Futures Exchange: Young arms closing in
Strong crop of talented hurlers tabbed as firemen-in-waiting
Raise your hand if you've ever been in a fantasy league and haven't been able to scrap together enough saves to compete.
If you're not raising your hand, you're a liar.
Everyone who's ever played this game has scrounged around for those extra saves, trying to find the backup closers or the setup men who might pick up a couple of random opportunities.
We decided to channel that angst for this week's Futures Exchange, looking at a slew of potential closers in hopes that some day your lives will be made a little bit easier.
Jonathan's pick: Daniel Bard, RHP, Red Sox
No, Jonathan Papelbon's not going anywhere. But the minute the Red Sox moved Bard into a short-relief role, things clicked, and he emerged on a short list of potential closers. Last year, the 24-year-old struck out 107 in 77 2/3 IP and held hitters to a .158 average across two levels. Before his callup this season, he had six saves in 11 games to go along with a miniscule 1.13 ERA and 29 Ks in 16 innings of work at Triple-A Pawtucket. He hasn't been blowing away big league hitters so far, but he will. If for whatever reason Pap goes down or needs time off, Bard could very quickly step up as the next in line. At the very least, the young fireballer has a chance to take the reins when Papelbon becomes a free agent in 2012.
Lisa's pick: Ryan Perry, RHP, Detroit Tigers
Sure, we may be tossing his name into the ring a few weeks after his debut, but Perry is quickly becoming a guy to keep an eye on. The Tigers' first-round pick out of the University of Arizona in 2008, he's proof that the upcoming First-Year Player Draft can yield immediate benefits. The flame-throwing right-hander, who has been clocked in triple digits, is seeing mostly eighth-inning action for the Tigers but is being groomed for the closer role. Perry's 2.33 ERA in 19 1/3 innings and .167 average against make clear that he's got both the stuff and the makeup to succeed at this level. He's working on conserving pitches by improving his command, and at this rate, it may be just a matter of time before he has the job.
Jonathan's pick: Jess Todd, RHP, Cardinals
Don't get caught thinking that Todd's starter-turned-reliever pedigree is the product of inadequate stuff. The guy went to the Futures Game and finished with a 2.88 ERA while pitching at three levels in his first full season. But his size and two-pitch mix always caused scouts to wonder if the Arkansas product would be better suited in a late-inning role -- one he held at times in college. So far, so good, as the Cardinals' '07 second-round pick has saved eight games for Triple-A Memphis. The 3.38 ERA might seem a touch high, but six of the eight runs he's allowed came over the course of two shaky outings. Todd has held hitters to a .190 average and struck out 27 in 21 1/3 frames, and while St. Louis does have options in short relief, it won't be long before the young right-hander works his way into a big league bullpen.
Lisa's pick: Daniel Schlereth, LHP, Arizona Diamondbacks
Though Schlereth is at Double-A Mobile -- which some might consider better suited to the "year away" category -- the Diamondbacks have been utilizing their "mobile phone" a lot in recent weeks. They've called three players up to make their big league debuts directly from the Baybears' roster (reliever Clay Zavada, starter Bryan Augenstein and outfielder Gerardo Parra), so why not Schlereth? Certainly, his numbers won't stop them -- not his 1.50 ERA, and not his 19 strikeouts over 18 innings. A true closer out of Arizona, the southpaw is the son of former NFL lineman Mark Schlereth and has the stuff and makeup for the back end of the bullpen. Taken just a few picks after fellow Wildcat Perry with the 26th pick in the '08 Draft, he boasts a mid-90s fastball and plus curveball, both of which should translate well at the big league level.
Jonathan's pick: Sam Demel, RHP, A's
Demel did some starting and some relieving at Texas Christian University, but he truly blossomed when he became a full-time closer in '07, sparking Oakland to nab him in the third round of that year's draft. He's been finishing games in Oakland's system since and notched 18 saves in the Class A Advanced California League in his first full season. The 23-year-old righty has been even better this year, racking up seven saves with a sub-1.00 ERA while fanning 17 batters over 18 1/3 frames in the Double-A Texas League. The A's already have Andrew Bailey as a future fireman in the Majors, but that's practically all that stands between Demel and the big stage.
Lisa's pick: Joshua Fields, RHP, Seattle Mariners
Fields or Philippe Aumont? The Mariners have time to decide between these two studs. While Aumont is a starter whom the club prefers to utilize in a shorter relief role for the time being, Fields is a closer through and through. For now, though, he's sidelined with a "dead arm," and is on a throwing program as he tries to bounce back from an idle year after holding out from the Draft until late February. The 23-year-old righty hasn't pitched since May 5, but the Mariners expect him back in action soon. The club's first-round pick out of the University of Georgia, Fields has the stuff to succeed once he returns to full health, as he made clear with 15 Ks over nine frames at Double-A Western Tennessee earlier this year.
Jonathan's pick: Phillippe Aumont, RHP, Mariners
As Lisa mentioned above, the Mariners decided to shorten Aumont up, converting the 2007 first-round pick into a closer in hopes that he'd reach the big leagues sooner that way. The 20-year-old right-hander definitely has the power stuff to get the job done: He's racked up seven saves in the California League to date, striking out 21 over 22 1/3 frames and holding hitters to a dismal .224 average. Playing his home games at one of the Minors' best hitters' parks doesn't help Aumont's cause, and he did get knocked around during a five-game stretch this month, but he has since returned to form. Just 20 years old, he's got the stuff to shoot up quickly through Seattle's system and present the club with a welcome bullpen dilemma moving forward.
Lisa's pick: Pat Venditte, RHP/LHP, New York Yankees
Yeah, that Pat Venditte -- the ambidextrous reliever extraordinaire drafted in the 20th round of the 2008 Draft out of Creighton University by the Yankees. Why not? Venditte came out of college having to prove that he was more than just a novelty act, and so far he's done it, absolutely dominating hitters over the past year. MLB.com's Short Season Reliever of the Year in 2008, he led the New York-Penn League with 23 saves while posting a lights-out 0.83 ERA. The right-hander has picked up right where he left off to begin this season, notching 13 saves with a 0.90 ERA at Class A Charleston to rank among the top closers in the Minors. In 20 innings, he's struck out 31 while walking just one -- that's right, just one.