We're almost there. Real baseball kicks off Sunday with the Cardinals visiting the Cubs. We'll see if anybody receives a save opportunity. My pick for the first stolen base of the season is...Chris Coghlan. Didn't see that coming, did you?
Even though Spring Training is generally a sleepy time for closer turmoil, we have plenty of new information to incorporate into the rankings. In some cases, battles have resolved. In others, they continue unabated. The end of the spring also brings clarity about which stolen base targets will receive regular playing time. Here's the latest.
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Tier 1: Elite (3)
Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds
Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves
Greg Holland, Kansas City Royals
Chapman was removed from yesterday's game with an injury. After a momentary panic across the Twitterverse, it was revealed that he has a very minor hamstring strain. It wasn't even officially diagnosed. He might be available as soon as today, although I expect the club to proceed carefully. In any case, it's no cause for alarm.
Last week, I reported some concern about Holland's spring velocity. After talking with some contacts, I've discovered that this is typical for Holland. You may still want to handcuff him with Wade Davis. He'll provide positive value in most formats.
Tier 2: Nearly Elite (5)
Cody Allen, Cleveland Indians
David Robertson, Chicago White Sox
Joaquin Benoit, San Diego Padres
Mark Melancon, Pittsburgh Pirates
Speaking of velocity concerns, the Yankees have come forward to set the record straight regarding Betances. While his spring velocity is below his 2014 average, it's up one mph from last spring. Well la-dee-dah. I remain concerned. His spring numbers include a 7.11 ERA, five strikeouts, and three walks. That's fine; it's just Spring Training. It also merits watching.
Beyond Betances is another perfectly viable closer. Miller is already in midseason form. I still consider him a very modest favorite to win the job. If you grab Betances, be sure to snag Miller later. Like with Holland-Davis, they'll both provide fantasy value.
Robertson had a brief run-in with the trainer to treat forearm discomfort. He's already preparing to return to action. Despite the rapid return, this bears watching. It's not easy for a pitcher to overwork his forearm, so any discomfort is alarming. Further, Robertson won't pitch on consecutive days this spring. That could well extend into the regular season. Consider stashing Zach Duke.
Tier 3: The Upside Crowd (6)
Hector Rondon, Chicago Cubs
Steve Cishek, Miami Marlins
Fernando Rodney, Seattle Mariners
Zach Britton, Baltimore Orioles
Trevor Rosenthal, St. Louis Cardinals
Brett Cecil, Toronto Blue Jays
As a commenter pointed out, “Rock Steady” was an inaccurate description of this tier. As you see, I made a change. With a couple exceptions, these players are high risk, high reward.
Rondon, Cishek, Britton, and Rosenthal all look sharp. Cishek has pitched the best with 15 strikeouts and one walk in nine innings. As a reminder, Rondon and Cishek are well-rounded options. Britton's ground ball mentality hurts his strikeout rate. With Rosenthal, keep an eye on his walk rate.
Rodney's success can always be tied to walks. This spring, he's dished out six free passes in 6.2 innings. His fastball-changeup combo requires him to be on point with his command. Otherwise, he becomes predictable. The Mariners have a very deep bullpen, and they have to contend in a difficult AL West. The M's won't be too patient with their closer.
Upon further analysis, I've decided to move Cecil down within the tier. The more I think about the Jays situation in the AL East, the more I think they'll acquire an external bullpen solution. At that point, Cecil slides back into the eighth inning. While his strikeout rate is exciting, a relatively high walk rate serves as a reality check.
Tier 4: The Mid-Tier (7)
Glen Perkins, Minnesota Twins
Huston Street, Los Angeles Angels
Jonathan Papelbon, Philadelphia Phillies
Drew Storen, Washington Nationals
Tyler Clippard, Oakland AthleticsLuke Gregerson, Houston Astros Jenrry Mejia, New York Mets
We're still on injury watch with Perkins. He appears to be healthy and ready for the season. As does Papelbon. We'll continue to monitor the trade rumors. The last week was quiet.
Street, Clippard, and Mejia have scuffled this spring. Street has a 8.10 ERA with just one strikeout and three walks in 6.2 innings. That's not helping his contract extension talks. Given his weird reliever profile, I won't need much reason to demote him to Tier 5. This is a world where velocity is king.
I'm less worried about Clippard. He's a good fit for Oakland. If all goes according to plan, he'll only need to close for a month or two.
Mejia was in Tier 3 last week. I've demoted him for three reasons. The least important is his spring performance – 5.87 ERA, five strikeouts, and four walks in 7.2 innings. After further review, I was a little over ambitious in my strikeout and walk projections. I now expect about 9.10 K/9 and 3.70 BB/9. Lastly, while talking with a few people who follow the Mets more closely than me, I was told they're very serious about using Bobby Parnell in the ninth when he returns. I still have my doubts.
