A Trio of Future Closers

Fantasy Players spend a tremendous amount of time every season chasing Saves. Relief pitchers are for the most part inherently unreliable and unpredictable and there tends to be a tremendous amount of turnover at the position. So with so much unreliability among relievers, why bother investing in relief prospects? Well, there are some arms out there who are just so filthy they demand your attention. Sure, you can make do finding the next Casey Janssen and get a solid solution for a year or two… but there’s also something to be said for finding the next K-Rod before he explodes on to the scene. Here are three of my favorite prospects who could be racking up Saves in the near future.

Bruce Rondon, RHP, Detroit Tigers

You all know the score here. Rondon shouldn’t be a new name to any of you, but all the same you can’t do a relief pitcher prospect article and not mention him, can you? The young Venezuelan fireballer had a shot to run away with the 9th inning job in Detroit this Spring but command lapses and inconsistency have him back at Toledo to start the year. Rondon began 2012 in the Florida State League but dominated minor league hitters with an overpowering fastball that hits triple digits.

The fastball can still reach triple digits and has late life. The problem is Rondon doesn’t command it well. Why is that? This is not what you would call an “athletic” pitcher. Rondon’s poor conditioning and the effort in his delivery frustrates him from repeating his mechanics. Timing problems and an inconsistent release point ensue. The end result is fastball that’s all over the place. Even wild fastballs can be really tough to hit when they’re thrown 97-100 mph, and I do think Rondon has the ability to be effectively wild. He can’t be as wild as he was this Spring, though, and he needs to shore up his secondary pitches some. While the changeup shows well in flashes it is often too hard and he lacks any real feel for the pitch. His slider lacks consistent shape and he doesn’t stay on top it so it often slurves out and becomes very hittable. The good news is that Rondon doesn’t need to fully “fix” all the flaws in his game to be a good major league reliever. All he needs to do is get a little better at a couple things and it will allows the natural strengths of his game to shine.

  • Path To Playing Time: Rondon has been optioned to AAA where he will try to make some adjustments and get back to wha made him so effective in 2012. Phil Coke appears to be handling 9th inning duties for the Tigers right now, but he’s an underwhelming option and very vulnerable to right-handed hitters. The Tigers have expressed concerns about using other high leverage arm Joaquin Benoit on back to back days. Comments from the organization seem to indicate they would welcome a resurgent Rondon taking the Closer job sometime during 2013.

Marcus Stroman, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays

The undersized power right-hander was a 1st round pick by Toronto last June out of Duke University. Stroman also played shortstop at Duke until his Junior season (his draft year for those of you who don’t follow amateurs at all). Once he focused solely on pitching Stroman racked up 136 strikeouts in only 98 innings in one of the toughest conferences in college baseball. He generated considerable buzz all Spring and I had heard rumors linking him as high as the 6-10th overall pick range.

Stroman has a lightning quick arm and throws a plus four seam fastball that sits in the mid 90’s with late life. His best pitch is actually a plus or plus plus slider that features two plane tilt and biting action. Stroman also throws a strong cut fastball that plays well off of the slider. It has similar movement but less depth and is thrown at a different velocity. Stroman has also shown some feel for a changeup and threw a couple that impressed me. This is a pitcher who has a lot of reliever qualities in his mechanics. He picks up the ball low and brings it past his hip. He also shows a violent head jerk as he releases the ball. These issues don’t hurt his command and control much though, in large part because the great athleticism allows him to repeat his delivery well anyway.

  • Path To Playing Time: It appears Toronto intends to develop Stroman as a reliever, but I think he could be very effective as a starter. The major question there is whether he can hold up to the rigors of throwing 200 innings every year. Complicating matters, Stroman was suspened 50 games for a positive PED test last August. It’s unclear where he’ll begin pitching when the suspension ends, but it’s not out of the question that Stroman could take the minors by storm and help the big league club in 2013. The present stuff is here to get big leaguers out. With a contending team and less than spectacular options at the back of their bullpen (Janssen and the recovering Sergio Santos) one can envision a scenario where the team turns to Stroman down the stretch run.

Some video I took of Stroman in May, 2012

Carter Capps, RHP, Seattle Mariners

Capps was a non-prospect catcher with arm strength at Division II Mount Olive College in North Carolina. He converted to pitching as a redshirt freshman and by his draft year he had become a legitimate early round choice. He ended up being Seattle’s 3rd round selection in the 2011 draft. Capps didn’t sign immediately but instead went to play in the Cape Cod League and his performance there convinced the Mariners he was worth his asking price. He was dominant out of the pen for Harwich and put on a show in the Cape Cod League All Star game that year that had scouts buzzing.

A big, imposing mound presence, Capps throws an overpowering fastball in the upper 90’s. The pitch has velocity, movement and the arm action makes it difficult for hitters to pick up the ball. He also throws a power curve that shows plus potential. The changeup is a weakness, but it’s not a big concern for me since Capps’s future is firmly in the bullpen at this point. Capps negates some of the natural advantages of his size (6’5”) with his drop and drive mechanics and a lower arm slot. He still creates good plane despite that, and he’s difficult for hitters to elevate. One problem here is that Capps is so big and has such long levers that it hurts the command of both his heater and curve. Yet, much like Rondon, I don’t believe these faults won’t prevent him from being effective.

  • Path To Playing Time: Capps is already there! He’s expected to be an important member of the big league Mariners this season. The incumbent Closer is another good, young arm (Tom Wilhelmsen). Still, if Capps continues to develop as expected he has the potential to emerge as the most trusted reliever in the Seattle bullpen.

Thanks for reading -AS

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Al Skorupa writes about baseball & baseball prospects for Bullpen Banter and Fangraphs/Rotographs. He lives in Rhode Island. He watches & videotapes a good amount of amateur and minor league baseball. You can follow him on twitter @alskor.

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No Trevor Rosenthal? I know the Cards say they plan to get him to the rotation, but he’s got filthy stuff out of the pen.