StrategyJune 12, 2009

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Closer Complex: Drafting for the 9th

By Matthew Robertson

The 2009 MLB Amateur Draft took place this week and included some interesting surprises. As a fantasy player, the draft is one of my favorite times of the year because it adds talent to major league organizations as well as fantasy league databases. Closers have been known to move quickly through the ranks after being drafted. Former first round picks Huston Street, Chad Cordero, and Joey Devine all saw time in the majors not long after they were drafted. Despite the fact that some college closers are drafted and converted to starting pitchers, there were a few highly regarded closer prospects selected early in this year’s draft.

The highest closer prospect chosen this year was Stanford right-hander Drew Storen, who was selected by the Washington Nationals as the 10th overall pick. Storen features a strong fastball/slider combo that profiles well in the late innings. There was talk that he may be drafted and converted back into a starter, but after Washington chose him, it was announced that he would pitch strictly in relief. The fact that the Nationals have already signed him only increases the likelihood that Storen will see the majors this season and will likely be the Washington closer sooner rather than later.

Minnesota may have drafted the heir-apparent to Joe Nathan with their second-round pick of Florida Gator closer Billy Bullock. At 6’6″ and 225 pounds, Bullock is the largest and most imposing early-round relief selection. He maxes out his fastball at 98 mph with downward movement. He’s a strikeout pitcher that should make his debut in Minnesota soon, and some believe Bullock could even see the majors in 2009. Then, in the third round, the Twins chose Ben Tootle from Jacksonville State. Some see Tootle as a starter, but his small body type and power pitching arsenal profiles better in the late innings. Tootle is polished and possesses enough poise to see the majors as a setup man fairly soon. With the addition of Bullock and Tootle to their current roster of Jesse Crain, Pat Neshek, and Jose Mijares, the Twins should continue to have a great bullpen.

Joseph Kelly was the second National League relief prospect taken in the draft when the St. Louis Cardinals selected him in the third round. Kelly was one of the hardest throwers in this year’s draft, as he came close to triple digits while working as UC-Riverside’s closer, but he’s only 6’0″ and 170 pounds, so starting is likely out of the question. He’s a project since, like many young high-velocity arms, he struggles with his control, but if he can learn to harness his high-potential arm, he should add to an already formidable future Cardinals bullpen that includes Chris Perez, Jason Motte, and Jess Todd.

Going into the season, many scouts thought Arizona’s Jason Stoffel was the top reliever in this year’s draft class because he closed over former first-rounders Ryan Perry and Daniel Schlereth. However, Stoffel failed to live up to the hype as he proved to be hittable and somewhat inconsistent. This resulted in him being selected in the fourth round by the San Francisco Giants. Still, the results don’t counteract the talent that the right-hander possesses. He should move fairly quickly through the minors, and his ability to dominate with his power arm may make Brian Wilson expendable. Giants GM Brian Sabean has a tendency to promote his draftees fairly quickly, as evidenced by 2008 first-rounder Conner Gillespie’s promotion last year.

Kyle Bellamy was also one of the top college closers going into this season. He throws his fastball near 90 mph and features a looping slider as his out pitch. What makes Bellamy uniquely successful is his unorthodox submarine delivery and pinpoint control. This arsenal led the White Sox to use their fifth-round pick on the Hurricanes right-hander. However, Bellamy has reportedly expressed disappointment at being selected so late and has considered returning to school for his senior year. This may turn out to be a mistake because he’s already older than the relief prospects drafted in front of him, and his major league career may rest in situational relief (a la Brad Ziegler and Pat Neshek) due to his lack of velocity. Even so, if signed, he should move through the minors quickly and be a good source of strikeouts in the majors.

A potential sleeper that fell into the later rounds of the draft was the University of Washington’s closer, Brian Pearl. Pearl is a converted infielder that threw as high as 97 mph this year, and he was ranked just behind Storen and Bullock as the third best closer in college by many scouts. He’s very raw, but he’s also very talented and was selected by the Reds in the ninth round. If he can become reliable and successfully convert to pitching as a pro, Cincinnati could have a steal.

Matthew Robertson is one of a growing number of fantasy experts who write for the Cafe. You can catch up with Matthew in the Cafe's forums where he posts under the name of Havok1517.
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