Like Chapman, Storen gave us a scare when he was mysteriously pulled from a game. I joined the flood of fantasy owners grabbing shares of Aaron Barrett and Blake Treinen. With Casey Janssen sidelined, it's unclear who will handle the eighth inning. Fortunately, Storen had a blister on his foot. He's fine.
Gregerson jumps to this tier since he's been officially anointed. I said last week that he's a Tier 4 or 5 talent once he gets the job. Well, here he is as the last pitcher in Tier 4.
Tier 5: Questions (4)
Brad Boxberger, Grant Balfour, Tampa Bay Rays
Neftali Feliz, Texas Rangers
Santiago Casilla, San Francisco Giants
Francisco Rodriguez, Milwaukee Brewers
The Rays finally said Boxberger would handle the ninth inning. Buried under the headline was a lot of hedging and sly comments. It sounds like Boxberger will receive most of the save opportunities while Jake McGee is out, but they'll use other pitchers in the ninth when the situation is appropriate. He's a Tier 3 talent with a full time job, so I'm aggressively buying in drafts.
Feliz's velocity is very important to his viability as a closer. He was pumping 96 mph heat the other day, which is good to hear. In what appears to be another lost season for the Rangers, I expect to see Feliz traded. Keone Kela might be the beneficiary when the time comes. No need to roster him now – he has control problems.
Casilla's been banged around this spring. That could be an issue for owners considering Sergio Romo has pitched well. Monitor accordingly.
Tier 6: Roller Coasters (5)
Edward Mujica, Boston Red Sox
LaTroy Hawkins, Colorado Rockies
Mujica's game plan involves high fastballs, plenty of splitters, and a helping of sliders. His strikeout rate is low – below 7.00 K/9. He makes do by limiting walks. As a fantasy asset, he'll notch some saves without killing your ratios. Kick him aside when Koji Uehara returns from his hamstring injury.
Addison Reed says he'll be back for Opening Day, but the club has remained non-committal. Even if Marshall or Delgado wins the job, it'll only be for a couple games. Reed is likely to debut in this same spot.
The Dodgers bullpen remains unsolved. Our old friend Sergio Santos is pitching well, but he's not expected to factor into the discussion. Brandon League is officially out; possibly for the entire season. If Hatcher replicates his 2014, he's the best option. Peralta may be safer due to his veterany mien.
I have a new name to add to the Rockies succession plans. Jairo Diaz was recently optioned to Triple-A , but he'll be back. He features a 98 mph fastball and a plus slider. Full disclosure, I haven't actually seen the breaking ball. I'm analyzing the PITCHf/x data based on just 34 sliders. For now, Hawkins remains the guy.
Nathan is terrible. Fantasy owners are now selecting Soria before Nathan. I fully endorse that decision.
Koji Uehara, Boston Red Sox
Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers
Sean Doolittle, Oakland Athletics
Jake McGee, Tampa Bay Rays
Addison Reed, Arizona Diamondbacks
Bobby Parnell, New York Mets
We're up to an even half dozen injured closers. Uehara is sidelined with a nagging hamstring strain. I'm very concerned about him this season. This entire group is currently on track to return to action within the first two months. Probability suggests that at least one of them will have a setback. Reed still claims he'll be ready for Opening Day.
Qualls finished 2014 as the Astros closer, and Gregerson wasn't handed the job without a competition. As such, I'm calling Qualls the first victim of the 2015 closer shuffle. Expect more to come.
The Steals Department
In an unexpected move, the Phillies have named Odubel Herrera their Opening Day center fielder. The decision pushes Ben Revere to left field. Herrera remains a very deep play. He has 20 to 30 steal upside, but the other categories could be rough. If he gets out to a fast start with a high average, he might be promoted to the second spot in the order. That would give him more opportunities to run. He could also slide into a part time role when Domonic Brown returns from an Achilles injury.
The Blue Jays have officially announced outfielder Dalton Pompey and second baseman Devon Travis as starters. Both will hit at the bottom of the lineup. Travis is a potential high average hitter. Scouts praise his contact ability. He could pop 10 home runs and steal 20 bases, but that's an optimistic view.
I've mentioned it before, but I'm worried about Pompey's floor. He reminds me very strongly of Jackie Bradley Jr. The upside is a well-rounded player with 30 steal ability.
It's not yet official, but the White Sox are leaning towards Micah Johnson as the starting second baseman. He has 60 stolen base upside. He might contribute a decent run total and batting average. Don't expect any power or RBI. In all likelihood, he'll serve in a part time role as he cuts his teeth on major league pitching.