Following the Braves trade of Craig Kimbrel, their only legitimate long term closer for the past 20 or so years, those in deep and long term leagues may be curious about what the Braves outlook is to replace Kimbrel both in the short and long term.
In the short term the answer certainly looks like it will be 38-year-old Jason Grilli. For as long as Grilli can consistently close games, he will be the ninth inning man. If he begins to struggle, Jim Johnson would be the likely successor – given he is pitching well at the time Grilli would be pitching poorly. Braves management also mentioned a candidate who would potentially fit in both the short and long term plans, if he were to stick I the role. They also have a few candidates that are either injured or in the minors, so below is my take on each of the three most likely long term closer candidates in Atlanta.
The Braves front office mentioned Jaime may get opportunities to save games down the line following Kimbrel’s trade. So, who is Juan Jaime? He is a fireballing 27-year-old Dominican who has essentially no command of his pitches and no legitimate second offering. That is not exactly a confidence booster I potentially acquiring him as a hopeful future closer, but Roger McDowell helped Craig Kimbrel and many others get their command under control and turn them into very impressive relievers. Kimbrel was going to be great anyway, but it is not certain that he would have handled his walk issues that he had as a minor leaguer as well as he did without the help of McDowell.
Jaime is in the bullpen right now and is likely the first right-hander the Braves will use before handing it over to their set up man Johnson. I picked him up in a long term dynasty league as he does have upside and is not terribly far from the role. I don’t love Jaime, but I could see the Braves developing him into a decent enough reliever that he can pile up strikeouts to mitigate his walk issues and be a reasonable closer.
If not for succumbing to Tommy John surgery in spring, it is likely that Simmons would actually be the Braves closer today. It would have been quite appropriate too, because Simmons is essentially a Kimbrel-lite in that he is small in stature but still throws heat and a quality breaking ball. He is of course not on the same level of Kimbrel, but he does possess the tools to be a dominant late inning reliever. In his short stint in the majors last year he recorded a 2.91 ERA and a 26% strikeout rate.
Walks were an issue and have been in the past, but across single and double-A in 2013 and 2014 he seemed to have honed in his command problems. Tommy John surgery will have him out the entire season but he could be ready for the start of next year. I would not anticipate him being handed the closer job right after returning from elbow surgery, but unless someone steps up and grabs the role with a choke hold lock, he should be a front runner to be the team’s closer by May or June of next season.
During the Braves rebuilding process, they made sure to grab a number of high quality, high ceiling starting pitchers. This winter alone they acquired Matt Wisler, Tyrell Jenkins, Ricardo Sanchez, Max Fried, and Manny Banuelos. On top of that, their top three starters are under control for at least four seasons, so the Braves have a ton of young starting pitching. They will do whatever they can to allow Foltynewicz to shine as a starter, but it would not be the end of the world if they eventually decide the flame thrower who can hit triple digits would be suited best in a late inning bullpen role.
Given that they have such a plethora of young pitching, it would be a way to allow a number of them to get acclimated into major league roles that suit their talents best. Foltynewicz has made a number of top 100 lists and if he does move to a bullpen role, his fastball and curveball combination could make him deadly. He is probably the most valuable asset of the players I have covered in this article due to his potential as a starter, but if you are looking for the potential long term closer to stash away, I would be far from shocked if the Braves opt to move Foltyenwicz there in the near future. They already flirted with the idea of putting him in the bullpen during spring.