By: Mac Vincent and Chris Martinez.
First of all, I want to thank fellow Dobber Baseball columnist Chris Martinez for working with me on this piece. We have examined many prospects and come up with a list of eight names that we feel could become closers some time in the near future. Even if they don’t close, they certainly could still be very effective late innings relievers that provide some nice fantasy value. Keep an eye on all of these guys moving forward.
By: Mac Vincent
Kelvin Herrera, KC, RHP
It was no mistake that Herrera was chosen to play in the 2011 MLB All-Star Futures Game with then Royals top prospect Wil Myers. Of course, Myers was dealt to Tampa Bay as part of the trade that brought James Shields and Wade Davis to Kansas City. After being signed by the Royals as a free agent out of the Dominican Republic, all Herrera has done is dominate. In five seasons across the minor leagues, Herrera finished with a 1.92 ERA and was given the chance to close in 2007 and 2011. In his rookie season as a 17-year-old (2007), Herrera tallied on save in 42.2 innings pitched while finishing with a miniscule 0.84 ERA and striking out 50 hitters in the process. Herrera thrived in 2011 as well, finishing with 14 saves, a 1.60 ERA and 70 strikeouts in 67.2 innings of work. Something else I find very impressive about Herrera is his control, the highest WHIP he had in the minor leagues was 1.282.
Now, lets take a look at Herrera’s pitch repertoire.
Fastball: His fastball is one of the best in the major leagues, averaging 98.5 miles an hour (up from 96.2 in 2011). He throws that pitch heavily; according to FanGraphs he uses it 64.6 percent of the time.
Curveball: Herrera also uses a pretty decent curveball, which averages 81 miles an hour and he throws it 6.6 percent of the time.
Changeup: The changeup-fastball combination is what makes this kid so dangerous; imagine trying to hit a fastball that averages 98.5 MPH and then seeing a changeup with hard bite that averages 86.9 MPH. Pretty tough on any hitter to come up with hits against him.
Slider: This is the pitch that he will most likely completely stop throwing, as he threw his slider only 0.1 percent of the time in 2012 and didn’t throw it at all in 2011. The pitch averages 90 MPH, but isn’t exactly necessary for him.
Herrera is behind Greg Holland and a few others at this point for the closer's role, but here you can see that he has all of the tools to be a dominant closer if the opportunity does arise in the near future.
Carter Capps, SEA, RHP
Capps has really moved quickly after being selected in the third round of the 2011 MLB amateur draft by the Mariners. Its easy to get lost in the shuffle of the Mariners elite pitching prospects, with names such as Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen and James Paxton, but people shouldn’t forget about Capps. This is a player with huge upside and could be a fit as either a closer or a starter in time with Seattle. In his two years at Mount Olive College, Capps was absolutely phenomenal. He took home the 2011 ABCA Division II Player of the Year and 2011 Division II Pitcher of the Year. He set an NCAA Division II record with a ridiculous 24 consecutive wins. He finished with a 10-1 record in 2010, while tallying a 14-1 record in 2011. He also threw the first ever nine-inning no-hitter in Trojans history. The Mariners were beyond thrilled to nab him in the third round of the 2011 draft and he has quickly made his way to the major leagues. As if those College numbers were not impressive enough, Capps converted to a reliever with Double-A Jackson and Triple-A Tacoma. During the 2012 season, he struck out 75 in 51.1 innings of work, finishing with 19 saves and a spectacular 1.26 ERA. Capps would make his major league debut on August 3rd and remains with the big club going into 2013.
Lets take a look at his pitch repertoire.
Fastball: In his major league debut, Capps showed the New York Yankees and many fans just the kind of heat he has on his fastball. The first pitch he threw in the major leagues was to the Yankees’ Russell Martin and it was 100 MPH, pretty impressive stuff from Capps. He averaged 98.6 MPH on his fastball in 2012. He throws that pitch 79 percent of the time according to FanGraphs.
Curveball: An average of 83.3 MPH with some good bite to it, Capps used his curveball 17.2 percent of the time in 2012.
Changeup: After his fastball, the changeup is what really makes Capps so dominant. It averages 88.9 MPH and he threw it 3.8 percent of the time in 2012. However, you have to think that as he gets more comfortable in the major leagues, he will learn to use all his pitches and become a dominant pitcher.
At 6'5'' and 220 pounds, you can understand why Capps has so much heat on his pitches. Capps impressed the Mariners and manager Eric Wedge with his work with the big club in 2012. Here’s what Wedge had to say about his big league debut against the Yankees.
