1. Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves - This guy is the right-handed version of Billy Wagner. With a 98MPH fastball and a propensity to strikeout batters, Kimbrel has what it takes to close. He's on a great team that will provide him with plenty of save opportunities. He also lacked any serious competition in the Braves bullpen, though Venters is slightly capable.
2. Drew Storen, Washington Nationals - Last year I felt some heat with discussing this kid, but in the end I was absolutely right. Drew Storen had solid rookie campaign and by the very end of the season he was the closer. He will open the season as the Nationals closer and bring with him some experience. While his start may be slow, he will finish very strong as he developed into a great closer. If his slider or changeup develop into worthy pitches, watch out for Storen. The Nationals don't win many games and when they do win, the scores are very close.
3. Jonathan Broxton, LA Dodgers- He might be a surprise for people to see him on this list, but it's actually a great pick. Last year most owners left Broxton for dead and I put him here to remind fantasy managers with Broxton is capable of doing. He was clearly hurt last year and frankly the whole Dodger team was in a funk. This is a new year, new manager, and a fresh approach to the game. I expect the Dodgers to play better and give Broxton more chances to save games. If he stays healthy, he could save 49, 50 games.
4. Chris Perez, Cleveland Indians- Chris Perez finished strong in 2010 and will have a very impressive 2011. He finished last season with 10 consecutive saves and posted a ERA of 1.71. Perez will open the season as the Cleveland Indians closer. He brings everything you want in a closer: strikeouts, youth, health, and improving team. The Indians will provide Perez with plenty of save opportunities and that makes Perez a bona fide sleeper.
5. JJ Putz, Arizona Diamondbacks- J.J. Putz is back as a closer. I admit I miss the days when Putz was a dominating closer. At 34, Putz is in his waning years, but still has the stuff to close. He had a great season with the White Sox last year, posting a 2.83 ERA and 65 strikeouts in 54 innings. He also managed to stay healthy. Now Putz is pitching in the NL West as the Diamondbacks closer. Arizona was 12thin save chances last year with 59. They don't win often and I don't expect much winning. However, I see 30 plus saves that can go to Putz.
6. Frank Francisco, Toronto Blue Jays- Again, I'm not Nostradamus, but drafting Francisco late would make a great investor for the possible closer of the Blue Jays. Signing Francisco wouldn't be as big of a deal, but they traded for the former Rangers closer. Francisco had a great season in 2010 and is poised to regain a closer job. The only true closer in his way is Octavio Dotel and the chances of him getting injured or booted from the job is high enough to warrant Francisco on your roster. He will likely have the job either by the start of the season or at some point in the first half.
7. Brandon League, Seattle Mariners - Brandon League has a better slider than K-Rod did as a member of the LA Angels, FACT. League should open the season as the closer for the Mariners with David Aardsmastill recovering from hip surgery, and it will be the dawning of a new elite closer. League remained in the shadows with the Toronto Blue Jays, but he has put it together with the Mariners. While he will have consistency issues by missing location and walking batters, for the most part he is a lights out pitcher. Assuming Aardsma doesn't interfere with League's work, I expect a big season for him. There are good odds he will be available late in the draft and a great pick up after round 18. If you draft Aardsma, please draft League.
8. Andrew Bailey, Oakland As - 2010 was a tough year for Andrew Bailey. He suffered multiple injuries and though he put up good numbers, he wasn't nearly as good as he could have been. Bailey finished with 25 saves, a 1.47 ERA and 42 Ks. During his phenomenal rookie season, Bailey had a K/9 rate of 9.82 in 2009 and it dropped to 7.71 in 2010. I firmly believe that drop was tied to his injuries and his K/9 will rise back near or above 9.0 in 2011. I also think that Bailey can stay healthy and save 38-40 games for the Oakland As. He should be available around round 15 -18. That is a steal for this sleeper closer.
9. Jason Motte, St Louis Cardinals- 2010 was a transforming season for Motte. He went from a failed prospect to a future closer. He had one of the best years for all Cardinal relievers and even had a better year than closer Ryan Franklin. While Franklin will be the opening day closer for the Cardinals, I expect Jason Motte to take over by May.
The Cardinals have no interest in resigning Franklin and feel that Motte is ready. He suffered an injury in 2010, but still put up 54 Ks in 52 innings and posted a 2.24 ERA. Even more impressive was his WHIP of 1.13. When Motte takes over the closer job that he has been groomed for, he will dominate and join the crew of new young up and coming elite closers. Just has to get that pesky Ryan Franklin out of the way.
10. Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox- A pitcher with movement, speed and location is made to be a closer. Chris Sale has a 96 MPH fastball and a sinking curveball. He can also through into the game a 92 MPH cutter. We got a small taste of Sale last season, while in 23.2 inning he struck out 32 batters and posted a 1.93 ERA. Right now Guillen has Matt Thornton slated as the closer, but Guillen doesn't want it that way. He wants to use Thornton against late inning lefties or for the eighth inning. As soon as Sale can show he can close, I think he'll get the job. That could be opening day. once he gets the job, he will be a grade A closer. Expect a ERA around 3.00, but high strikeouts and plenty of saves. All depends on when he gets the job.
Almost made the list:
Alberto Arias, Houston Astros- I just don't trust Lyon and Fulchino. I expect Arias to get some looks at being closer.
Francisco Rodriguez, Los Angeles Angels - He's backing up Fernando Rodney and has the best arm in that bullpen.
Koji Uehara, Baltimore Orioles - He is backing up Kevin Gregg and looked lights out at the end of 2010.
By Todd Farino, www.thecloserreport.com