Over the course of a given minor league season, there are countless pitching prospects who, seemingly out of nowhere, emerge as viable candidates for a spot in a major league bullpen.
Typically, the quick risers are pitchers who boast both a high strikeout and low walk rate while stranding a majority of their inherited runners. Unlike starting pitchers and position prospects, a relief pitcher’s age doesn’t matter, as their swing-and-miss arsenal and overall effectiveness are the primary, determining factors. However, it’s only the especially dominant pitchers who receive consideration as a future closer.
Here is a look at 10 prospects with the potential to close games in the major leagues.
2012 Stats (A+, AA): 7-2, 15 SV, 64.1 IP, 1.54 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, 13.8 K/9, 3.1 BB/9 (46 G)
An 11th-round draft pick by the Yankees in 2011, Montgomery, 22, has excelled in his first professional season thanks to a plus fastball-slider combination. The slider may even be a plus-plus offering by the time he reaches the major leagues, and is a devastating pitch when thrown off his fastball.
He’ll likely reach the majors at some point next season, but, in all honesty, he could be successful now.
2012 Stats (AA): 2-3, 13 SV, 60 IP, 1.65 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 12.8 K/9, 4.4 BB/9 (51 G)
The 49th overall pick in the 2009 draft, Black battled various arm injuries over his first two seasons while working as a starter. However, after a move to the bullpen in 2011, his career has taken off.
If the Pirates ever decide to trade Joel Hanrahan—why they haven’t already, I don’t know—Black seems poised to assume duties as the team’s closer.
2012 Stats (A+, AA, AAA): 2-1, 29 SV, 53 IP, 1.53 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 11.2 K/9, 4.4 BB/9 (52 G)
Rondon has been fast-tracked to the majors this season, so I was somewhat surprised when he wasn’t included in the team’s September call-ups. With a fastball that registers in the 99 to 102 mph range, he features some of the best raw arm strength in the minor leagues.
He could make Jose Valverde expendable in the near future.
2012 Stats (AA, AAA): 2-3, 19 SV, 51.1 IP, 1.23 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 13.1 K/9, 2.1 BB/9
MLB: 18.1 IP, 3.93 ERA, 1.58 WHIP, 10.3 K/9, 3.9 BB/9 (13 G)
At 6’5”, 220 pounds, Capps has a powerful frame and an even more powerful arm, with fastballs that routinely hit triple digits. After making his professional debut last season, the right-handed ascended the Mariners’ system this season in a hurry and has appeared in 13 major league games.
His arsenal also consists of a slider, curve and changeup, with the slider serving as his best out pitch. Although he can pile up strikeouts, Capps also struggles with his fastball command at times and, in turn, falls behind too many hitters.
2012 Stats (Rk, A+, AAA): 0-1, 3 SV, 25.2 IP, 2.10 ERA, 0.82 WHIP, 9.1 K/9, 1.1 BB/9 (21 G)
MLB: 6 IP, 0.00 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, 7.5 K/9, 4.5 BB/9 (7 G)
An 11th-round draft pick in 2007, the Phillies converted De Fratus from a starting pitcher to a reliever before the 2010 season. He reached the major leagues in September of the following year.
The right-hander boasts a mid-90s fastball with sink, as well as a plus slider that only continues to get better. He also features a mediocre changeup, although he doesn’t throw it much as a reliever.
De Fratus possesses exceptional control with a career 1.95 BB/9 rate in 405.1 minor league innings. Between him and Phillippe Aumont, the Phillies will have their choice of closer once Jonathan Papelbon’s reign of terror in Philadelphia is complete.
3-3, 33 SV, 56.1 IP, 3.67 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 9.1 K/9, 2.1 BB/9 (54 G)
After signing with the Blue Jays as a non-drafted free agent in June of 2004, the 6’6” right-hander has emerged as one of the top closers in the low minors this season.
Recently named the best reliever in the Midwest League, Meyer, 24, came into his own this season at Low-A after working as a starter in 2011. And it’s no surprise that he notched 33 saves this season considering that he closed games for the Blue Jays’ “big three,” RHP Aaron Sanchez, RHP Noah Syndergaard and LHP Justin Nicolino.
Don’t be surprised if he begins the 2013 season at Double-A. And if everything goes well, Meyer has the potential to reach the major leagues.
2012 Stats (AA): 7-3, 14 SV, 2.53 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 11.6 K/9, 3.0 BB/9 (41 G)
The son of Giants manager Bruce Bochy—but presumably with a much smaller head—Brett began the 2012 season at Double-A after concluding his professional debut at Low-A in 2011.
The 24-year-old right-hander excelled at the more advanced level, allowing only 29 hits and 18 walks in slightly more than 53 innings. Over 92.1 career minor league innings, Bochy has fanned 122 batters and issued only 26 hits.
2012 Stats (A-): 0-3, 6 SV, 5.84 ERA, 1.66 WHIP, 9.1 K/9, 4.7 BB/9 (25 G)
A third-round pick of the Diamondbacks in the 2012 draft, Barrett, 20, is a physical, 6’3”, 230-pound right-hander with a heavy, mid- to upper-90s fastball. His secondary stuff is promising in a downer breaking ball and splitter, although he struggles to consistently locate both pitches.
The Diamondbacks drafted Barrett with the intention of him reaching the big leagues quickly. There’s no question that he has the pure stuff to be an effective closer, but his overall arsenal will need refinement.
2012 Stats (A+): 2-4, 13 SV, 56.2 IP, 2.38 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 15.1 K/9, 3.0 BB/9 (40 G)
Up until this season, Wort, a 6’2”, 170-pound right-hander, was regarded as a strikeout artist with control problems. Over his first two professional seasons, the 23-year-old recorded 117 strikeouts and 55 strikeouts in 111.1 innings.
This season, however, Wort was arguably the filthiest reliever in the minors, highlighted by his video game-like 15.1 strikeouts per nine innings. This was the right-hander’s third consecutive year at High-A, so expect him to begin the 2013 season at Double-A.
He’s exactly the type of reliever the Nationals adore, so don’t be surprised if he’s in the major leagues by the All-Star break.
2012 Stats (A+, AA): 1-4, 19 SV, 59.1 IP, 1.52 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 14.0 K/9, 2.3 BB/9 (47 G)
Selected by the Mets in the ninth-round of the 2007 draft, Olmsted, 25, is an imposing presence on the mound at 6’6”, 245 pounds. The right-hander’s arsenal includes a low 90s fastball, hard, late-breaking slider in the low 80s and a fringy curveball.
The right-hander appeared to be on the fast track to the major leagues until losing the 2009 season due to Tommy John surgery. Olmsted spent the following year pitching in Japan after the Mets released him.
He signed with the Red Sox in May of 2011 and has quickly moved up the organizational ladder. Not only did he reach Double-A for the first time in his career, Olmsted didn’t allow an earned run in 13 innings.
Considering that he owns a 0.96 WHIP, 11.9 K/9 and 2.6 BB/9 over four minor league seasons, the right-hander’s future as a big league reliever is increasingly bright.