"It was a good time to get him in there and get that first one out of the way," Wedge said. "Obviously, you see what kind of stuff he has. But there's only one first time and he got it out of the way -- and he got it out of the way here at Yankee Stadium."
"So good for him, and now he can go out there and settle down a little bit. Pryor hadn't pitched in five days, so I wanted to get him out there, too, and knock the rust off and get his first appearances since he was recalled. So I was glad we were able to do that."
Trey Haley, CLE, RHP
Cleveland used a second-round pick on Haley in the 2008 MLB amateur draft and they’re definitely glad they did. The team attempted to use him as a starter in the minor leagues, but the results simply weren’t there for Haley and he was struggling through the minors. The Indians decided to give him a shot at relief, because they knew he had great stuff, it was just a matter of finding the right role for him. Since converting to a reliever, Haley has really restored his status as a top prospect for Cleveland and was recently added to the 40-man roster meaning he’s not that far away from locking up a job with Cleveland. It may not be right away, but don’t be surprised to see Haley with the big club sometime in the 2013 season. In his first season as a reliever across the minors in 2012, Haley compiled a 2.33 ERA, with 49 strikeouts in 38.2 innings pitched.
Lets take a look at his pitch repertoire.
Fastball: Always in the upper 90’s, can touch triple digits and this is his go-to pitch when he needs an out.
Two-Seam Fastball: Haley throws this pitch in the mid-90’s and it has excellent movement to it.
Curveball: Haley is developing an excellent breaking ball as well, which is about 20 MPH slower than his fastball and uses it regularly.
Changeup: This is a pitch that Haley is working on and it should continue to improve as he throws it more and more. Haley can get outs with his fastball and curveball, but once he’s mastered the changeup he could be a dominant pitcher.
Chris Perez is the Indians closer and Haley is not going to steal his job right now, but in the future if this kid can continue to develop as a reliever we could see a dominant closer with plus pitches.
Bernie Pleskoff, a former scout with the Mariners and Astros, had high praise for Haley after watching him in the Arizona Fall League. Read his piece here.
Stephen Pryor, SEA, RHP
You’ve heard about Capps, but Pryor is a very similar pitcher and another top prospect for the Mariners. Seattle selected Pryor in the 5th round, 162nd overall in the 2010 MLB amateur draft and he’s made it to the big leagues in a very short period of time. What he did to get to the big club is just dominate everywhere he was placed. After three seasons in the minors, Pryor finished with a 2.77 ERA, 25 saves and 163 strikeouts in 123.2 innings pitched (11.9 K/9). Like any hard-throwing pitcher, it's all about command and control. For the most part Pryor was quite effective, finishing with a 1.164 WHIP in his time in the minors. Here’s the crazy part, in three minor-league seasons Pryor allowed only two home runs. When he’s battling a top hitter at the plate, he’s bringing his best stuff and hitters simply haven’t been able to take him deep very often at all.
Lets take a look at his pitch repertoire.
Fastball: His best pitch averages 96.3 MPH and can touch triple digits at times. He used that pitch 72.9 percent of the time in 2012 according to FanGraphs and you can expect him to live around the upper 90’s.
Cutter: It seems like fewer and fewer players are throwing cutters these days, but Pryor averages 90.6 MPH on his and used it 24.8 percent of the time in 2012.
Curveball: He didn’t use this pitch very much in 2012, but he averages 82 MPH on the pitch and if he can learn to synchronize that pitch with his explosive fastball that could be the key to making him a dominant reliever.
Changeup: Much like the curveball, he rarely throws his changeup. The pitch averaged 88.5 MPH in 2012 and he will likely be working on using that more with the Mariners' pitching coach.
Pryor appeared in 26 games for the Mariners during the 2012 season and didn’t fare too well, but you have to remember this was his rookie season. He finished with an ERA of 3.91 and a WHIP of 1.52, but there are some good signs in his numbers as well. He held opponents to a .253 batting average against, struck out 27 in 23 innings and tallied five holds.
By: Chris Martinez
Heath Hembree, SF, RHP
Hembree has the stuff and demeanor of a closer and ever since he was drafted in the 5th round in 2010, the title of "closer of the future" has been thrown around a lot in conjunction with his name. I've covered the Giants system since 2005 so I know the players inside and out. That means I've started many "closer of the future" discussions about Giants prospects (Jason Stoffel, Edwin Quirarte, et al.), but didn't get to finish one. Except for Sergio Romo. I was right about that one.
