Which position would you say has gained the most value over the past decade?

In Major League Baseball?

In fantasy baseball?

Maybe it’s shortstop. 2020 might be the best shortstop season of all time, whatever that means.  

And that’s pre Wander. (Year -1 B.W.)

But this winter saw Emmanuel Clase traded for Corey Kluber. I know Delinosaur Jr. is feeling the pain of everyone there, too, and the old Klubot has been in the shop for a hot minute, but to say this trade made waves is an understatement.

The conversation began in alarmist, anti-ownership fashion and ended in hushed admiration of Clase’s cutter and consideration of the relative values of their contracts and remaining innings, especially in the context of a team with a pitching surplus such as Cleveland’s. 

Felt like a signpost to me.

As did Tampa Bay’s trade of top 50 echo chamber prospect Jesus Sanchez for erstwhile bartender Nick Anderson

As have the contracts dolled out every off-season, even in the miserly winters of 2017-18, when bullpen pitchers were signed early in the cycle for near-record middle-relief contracts. 

I might be kicking the horse a bit at this point when all I really want to do is share my work-intensive relief prospect rankings. More and more leagues are incorporating holds, either as its own category or a combination category with saves. Given the dominance of hot relievers, all these guys gain a lot of value in saves+holds leagues, where their barrier to helping you in that category is all but erased. In the dynasty game, they can be swapped in and out of your minor leagues to expand your active roster and suppress your ratios while snagging some strikeouts and the occasional win. 

Without further ado because we’ve had plenty of ado because hey I worked on this one all winter, the following humans are my top 20 relief prospects for 2020. 

  • Note: I refrained from speculation in that a prospect still being treated as a starter within his organization was ineligible for this list. 
  • Note pt. 2: I don’t have Estimated Times of Arrival on here because all these guys should be up at some point in 2020–most of them right away. 

 

Player | Age as of 5/1/2020 | Team

1. RHP James Karinchak | 24 | CLE

2. RHP Brusdar Graterol | 21 | LAD

3. RHP Andrés Muñoz | 21 | SD

Brusdar was a late addition to the list, and I had him first for the last few weeks, but a quick review of Karinchak flipped that. 

 

4. RHP Emmanuel Clase | 22 | CLE

5. LHP Alex Vesia | 23 | MIA

6. RHP Kevin Ginkel | 26 | ARI

7. LHP Joely Rodriguez | 28 | TEX

When anyone from this group goes off a draft board to a team that’s not mine, a little piece of me dies. 

Clase is something of a known quantity as a closer-level talent now, but I’m eager to see if Cleveland might be able to help him make another leap. 

The highest ranked guy we haven’t seen in the bigs, Alex Vesia makes life tough on lefties and righties alike with his deception and command of a plus-plus change up.

Skinamarinky dinky Gink– . . . I’m sorry, I just can’t. Kevin Ginkel is too good for that. We’re talking about a guy who locked down a primary set-up role in fewer than 25 MLB games after rocking an 19.66 K/9 in AAA and being pretty much untouchable since he was drafted in 2016. 

Joely Rodriguez is a nasty lefty who threw the hardest left-handed pitch in Japanese baseball history and won the league’s highest accolades. Could find himself closing by July. *Velocity trivia nugget courtesy of Tim McCleod via the Goin’ Deep Podcast hosted by B_Don and Donkey Teeth.

 

8. RHP Bryan Abreu | 23 | HOU

9. RHP Rowan Wick | 27 | CHC

10. RHP Art Warren | 27 | SEA

With some of the game’s highest spin rates, Bryan Abreu hasn’t struggled to miss bats. Finding the zone has been an entirely different proposition, but relief pitching seems to have . . . relieved some of the strike-throwing pressure and unlocked his confidence. 

Rowan Wick might be a little higher if he weren’t behind a high-dollar closer, but there’s a non-zero chance Craig Kimbrel can’t rebound from a wacky 2019.

Art Warren’s got an angle on a closer’s gig in Seattle and a fastball slider curveball combination that’s been suppressing home runs and piling up strikeouts since his days in A ball before his command took a step forward in 2017.

 

11. RHP Hunter Harvey | 25 | BAL

12. RHP Michel Baez | 24 | SD

Couple of converted starters here. Baez is 6’8” and Harvey is a giant white rabbit who’s partly invisible but almost as tall. Baez will have to keep pace with a lot of great relievers just to get innings, while Harvey could become Baltimore’s best pitcher this year and would be in the previous tier if I didn’t fall in love with this bunny bit. I really like that story though. Might not be a must-see but certainly worth a read/watch any day. 

 

13. RHP Demarcus Evans | 23 | TEX

14. LHP Jose Castillo | 24 | SD 

15. RHP Cody Stashak | 25 | MIN

If you haven’t seen Demarcus Evans, he too is worth a watch any day. A huge righty with a dominant fastball curveball combination, he should be up in 2020 and could be truly dominant with even a half-tick more command, which he might not even need to succeed. 

Jose Castillo is a little like Harvey in that he’d be higher (graduated from prospect status, actually) and a little like Baez and that San Diego’s bullpen is incredibly talented and deep.

Command is a major strength for Cody Stashak, and I think his stuff’s good enough to push into Minnesota’s closer group sometime in 2020 if a window cracks open via injury or performance via Romo or Rogers. The Graterol trade helps Stashak’s fantasy topside. 

