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Save Prospecting: Top Five Non-Closing NL Relief Pitchers

Every year in fantasy baseball leagues about one third of all the opening day closers lose their jobs due to injury or poor performance. It's just the nature of the game.

Below are five NL relievers to watch closely in 2015 who could have significant fantasy baseball value if the closer on their team were to go down.

In fantasy leagues that count holds, these relief pitchers could hold stand-alone value on draft day as well. So with that being said, let's get to it.


Top Five Non-Closing NL Relievers

Ken Giles, RHP, Philadelphia Phillies

Unless you actually owned him and watched the evolution of Ken Giles into one of the most dominant relievers in baseball last season, it’s nearly impossible to describe how good he was. Armed with a fastball that routinely hit triple-digits and a slider that would make the folks at White Castle jealous, Giles posted a 1.18 ERA, 0.79 WHIP and 64 strikeouts (12.61 K/9) in 45.2 innings of work.

In a recent interview in spring training, Giles shared his thoughts on Craig Kimbrel, stating, “Yea, I mean, I could be better than that guy.” If you compare his numbers last season to the ones Kimbrel put up in his rookie campaign, there isn’t much of a gap at all. The potential fantasy upside for Giles is off the charts if he continues to legitimately get better, but with veteran Jonathan Papelbon still around, he may not get a chance to close until a mid-season trade.

There are some legitimate concerns with Giles that fantasy owners shouldn’t overlook, most notably his struggles with control in the minors. Giles did an excellent job limiting walks (2.17 BB/9) at the Major League level, but had struggled with issuing free passes in Triple-A (5.27 BB/9) prior to his call-up. The walks are a minor quibble, but still something to keep an eye on.

There are plenty of similarities between Giles' situation and that of All-Star Kenley Jansen when he first came up with the Dodgers. Giles is an elite talent and all it takes is one Papelbon injury or trade for him to become a top five closer, the time for fantasy owners to invest is now.
Brandon Maurer, RHP, San Diego Padres

Joaquin Benoit is 37 years old and while the other fantasy relevant option in the Padres pen, Kevin Quackenbush, has more experience as a closer, the arm with the most upside from a fantasy perspective is Brandon Maurer. Acquired in an offseason trade from Seattle, the Padres could move Maurer back to the rotation like they did with Tyson Ross a few years ago. If they elect to keep him in the bullpen permanently, the former starters loaded arsenal has proven to be extremely effective in short stints.

After being banished to the Mariners bullpen in June, Maurer struck out 38, and curbed his control issues, walking just five batters in his final 37 innings last season. If you’re speculating on a future closer, this 24-year-old fits the mold for a breakout relief ace.
Justin Grimm, RHP, Chicago Cubs

Neil Ramirez and Pedro Strop are excellent as well. However, the most interesting name in the Cubs bullpen is Justin Grimm because of his ability to pitch a higher volume of innings at an elite level. Another failed starter, turned reliever, Grimm posted a 3.78 ERA with 70 strikeouts in 69 innings of work last season. His fastball velocity rose to the mid-90’s coming out of the bullpen and his slider has improved dramatically since his arrival in the Windy City. Chicago manager Joe Maddon is notorious for the creative ways he uses his relievers (fantasy owners like to call it tinkering) so don’t rule out Grimm as a dark horse saves candidate if he puts it all together.
Adam Ottavino, RHP, Colorado Rockies

LaTroy Hawkins has already declared that this will be his final season of his 20 year career. Assuming the Rockies stay in-house for a replacement, the front-runner is Adam Ottavino, who was the victim of some unfortunate batted ball luck last season (.347 BABIP), which inflated his ERA to 3.60 last season. Ottavino is one of the best ground ball relievers in baseball, which should help him keep his head above water in the hitters heaven that is Coors Field. When it comes to speculating on saves in Colorado, it’s a matter of when, not if Ottavino is getting the call.
Tony Watson, LHP, Pittsburgh Pirates

Let’s be honest, unless you play in league where holds are relevant or live in the Pittsburgh area, you probably don’t know the first thing about Tony Watson. Mark Melancon is one of the best closers in baseball, so barring an injury, Watson isn’t likely to get save chances anytime soon. Take a look at the eye-popping numbers he put up last season: 1.63 ERA, 1.02 WHIP along with a career-high 81 strikeouts (9.43 K/9) in 77.1 innings. Fantasy owners in deeper formats, especially those who are punting saves altogether, can plug him into their lineup on Opening Day and check back in September without ever having to worry.

Don’t Sleep On

Yusmiero Petit, RHP, San Francisco Giants

It would be cheating to put Sergio Romo on this list because you know that one bad weekend from Santiago Casilla would result in him taking over, so I decided to go with another Bay Area reliever in Yusmeiro Petit. The Giants remain committed to Tim Lincecum in the rotation and for now will use Petit as a “relief ace” coming out of the bullpen.

Armed with one of the most deceptive deliveries in baseball, Petit’s pinpoint control allows him to dominate in short stints, like he did when he retired a Major League record 46 consecutive batters last season. It would be nice to see Petit in the rotation, but give both him and the Giants credit for acknowledging that he might be more effective as a reliever. The reliever status will drive down his draft-day price and enable savvy fantasy owners to reap the benefits in 2015.



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