After making my disdain for drafting relievers early well-known in last week’s breakdown of Round 1-15 relievers from RotoGraphs Ridiculously Early Mock (all rounds linked here), it’s time to move on to the “best of the rest.” This is where I personally think relievers are ripe for selection — you’re late enough in the draft that you aren’t queasy about passing up top-10-round talent to snag a guy who is a few bad outings away from being “fantasy useless,” but you still have thirty big league teams to sort through in search of that mythical arbitrary construct known as “the save.”
Grant Balfour, Tom Wilhelmsen, and Glen Perkins are all guys that should head into 2013 with a fairly high degree of job security after pitching well down the stretch last year. The guy I like most in this tier is Perkins. He has a solid K% (26.9% since moving full-time to the bullpen two years ago) but really shows he is a man after my heart with his career 6.3% BB%. Relievers who can have stuff but also know where their pitches are going? Sign me up. The only reason I didn’t snag him here was because I was planning on waiting out another round or two, but Perkins has the upside to pass a lot of guys drafted ahead of him if he can get the opportunities up in Minnesota.
I finally jumped into the fray by taking Jason Grilli at 18.7. Grilli was one of the better relievers peripherally last season and will take over closing duties with Joel Hanrahan shipped up to Boston. Jack Moore had a nice writeup on him a few weeks ago; Grilli has legitimately morphed into a strikeout-slider artist and should still be a high-end relief option, even with his marginal platoon splits. I might have been able to grab him a round or two later than this, but like his upside enough to not gamble on him coming back to me.
Brandon League and Kenley Jansen went within three picks of each other late in the 18th round. Jansen, a highly touted draft sleeper in 2012, eventually took the job from Javy Guerra until heart issues sidelined him late in the season. League, who came over in a mid-season trade from Seattle, closed down the stretch and was rewarded with a long-term deal by the club. All signs point to League opening the season as closer (money talks) with Jansen (supposedly healthy after a heart ablation) sliding back into a setup role. There are few people who doubt Jansen is the better pitcher, but League has had a sub-4.00 xFIP the last five years running — good enough for him to stick in the ninth inning even if he is technically the inferior option. Here’s a situation where drafting skills might not have a whole lot of upside, although with both guys going this late, trying to take them in back-to-back rounds to hedge is a viable strategy.
I can’t say I’m a huge fan of taking Sergio Santos at 18.10, especially with Casey Janssen still on the board (who I snatched eight picks later). Santos is coming off a fairly involved labrum surgery,and Janssen was one of the more pleasant surprises last year, tallying 22 saves and posting a 2.99 xFIP, the latter a number that still bests Santos’ career mark. Steve Cishek is a guy who probably will have a bit of a leash now that Heath Bell is out of town, but has some pretty iffy platoon splits that could spell trouble if exploited. Plus, the Marlins are like a Little League team again, so save opportunities might be hard to come by. I’d wait on him.
Jonathan Broxton had an OK bounceback last season (although his peripherals belie a more average year than his ERA leads you to believe) and was subsequently rewarded by a nice contract from Cincinnati. Unfortunately for Broxton, he’s no more than the third best reliever on his own team, behind Aroldis Chapman and Sean Marshall. Fortunately for Broxton, Chapman appears ready to move to the rotation and Marshall apparently kicked Dusty Baker‘s dog, so he’s the likely lead horse in the race for saves come April. Guys drafting Broxton should be wary that, should he slip (or Chapman struggle in the rotation), there are a lot of paths for him to lose his job, but for now, he seems to have a modicum of job security.
The Detroit closer mess is something I’d rather avoid until there is a little more clarity in what is currently pretty muddy water. The spread I’ve seen from people trying to guess their bullpen pecking order this offseason has been nothing short of amazing. Bruce Rondon is the trendy pick, as the 22-year-old has a triple-digits fastball and has been tabbed as “closer of the future” by various baseball outlets this offseason. However, Rondon lacks elite secondary stuff and has had moderate control problems at every level of the minors. The other Tiger reliever drafted in the slow mock was Al Alburquerque (only 26 years old, himself) who put up a 2.97 xFIP in limited action at the big league level last year. Unfortunately, like Rondon, he also has solid whiff material (34% career K%) but struggles in the command department (15.1% BB%). Both Octavio Dotel and Phil Coke (undrafted) also have warts (less K’s, worse platoon splits), but both have experience and it’s not hard to see ways where they earn Jim Leyland’s trust early in such a wide-open competition.
I’ve heard some chatter about Ernesto Frieri actually being the lead guy in Anaheim’s bullpen at the moment but I can’t say I agree with that sentiment. One, even assuming Frieri’s 3.36 xFIP last year is his new norm, (healthy) Ryan Madson is still a better pitcher (xFIPs below 3.00 in 2010 and 2011). Two, Madson has the shiny, new contract — hey, it’s the only reason Heath Bell pitched so often last year. Three, Mike Scioscia never seemed to stand behind Frieri as “the guy(TM)” with full conviction last year, even later in the season when Frieri was getting the majority of the save opportunities. He’s a useful handcuff to Madson, however, if you can get both of them late enough.
Rafael Soriano went way late as a function of the slow draft — Alan Harrison snagged him about four hours after he signed with Washington. He probably slots in where Drew Storen did last week. Guys like John Axford, Carlos Marmol, and the undrafted Frank Francisco are examples of established closers with short leashes who tend to fall very late as undesirable quantities. Axford and Marmol have both been elite options within the last three years, though, and have big strikeout potentional. I’d rather roll the dice on one of them (and did with Marmol) bouncing back to top-15 status than take a chance on setup lottery tickets like Kyuki Fujikawa and David Hernandez. High-upside setup guys will be available on the wire all season long and will only start to emerge from the woodwork as the season gets going in April. Francisco is a bit of a different case since only real use is “warm body that collects saves” and the Mets were already perilously close to stripping his job away a few times in 2012. I’m staying away unless I’m absolutely desperate and, correspondingly, Bobby Parnell makes a nice speculative purchase late in deep leagues.
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