While actively refraining from dropping any Boyz II Men lyrics in here, I’ll instead note that we’ve come…a long way in our journey to the corners of organized baseball where the bright lights of Bret’s Top 50 Dynasty lists don’t shine. And for our trouble, we didn’t even get a lousy t-shirt, we got an article all about marginal and minor-league relievers. Weee! I tried to make what follows as helpful and potentially useful in some capacity as I could. And as always, if I didn’t mention one of the 8.6 million other relievers in the world that you happen to like, feel free to inquire within the comments. Bret’s Top 75 relievers can be found here, while previous pieces in this positional series can be found here:
And now, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls: the Main Event.
In the Majors
Pedro Strop, Chicago Cubs – On pure consistency of performance alone and for Hold speculation in particular, Strop should be firmly planted on everyone’s radar. He’s been consistently kind of great for over 200 innings now since arriving in Chicago three and a half years ago, and his performance crested with one of the best combinations of high chase and low O-contact rates in the majors last year. He’s buried very far down the Save speculation depth chart in Chicago, however, so his value is limited to basic, boring ol’ ratio support in standard formats.
Brett Cecil, St. Louis Cardinals – Cecil probably pitched hurt for a good bit of the first half, as lat injuries can make you try and do that. But it showed in the normally-reliable left-hander’s performance. He was much more like his usual self in the second half, particularly from August on, and St. Louis certainly bought the track record to the tune of a four-year deal this winter. The league and park moves are good for Cecil, and he should be primed to rack up Holds, a solid whiff rate, and the occasional Save for a few years to come.
Mychal Givens, Baltimore Orioles – Givens has some filthy stuff, but after a winter last year of getting some eyes as a potentially elite relief option, he’s back to the pack. His 2016 was an uneven season at times, lowlighted by a gnarly platoon split and higher-quality contact against him. He struggled to get ahead as often, and batters produced louder and more frequent pull-side contact against him when they got ahead. If the performance was just the product of poor sequencing and early-count execution issues, then there’s reason to believe he can bounce back to post strong ratios to back up his whiffs. Pay attention to the walk rate early.
Jeremy Jeffress, Texas Rangers – Jeffress is older than you think he is. He’s also pitched in parts of seven big-league seasons now, and only once whiffed a batter every inning – a 10-inning stretch for Toronto in 2013. He’s shown as a reasonably capable Closer™ before, so there’s some low-grade Save speculation value here as long as he’s in a big-league bullpen. But he’s a lower-end ratio man with mediocre strikeout and WHIP numbers for most leagues.
Miguel Diaz, San Diego Padres – This is cheating a bit under assumption of role, but Diaz was the pick in the Rule 5 draft this winter, and the Padres are fresh off of targeting Luis Perdomo in a trade with Colorado and subsequently handing him 20 starts and over 146 total innings a year removed from throwing 100 innings of A-ball. Diaz touches 98 and shows flashes of a plus slider and changeup feel, though a combination of his slender frame, some trouble repeating, and past elbow surgery (for a stress fracture) make bullpen work a strong possibility. Regardless of eventual outcome, it’s the likeliest home for him in San Diego if he sticks. Lack of experience notwithstanding, with his stuff and repertoire there’s potential for an interesting multi-inning arm that misses bats in a utility relief role a la Chris Devenski this year.
Matt Strahm, Kansas City Royals – Strahm technically belongs among the prospects still, but I’m putting him here because he’s penciled in to break camp in a relatively high-leverage position. This is my column, and I do what I want. He generated some of the best four-seam movement of any big-league pitcher last year, leading to an elite whiff rate north of 30 percent with the pitch. He showed bat-missing ability with the change, too, though he struggled to spin the ball effectively as a big-leaguer and posted a significant reverse-split in his first 22 innings. The gas and whiff rates are enough to tantalize, however, and there’s quality ratio potential here.
Koda Glover, Washington Nationals – Glover was an eighth-rounder in 2015, and he made his big-league debut 13 months later sitting 98 with a 91 mile-an-hour slider and two other pitches that flash potential utility. He’s another technical prospect, but whatever, same deal as Strahm. His performance in the majors was only okay last year, but he’s been outstanding across 86 minor-league innings to date, and the stuff is there to evolve into a multi-inning monster with a bunch of whiffs in short order.
Grant Dayton, Los Angeles Dodgers – Dayton’s another unheralded southpaw with an excellent fastball, which is really one of the best combinations in town for unearthing cheap reliever value. His four-seamer boasted some of the best “rise” around, and he managed to coax the most swings at it (on a rate basis) of any reliever last year while posting the seventh-best whiff rate with the pitch. He lacks a great feel to spin the ball, however, so he may be a riskier proposition to sustain his elite overall whiff rate past the 26 innings he logged at the major-league level last year.
Luis Avilan, Los Angeles Dodgers – Also taking up an interesting left-handed corner of real estate in the Dodgers’ bullpen figures to be Avilan, who logged less than 20 innings in Chavez Ravine last summer, but did some interesting things in those innings. He showed an intriguing ability to coax hitters out of the zone and miss their bats when he did, with a dive-bombing changeup his primary weapon. Said changeup drove impressive reverse splits, and he seems poised to take on a larger role this year. He’s a guy who feels like he’s been around forever, yet he’s only 27.
