inning arm. Minter moved quickly through the minors last year before ending up in ATL, and has consistently struck out a high percentage of batters during all of his stops (11.7 K/9 MILB). He has struggled slightly with walks at some levels, but his highest MILB IP season saw him post a BB/9 of 2.89, so I am not sold that he will struggle too heavily with walks during his career.
Arodys Vizcaino currently holds the closer mantle for the Braves, but definitely has some warts that could lead the way for a change once the season begins. His FIP and xFIP (3.27, 4.21) were a good bit higher than his 2.83 ERA, so it will be interesting to see how if his performance stays strong in 2018.
Trevor Hildenberger RP MIN
Much like Minter, the 2017 season gave Hildenberger his first taste of big league action. An older prospect at 27, Hildenberger performed well for the Twins, posting a 3.21 ERA over 42 innings while striking out just under 26% of all batters faced. He was also excellent at limiting walks, something essential for a potential late inning arm, issuing a free pass to only 3.5% of all batters faced in 2017.
The Minnesota pen is currently led by elder statesman Fernando Rodney, but his advanced age (41 this Sunday) and history of erratic performance make it likely that someone else will be handling the closing duties for what should be a solid Twins team. Addison Reed is the most popular candidate to replace Rodney should he falter, but he struggled a bit during his second half stint with Boston, and I am not sold on him as the best option should a change be needed. Keep tabs on Hildenberger as the season progresses, and don’t be surprised if he ends up closing at some point during 2018.
Ryan Tepera RP TOR
Roberto Osuna is currently the closer for the Toronto Blue Jays, and looks like a solid bet to continue to hold that job for the near future barring a huge change in performance or serious injury. But as we have seen many times in the past, and more recently with Zach Britton, injuries can strike even the best players, so don’t forget to look at backup options for the higher level closers on your rankings list.
Ryan Tepera was a solid piece of the Toronto bullpen last year, posting a 3.59 ERA in 77.2 innings. His K% (25.4%) finally reached the levels he had shown during his last two stops in AAA, and while he did struggle a bit with walks (3.59 BB/9), his overall season performance was positive. While Tepera does also have some areas of worry related to his heavy workload last season and his slightly higher FIP and xFIP (3.75, 4.41), I see him as a mid-level source of production should he close at any point for the Jays this season.
Of the other options in the Toronto bullpen, I like Tepera as the next man up for their pen should something happen to Osuna, even with the recent signing of Tyler Clippard.
Mychal Givens RP BAL
The closing situation in Baltimore was thrown into disarray by the Achilles injury suffered by Zach Britton during the offseason. Currently it looks like Brad Brach will take over closer duties until Britton returns, with Givens stepping in as the main setup guy for the start of the season. While Brach did perform well as a replacement for Britton last season, Givens is an interesting arm to watch in case Brach falters.
During his short MLB career, Givens has always posted high strikeout rates (Between 27%-30% the past two seasons) and has been a source of reliable innings, going over 70-IP the past two seasons. He was absolutely unhittable in June and July of this past season, giving up only two earned runs in just under 25 innings. If Givens can continue to limit his walks and lower his Hard% this season, he could end up being a very valuable fantasy relief arm and a potential source of save value for part of the 2018 season.
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