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Targeting middle relievers with closer potential

The closers position is always one that can change on a dime. We go over numerous targets to consider who can step into that role in 2020.

Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Will Smith throws a pitch during the fifth inning against the New York Yankees at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

As the season draws closer, one of the biggest ways to be ahead of the curve is by drafting some middle relievers that could potentially take over the closers role. Teams can show short leashes on closers, especially in a shortened season. Below, we’ll profile some of these players to keep in mind as they can ultimately be the one closing for their respective team later in the season.

Relievers to target:

Will Smith, Atlanta Braves

I truly admire the Braves coming out and trying to save face by saying that Mark Melancon will remain their closer DESPITE them signing Smith to a three-year, $39 million contract in November. Melancon did his job with the Braves after they acquired him from the Giants, as he saved 11 games for the Braves in 23 appearances. It did come with its fair share of shaky games, as he did allow a total of nine runs on 22 hits during that span.

The addition of Smith truly makes it seem as if Melancon will likely start the season in the closers role but have a very short leash to retain it. Smith is coming off a stellar season with the Giants where he posted a 2.76 ERA, 1.02 WHIP and 96/21 K/BB ratio with 34 saves over 65 1/3 innings. You don’t bring a man with his type of talent on board and not use him in the 9th inning role. Despite the depth chart showing Melancon is the closer, it would be downright shocking to not see these roles switched as the season progresses.

Hunter Harvey, Baltimore Orioles

When the Orioles closed out the 2019 season, it was Mychal Givens who led the Orioles with 11 saves. Naturally, coming into the season, Givens would be the most likely candidate to take that role again, right? The Orioles new manager Brandon Hyde made some interesting comments about that role and essentially, without saying it, endorsed Harvey to take on that role. Coming through the minors as a starter, Harvey has said he’s comfortable coming out of the bullpen and the Orioles had him do so even before coming to the majors in Triple-A.

While Harvey could be handed the job, it’s also fair to think that Givens could still potentially be in the mix. All we’ve seen from Harvey in the majors is a microscopic sample size of 6 1/3 innings, allowing one run on three hits while striking out 11. He has fantastic swing-and-miss stuff and would be built well to take on a closers role. With the Orioles essentially playing for future draft picks, even before the season begins, they’ll likely be willing to test out this scenario as the season moves on. Even if Harvey isn’t in the role to start, it’s only a matter of time before he is.

Shaun Anderson, San Francisco Giants

The Giants will be looking toward a new reliever to close out games for them in 2020. As we mentioned earlier, Will Smith will likely be closing out games for the Braves at some point, now we need to figure out who’ll do it in San Francisco. Currently, it looks as if Tony Watson will get the first crack despite working his way back from a shoulder injury. The concern here is that his strikeout dipped dramatically last season, ending with a 6.8 K/9 compared to the 9.8 the year prior. Not to mention, working his way back from an injury.

Anderson looks as if he could be the next in line if needed. While his strikeouts aren’t strong either, Anderson did save a couple of games last season while Smith was sidelined. The Giants aren’t looking as if they’ll be very competitive overall, so the chances for either player could be limited.

Relievers to keep in mind:

Scott Oberg, Colorado Rockies

Wade Davis is set to be the Rockies closer once again despite his struggles last season Even though manager Bud Black gave him a vote of confidence coming into the season, it could be only a matter of time before a switch is made. Through 50 appearances, Davis had a 14.1 BB% and just a 20.4 K% while blowing three of his 18 save opportunities.

Oberg would be the next in line to take over the closers role and quite frankly, I’d be shocked if he isn’t in that position early on. His numbers are much more impressive than Davis, although the bar isn’t exactly set very high. Oberg posted a 26 K%, a 10.3 BB% and generated as 12.2% swing-and-miss rate through 49 appearances. With trade rumors swirling around the Rockies needing to offload payroll, Davis could be one of those moves, if he doesn’t pitch himself out of the role to begin with.

Michael Lorenzen, Cincinnati Reds

Raisel Iglesias is entrenched in the Reds’ closers role ahead of the 2020 season. While his role should be safe, the inconsistencies he’s exhibited in the past raises some concerns. Overall, Iglesias was great, posting a 32 K%, a 7.5 BB% and converting 34 of 40 save opportunities. However, he did allow Lorenzen to step into the role at times, where he notched seven saves of his own.

It’s not as if Lorenzen was perfect by any means. He blew four save opportunities of his own, which quite frankly, isn’t exactly earning him the seal of approval. The Reds are looking as if they’ll be extremely competitive this season with vast improvement to both their lineup and pitching rotation. With more save opportunities coming their way, if Iglesias struggles, Lorenzen would be the next man up. It’s worth keeping an eye on both.

Long Shot Relievers:

Matt Barnes, Boston Red Sox

As it stands, Brandon Workman will be the Red Sox closer after the team went through the offseason not making a move at that position. Workman, to his credit, has a breakout season, posting a 36.4 K% and making good on 16 of his 22 save opportunities. However, his 15.7 BB% is a major cause for concern and in the closers role, you can’t be putting guys on base like he was last season.

Barnes would be the next option for the Red Sox to turn to and it’s not exactly the best of options. Sure, he made four saves of his own but he also blew eight. His walks were also a big problem, as his 13.3 BB% leaves plenty to be desired. Nonetheless, it is the Boston Red Sox and despite some unpopular offseason moves, they should still be in contention in the AL East.

Tim Hill, Kansas City Royals

Ian Kennedy made the successful transition to the bullpen after his continued struggles in the rotation. Once he made the switch, Kennedy would make 30 saves in 34 opportunities with a 10.3 K% and just a 6.4 BB%. The newfound resurgence has solidified him for opening the season in this role once again and hopefully carve out a new niche in his career.

It’s safe to think that this may blow up for Kennedy at some point, as he has been anything but consistent in his career. The Royals may not be the most competitive team in the American League this season but as we mentioned, Kennedy can officially add “30 saves” to his resume. If he were to falter, Hill would be someone the Royals could use. Hill was mainly used in short instances last season, tossing only 39 2/3 innings despite 46 appearances. He had a 24.2 K% and an 8.1 BB% while doing well at keeping the ball in the park, giving up just four home runs. He’s made a handful of saves in his career in both the minors and majors, making him a potential long-shot reliever to target.