With the recent implosion of closer Fernando Rodney and the sudden ascension of Jordan Walden, it is apparent that some teams are starting to become more willing to trust talented relief prospects with late inning duty. Walden, the closer-of-the-future, has now been dubbed the closer-of-the-present. This is a role that Walden and his electrifying high-90’s fastball should thrive in for years to come. So, if you were lucky enough to snag him in your league, consider yourself lucky as he profiles as one of the best young dynasty/keeper relievers in baseball. With managers becoming keen to promote talented youth, could there potentially be more relatively young relievers become closers?
Zach Braddock (MIL). Since John Axford and Takashi Saito have been less than lackluster this season, it pays to reason that the Brewers might look elsewhere for some 9th inning help, and that might be in the form of power lefty Zack Braddock. With Jeremy Jeffress gone in a trade, it appears Braddock might be the future if Axford and the aged Saito cannot find their footing. While most closers aren’t typically lefties, the deceptive Braddock has the stuff to be an exception as his fastball/slider combo profiles well. If Manny Parra comes back healthy, Braddock could face some more competition but if you have the room, Braddock might prove to be a valuable keeper. He reminds me of a better-looking Eddie Guardado.
Jose Ceda (FLA). There isn’t much standing in the way of Jose Ceda’s eventual rise to the closer spot other than himself. Ceda came into spring training overweight and was quickly punished by being sent to the minors. If Ceda matures, the hard-throwing righty is a large imposing figure that could pay dividends to the Marlins. Current stopper Leo Nunez has proved that he is not the long-term answer for Marlins, though youngster Jhan Marinez could eventually pressure Ceda if he can maintain his control. This leaves the door wide open for Ceda and while that may not be until later in the season, Ceda, who is available in Yahoo, could be a good investment. I could see him produce Jose Mesa-like numbers.
Jeremy Jeffress (KC). Much has been written about the former first round pick that was often compared to Doc Gooden. Jeffress has dealt with a multitude of personal difficulties and was recently traded to the Royals but these facts take nothing away from his talent. Once thought a lost cause, he has defied the odds set against him and rebounded. This flame-thrower often reaches triple digits with the fastball while possessing the right arsenal and mentality to succeed as a closer. Many are predicting that Joakim Soria will be dealt from the rebuilding Royals in 2011. If that happens, someone in the KC bullpen will need to step up and the most talented internally is Jeffress. Current relievers Aaron Crow and Tim Collins could challenge for the role but they lack the ability of Jeffress. So, if you find yourself with roster room near the trade deadline, Jeffress wouldn’t be the worst pick. While not Gooden, Jeffress might mirror someone like Octavio Dotel in the future.
Wilton Lopez (HOU). Current Astros closer Brandon Lyon has proven that while he can be an effective closer at times, his true value is in setup duty. Lyon has already looked bad this season and Wilton Lopez has to be licking his chops. While Lopez might not possess a triple-digit fastball, he is a consistent strike thrower with a 95-plus mph heater. So, while there are some harder throwers out there, few possess his pinpoint control. Lopez is so precise that he produced a 0.7 BB/9 rate in 68 games while averaging 10 Ks per walk allowed during 2010. Lopez is a little small in frame but someone like Huston Street might be a defensible comp. Fellow bullpen mate Mark Melancon might push Lopez for an opening as both are having good seasons so far. Still, it appears the momentum is in favor of Lopez.
Jason Motte (STL). At almost 38 years old, Ryan Franklin keeps getting the job done but at some point something will have to give and that might be this season. This will likely mean that Jason Motte will inherit the role. The Cardinals thought enough of Motte to trade both Chris Perez and Jess Todd to the Indians in 2009. While not the largest guy, the electric 28-year-old arm of Motte and his 9.3 K/9 rate should be owned in all fantasy formats as a handcuff for Franklin. Franklin has already blown one save so Motte should be a mainstay on teams for the next few seasons. He projects as an effective unkempt blue-collar closer in the mold Bob Wickman.
Tanner Scheppers (TEX). I truly believe that if Scheppers had been up to the task of closing this spring, the Neftali Feliz drama would have been a thing of the past. Unfortunately for the Rangers, Scheppers had a regressive spring and was sent down to work on his mechanics. Despite the fact that Scheppers has had an extensive injury history while starting, he has been relatively healthy since moving to relief. Still, Scheppers has suffered from bouts of ‘tired arm’ from time to time. Most believe that his inconsistency will fix itself with some refined mechanics. One thing not questioned is the arm of Scheppers, and how it performs will likely dictate if or when Feliz becomes the starter. One knock on Scheppers is that his fastball is sometimes very straight, and for that reason Bill Koch might be a good projection.
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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