At any rate, Hembree's 93-96 fastball, repeatable arm slot, and good slider keep him in the conversation. He lit up the minors with 21 saves in Advanced-A San Jose and another 17 in Double-A Richmond with a combined 78 strikeouts in 54 innings in 2011 and impressed again in 2012 with Triple-A Fresno by throwing 38 innings with 36 strikeouts and 15 saves. A strained elbow flexor tendon stole a full month from Hembree's season, but he recovered nicely to end the season in the Arizona Fall League, picking up two saves along the way.
Even if the Giants don't use him as a closer right away, it pays to have a power righty available in the bullpen. Keep in mind that Romo has a history of knee problems. Any injury among the relief corps would demand Hembree's presence in San Francisco, a convenient three-hour drive from Fresno, where Hembree will likely begin his 2013 season.
Marcus Stroman, TOR, RHP
Stroman stood out among the many gifted young pitchers in the Blue Jays organization when he blazed through the ranks last season to reach Double-A New Hampshire. He made seven appearances in short-season rookie level Vancouver in the Northwest League before his big jump to the Eastern League. Everything was going according to plan for the Duke-educated fireballer with the pro baseball pedigree, playing both with Team USA and in the Cape Cod League. Then he tested positive for a banned stimulant on August 28th and was slapped with a 50-game suspension.
The stimulant, methylhexaneamine, was in an over-the-counter pre-workout supplement that Stroman had acquired from GNC. In case you care, methylhexaneamine can be used as a nasal decongestant and also can cause increased energy and focus, thus landing on MLB's banned substance list. Stroman addressed the failed test and suspension with class and grace in the Toronto media, admitting it was a mistake and committing to a strong work ethic to make it back to baseball this season.
The Blue Jays can use Stroman's 92-94 fastball, changeup, and cutter as a valuable weapon out of the bullpen. Stroman is small at 5'9", 185-lb and gets everything he can out of his wiry frame. He has a varied repertoire for a reliever due to his background as a star at Duke. He served in a swingman-type role for the Blue Devils in 2012 when he racked up 136 strikeouts, second most in the entire nation. Stroman's suspension ends in May and he will likely return to Double-A with a call to Toronto not far away.
A.J. Ramos, MIA, RHP
Some might not consider Ramos a prospect since he made 11 appearances in Miami last year. He's definitely a closer in waiting, with 20+ saves in each of his last three seasons. Before that, he earned nine saves in 25 games in his pro debut in the New York Penn League for short-season rookie level Jamestown in 2009.
Ramos is a workhorse in any role, eating innings in the seventh, eighth, and ninth frames. He's tossed at least 50 innings every season since 2010. The Marlins took the Texas Tech hurler in the 21st round of the 2009 Draft. They were impressed with his wide repertoire - four seam fastball at 95-97, cut fastball, slider, and changeup. Ramos leaped to the Majors from Double-A Jacksonville last season and immediately became a future closer for the Marlins.
Miami is a volatile club. Heath Bell is gone and Steve Cishek is the man in the ninth now, but who knows when owner Jeffrey Loria will blow it up and start from scratch again. Ramos is a key arm in the bullpen even without his future as a closer. He's been tough on left-handed hitters his entire career. No matter when he throws, Ramos will be an asset for fantasy owners.
Cody Allen, CLE, RHP
Allen and Ramos are two peas in a pod: surprising later-round picks who climbed to the Majors last season and who can throw hard. Allen was a 23rd rounder for Cleveland in 2011 and made the switch to reliever. His velocity jumped to 96 MPH and he mixes in a curveball. Allen has been a strike thrower his entire career and bounced back from trying times in college: Tommy John surgery and losing his spot on the Central Florida roster. He packed up and made his name at High Point University in North Carolina, where the Indians discovered him.
Since then, Allen has blazed through nearly every level of the Indians system over the last two seasons. In 2011 he reached Double-A Akron and last season he got to Triple-A Columbus where he threw 23 2/3 innings before the Indians came calling. Allen made his Major League debut on July 20, delivering on the promise the Indians first saw in him by throwing 29 innings with 27 strikeouts.
Allen worked mostly the seventh and eighth inning in the Cleveland bullpen and hasn't had many save opportunities, but that can change with Chris Perez's shoulder injury looming. Perez could miss time into April. Allen has nothing left to prove in the minors and could force the Indians' hand to put him in the closer's role. At the very least, Allen would get holds for fantasy owners until he gets the call in the ninth.