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Projecting the Next Wave of Elite MLB Closers

Joel ReuterFeatured ColumnistApril 12, 2013

Projecting the Next Wave of Elite MLB Closers

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    There may be no position in the MLB with more turnover than the closer role, and as such the high-end talent tends to come in waves.

    Craig Kimbrel is widely regarded as the best closer in the game today, but the next wave of dynamic young relievers is on their way, and someone from the group will be looking to unseat him.

    So here is a look at guys who could find themselves in the ninth-inning role within the next couple years.

    Only players who still maintain their rookie eligibility were included, so youngsters like Addison Reed and Ryan Cook were not included, though their futures in the ninth-inning role appear as bright as anyone's.

     

    *Prospect pitch grades (current grade/projected grade) via Jonathan Mayo at MLB Prospect Watch.

Heath Hembree, San Francisco Giants (24 Years Old)

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    Career Minor League Stats (as of 4/10)

    113 G, 2-2, 58 SV, 2.61 ERA, 3.8 BB/9, 11.7 K/9

     

    Repertoire 

    Fastball (6/7)
    Slider (4/5)
    Changeup (4/4)

     

    Path to the Job

    Sergio Romo has quickly become one of the game's top closers after stepping in for the injured Brian Wilson last season, but he's no newcomer to the big leagues at 30 years old.

    Romo is under team control through 2014, at which time the pitching-rich Giants could opt to let him walk rather than giving him a potentially big payday.

    The progression of Hembree will likely play a major role in that decision. After spending most of last season in Triple-A, the right-hander should see a good deal of big league action this season.

    He'll be pitching in middle relief when he arrives, but with a fastball that approaches triple digits and a slider that should develop into a plus pitch, he'll be auditioning for the closer job.

Arodys Vizcaino, Chicago Cubs (22 Years Old)

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    Career Minor League Stats

    65 G, 50 GS, 19-15, 0 SV, 2.91 ERA, 2.3 BB/9, 9.3 K/9

     

    Repertoire

    Fastball (7/7)
    Curveball (6/6)
    Changeup (4/5)

     

    Path to the Job

    The much-maligned tenure of Carlos Marmol may well be over. He lost the closer's job to newcomer Kyuji Fujikawa after a trio of poor outings to open the season.

    Either way, Marmol's days in Chicago are numbered. He is a free agent at season's end and will almost certainly not be back. 

    The 32-year-old Fujikawa signed a two-year, $9.5 million deal with an option for 2015 after serving as the Hanshin Tigers' closer in Japan and ranking as one of the league's top closers. The job appears to be his for at least the next two seasons.

    For the time being, Vizcaino will be viewed as a starter in the Cubs system, and he has the stuff to be a solid front-end pitcher in the rotation.

    However, his injury history could lead to a full-time move to the bullpen at some point, and his mid-90s fastball and biting curveball give him to the one-two punch to thrive in the ninth.

Jarred Cosart, Houston Astros (22 Years Old)

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    Career Minor League Stats

    71 G, 67 GS, 26-22, 0 SV, 3.59 ERA, 3.3 BB/9, 7.6 K/9

     

    Repertoire

    Fastball (7/7)
    Curveball (5/6)
    Changeup (4/5)

     

    Path to the Job

    Another pitcher who is currently on the path to be a starter in the majors, Cosart has the potential to be a staff ace, but his performance in the minors thus far has failed to reach that potential.

    His fastball reaches 98, and his curveball is already a plus offering with potential to get better. He also throws a changeup that should develop into an average third pitch if he does in fact stick in the rotation.

    My money is still on him winding up at the back end of the rebuilding Astros bullpen, a role he could step into at some point during the 2013 season.

    After trading Wilton Lopez to the Rockies, the Astros turned closer duties over to 32-year-old veteran setup man Jose Veras, who is simply a placeholder.

Donnie Joseph, Kansas City Royals (25 Years Old)

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    Career Minor League Stats

    195 G, 17-14, 56 SV, 3.53 ERA, 4.1 BB/9, 12.0 K/9

     

    Repertoire

    Fastball (6/6)
    Slider (6/7)

     

    Path to the Job

    The Royals acquired Joseph from the Reds in the deadline trade of Jonathan Broxton last year, and he has quickly emerged as one of their top pitching prospects.

    After posting a 6.94 ERA over 57 appearances in his first full Double-A season in 2011, he took a huge step forward last season. In 55 games, he posted a 2.33 ERA and 11.2 K/9 and he quickly emerged as future closer candidate.