Chaz Roe, Atlanta Braves – Roe is 30 years old and has never stuck in a big-league bullpen for more than 36 appearances in a season, but he happens to possess one of the filthiest sliders in the game, so he’s earned his share of chances. The pitch averaged the second hardest left-hand turn of any slider last year, driving well above-average rates of whiffs and worm-burners. He dramatically upped its usage after shipping off to the Braves, and showed signs of reigning in his problematic control for one of the first sustained stretches of his big-league career, too. You want a flier for a whole bunch of whiffs and holds this year? He’s as good a gamble as any if he can break camp to Atlanta.
Zach Putnam, Chicago White Sox – Putnam had to shut it down last August when he woke up one morning with a pitching elbow the size of a water balloon, but after an off-season of rehab from surgery to remove loose bodies in that joint he’s more or less on track right now and competing to re-join Chicago’s bullpen. If healthy he’s a good bet to do so, as he has shown the ability to ride his devastating splitter to elite swing-and-miss rates. Despite a lopsided split last year, he’s shown the ability to get both left- and right-handed hitters out efficiently in the past, and if the Sox end up punting the season and ship Robertson mid-season, a healthy Putnam could make for an interesting darkhorse to ascend into some save situations.
Jake Barrett, Arizona Diamondbacks – Barrett had a solid-if-unspectacular debut season last year. He walked too many guys, didn’t strike a ton of guys out (in the context of the modern reliever, of course) but he put up respectable top-line numbers. He was once viewed as a potential closer, though he hasn’t shown a top-shelf secondary to miss consistent bats yet. With Fernando Rodney ahead of him, he jumps into an interesting little pool of Save speculation with Randall Delgado and Enrique Burgos. He’s dealt with some early-spring shoulder soreness, to that will require monitoring once he’s ostensibly at full strength.
Carlos Estevez, Colorado Rockies – He’s an electric young arm who garnered save chances in his rookie season but… Colorado.
Dean Deetz, Houston Astros – Deetz is probably going to remain a “starter” for the time being, but he has some of the best pure stuff in the Houston system along with a requisite inability to maintain control of it for very long. He’s a guy who could fast-track his way into the Astros’ bullpen by the summertime if the organization ends up wanting to go in that direction, and he’s got the stuff to make some noise in short bursts if that happens. For that reason he’s a back-of-the-napkin name to monitor for now.
Ray Black, San Francisco Giants – Yes, dude walked more batters (32) than he threw innings (31.1) last year at Double-A, but at least some of that was probably due to a combination of present injury and lost developmental time from past injury. Black can touch 103 and has struck out a comical 175 hitters in 91.2 professional innings now. He just can’t stay healthy for a damn, and he can’t locate when he does. But if he ever figures out how to…
Brad Wieck, San Diego Padres
Jose Torres, San Diego Padres – Here’s the part of the program where I just start throwing out tandems in a couple orgs chalk full of filthy relief arms. Both of these guys have big stuff from the left side. Hell, Wieck is big stuff – a 6-foot-9, 250-plus pounder who uses his height to create an unfair angle of attack. He’s got requisite big-people problems that lead to some walks, but he’s tough to get a hit against. Torres touched a big-league mound four times last year, and has his own nasty one-two combo. Both can whiff a bunch of guys, and both should be firmly within San Diego’s bullpen mix.
per-nine across 78 Double-A and Triple-A innings last year. Holder is 23, and produced a 1.65 ERA while striking out nearly 14 per-nine across three levels and over 65 minor-league innings, before debuting in the Bronx as a September call-up. Holder is the “prospect” between the two of these guys, and while his cup of coffee didn’t go so well last year he’ll bring a three-pitch mix to the table and has a demonstrated track record of commanding well and missing bats. Gallegos, meanwhile, sits in the mid-90s and took his already-very-good strikeout rate to the next level last year, while retaining his already-very-good walk rate. He’s given up just 89 hits in his last 141 innings, all in High-A or above.
Jimmie Sherfy, Arizona Diamondbacks – Sherfy had one of the best fastballs I saw last year in the California League, and he backed it up with a very good slider and even a split change that flashed some in its own right. He had a bumpy go of it in the high minors last year, but the stuff of a late-inning asset is here.
Jerry Vasto, Colorado Rockies – See McGee, Jake and Estevez, Carlos above, then add in the risk factor of a kid who walked nearly five-per-nine in his first taste of Double A. He’s got a nasty heater from the left side and an excellent prior track record, however. File the name away in case he gets traded.
Thyago Vieira, Seattle Mariners – Vierira sits 99, and since converting to relief in 2014 he has walked nearly five-per-nine en route to putting up a 4.70 ERA in A-ball. But, remember, dude sits 99. His name is also conducive to memory, hence his mention here instead of the other dozens of high-90s-sitting minor-league relievers.
Jaime Schultz, Tampa Bay Rays – I have nothing remotely interesting to say about any of these people, but members of the prospect team named them as pet favorites out of the bullpen, so as a public service I am passing that information along to you. Do with it what you will.
Classes of 2016, 2017 and Beyond!
Chad Hockin, Chicago Cubs – Chicago took Hockin the sixth round last June as one of the best true relief prospects in the last class. He struggled in a very limited introduction to pro ball, but he has really good stuff and a nice delivery on top of his pedigree.
Colton Hock, University of Stanford – I wrote up a detailed report about Hock a couple weeks ago, and he is as of this writing the top amateur relief prospect in the land. He is also, by most accounts, a potential candidate for his drafting team to attempt and convert into a starting role, as he has the size and projectable stuff to warrant such a trial. His fastballl-slider combo is pretty tight, though, so he’ll offer a nice degree of relative “safety” as a potential fast-mover in the bullpen.
All of the Arms, everywhere. Look, don’t speculate on future relievers, especially right after or, Jah forbid, before they even get drafted. Okay? Okay.