    He was fantastic in 10 appearances this spring, allowing just three hits and two runs in 10 innings of work while striking out 14.

    With Joakim Soria gone in free agency, Greg Holland has assumed closer duties full-time in Kansas City this season. He's struggled out of the gates.

    He could very well turn things around and lock down the job, but Joseph should get a shot in Kansas City before too long. If he continues to pitch like he has the closer's job could be his.

Marcus Stroman, Toronto Blue Jays (21 Years Old)

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    Career Minor League Stats

    15 G, 3-0, 0 SV, 3.26 ERA, 4.2 BB/9, 10.7 K/9

     

    Repertoire

    Fastball (6/7)
    Slider (5/6)
    Cutter (5/6)
    Changeup (4/5)

     

    Path to the Job

    Though he does not have the prototypical power-pitcher build at 5'9", Stroman has the stuff with a high-90s fastball and a plus slider. He was a starter in college, but his future appears to be in the bullpen.

    A two-way player at Duke, he's very athletic and is expected to be one of the fastest movers from last year's draft class. He reached Double-A in his debut last year, but a 50-game suspension set back his rapid rise to Toronto.

    After Sergio Santos went down with an early injury last season, Casey Janssen did a terrific job stepping into the ninth-inning job (22-for-25 SV, 2.54 ERA, 9.5 K/9).

    The job is his once again this season, and the 31-year-old has a reasonable $4 million option for next season. After that, though, the team could opt to go back to Santos or turn things over to Stroman if he proves ready.

Carter Capps, Seattle Mariners (22 Years Old)

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    Career Minor League Stats

    43 G, 4 GS, 3-4, 19 SV, 2.47 ERA, 2.9 BB/9, 12.5 K/9

     

    Repertoire

    Fastball (8/8)
    Curveball (4/5)
    Changeup (4/5)

     

    Path to the Job

    The Mariners have a pair of dynamic young relievers in Carter Capps and Stephen Pryor, and both pitchers broke camp with the big league club. Capps is currently in a setup role, and he has all the makings of a shutdown closer.

    He averaged 98.3 miles per hour on his fastball (h/t FanGraphs) during an 18-game audition in Seattle last September, and his curveball and changeup should both wind up being above-average pitches.

    After trading Brandon League, the Mariners handed the closer job to 29-year-old Tom Wilhelmsen and he converted 29 of 34 save chances with a 2.50 ERA.

    Wilhelmsen has been a nice surprise and is off to a nice start again this season, but Capps could very well be the team's closer to kick off the season next year.

Bruce Rondon, Detroit Tigers (22 Years Old)

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    Career Minor League Stats

    249 G, 16 GS, 6-10, 65 SV, 2.49 ERA, 5.1 BB/9, 9.8 K/9

     

    Repertoire

    Fastball (8/8)
    Slider (4/5)
    Changeup (4/5)

     

    Path to the Job

    No closing prospect has a more clear path to the job right now than Rondon. He was expected to take over the ninth inning in Detroit to open the season.

    Instead, he struggled with consistency this spring and was shipped to Triple-A to open the season. He's opened the season there with three hitless innings, but he has walked two and his control remains the deciding factor in his big league arrival.

    For now, the team is going with a closer-by-committee system, as Phil Coke and Joaquin Benoit are the primary save candidates.

    Rondon will see the big leagues this season, and his performance in Toledo will determine how quickly that call comes. He could very well be closing by season's end. With his triple-digits fastball, he should have every chance to be the man long-term. 

Mark Montgomery, New York Yankees (22 Years Old)

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    Career Minor League Stats

    75 G, 7-3, 30 SV, 1.66 ERA, 3.2 BB/9, 14.7 K/9

     

    Repertoire

    Fastball (5/6)
    Slider (5/6)
    Changeup (4/5)

     

    Path to the Job

    The legendary Mariano Rivera has already announced that he'll retire at season's end, so the closer job will be up for grabs in New York next season.

    Fernando Rodney will be a free agent, and All-Star setup man David Robertson remains an option as well, but the Yankees would like nothing more than to hand the job over to Montgomery right out of the gates.

    He saved 15 games with a 1.54 ERA and 13.8 K/9 between High-A and Double-A last season, and he opened the 2013 season in Triple-A, so he's knocking on the door.

    With a mid-90s fastball and an absolutely filthy wipe-out slider, the stuff is there. It will simply be a matter of him making the necessary adjustments at the big league level.

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