 

16. RHP Isaac Mattson | 24 | BAL

17. RHP Tyler Zuber | 24 | KC

18. RHP Connor Brogdon | 25 | PHI

19. RHP Dany Jimenez | 26 | SF

20. LHP Kyle Nelson | 23 | CLE

Isaac Mattson climbed three levels in 2019 and wound up traded for Dylan Bundy. Baltimore pitchers enjoyed huge bounces last year, which we have to think was related at least a little bit to the hiring of Houston’s brain trust. Mattson will get a chance to pitch late in games this year. 

The shortest man on the list at 5’11”, Tyler Zuber employs a diverse arsenal and maximizes a mind for tinkering and sequencing. With Ian Kennedy pitching himself into a trade chip and on the way to free agency, Zuber stands to inherit a crucial role in Kansas City. 

A few years back, Brogdon sold his carwash to Walter White and picked up a baseball. He’s now a 6’6” hurler who’s dominated since he was drafted in 2017. His worst WHIP was 1.15 in his draft year. Last year he logged a 0.80 WHIP and a 44.3 percent K rate in 23.2 AA innings and a 1.08 WHIP and 33.1% in 32.1 innings in AAA.

A Rule 5 pick who has to be rostered or returned to the Blue Jays, Dany Jimenez might wind up closing in San Francisco this year, and it might happen early. He’s 26, he’s been flirting with dominance the past few years, and nobody of note is standing between him and a prominent back-end role. 

Solid command and a plus slider propelled Kyle Nelson through three levels last year, and even in Cleveland’s stacked bullpen, there’s always room in the late innings for a talented lefty.

Thanks for reading!

Many happy returns on your quests for relief!

I’m @theprospectitch on Twitter in case you’re curious.

 
  1. HamPorter says:
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    Itch,

    Nice write up, I’m planning on getting a few of these guys for .10 at the dynasty auction! Last week I asked you about Torkelson, I’m a huge fan of his, but where does Oscar Colas stack up? I’m thinking about grabbing both of them with my 2 picks in my AL only league and going after Colas in my NL only league. What are your thoughts?

    • The Itch

      The Itch says:
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      Thanks, HamPorter!

      I’d be bullshitting if I said I had any real clue about Colas.

      Cuba is like a lot of countries in that the talent gets funneled to the offensive side, so Colas doesn’t see much good pitching in a given year.

      I do think he’s a little more likely to sign in the AL because his best positions are hitter and thrower from what I glean.

  2. Taco Tea says:
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    What do you think the odds are Kevin Ginkel becomes the Arizona closer this season (without an Archie Bradley or Hector Rondon injury). Thanks

    • The Itch

      The Itch says:
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      25-50 percent?

      Arizona has been weird about Bradley more than once, and while I think he’s leapt into the near-elite closer tier, I wouldn’t be shocked to see them bounce him if he struggles or they decide they want longer outings from him.

  3. Tamtea says:
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    Hi what do you think the chances are either Wick or Ginkel becomes the closer this season without an injury to the guys ahead of them- Kimbrel, Archie Bradley, maybe Hector Rondon. Thanks Itch

    • The Itch

      The Itch says:
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      Good questions, Tea! Thanks!

      Wick is kind of tough bc the only reason you buy Kimbrel is the ninth. He’ll have to really crap the bed. Maybe 15 percent?

  4. PB says:
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    Currently have Munoz on a Dynasty roster but he’s been getting a lot of trade interest. If I deal him, Vesia and Rodriguez are the top ranked guys not rostered in the league right now. Are they the 2 you feel have the highest upside? If not, who would you add to take that minors spot on my roster? Thanks!

    • The Itch

      The Itch says:
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      Hi, PB!

      What’s the offer? If decent, I’d flip him and snag one or both those guys, yeah.

      Already sold my shares bc people made fair offers, and I love to prospect at this position. One of my favorite places to dig because there’s not much coverage.

      • PB says:
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        Right now have a few offers. One involves Munoz+ for Schwarber, another is Munoz for G Marquez. In bigger deals, he’s been the 2nd piece people want from me

      • PB says:
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        What have you moved him for so I have a reference? Its 12 team 5×5 dynasty.

        • The Itch

          The Itch says:
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          Well on Dec 27 2019, he was a key piece (along with Jose Garcia and James Karinchak) in a deal that brought back Edwin Encarnacion and an early 3rd rounder in this year’s supp draft.

          That pick has a lot of value to me because it’s at kind of a sweet spot in that player pool.

          For a different/future possibility, Nick Anderson just got dealt for Jose Abreu (and Jake Bauers) in a 20-teamer, and I flipped Anderson straight up for Schwarber in a hold league last year just before he got shipped to Tampa.

          With Kirby Yates’s time expiring in San Diego, Munoz is kind of a scary piece to move. I wouldn’t do Marquez, but if I could get Schwarber, I’d do it. Kyle held his own (93 wRC+) against LHP last year and made a big leap in the second half.

          • PB says:
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            Also have Anderson so might try that route first!

  5. Trust the Process says:
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    Itch ! Great stuff … hoping to get a few of these guys in the draft … anyway .. 12 team roto … 5×5 .. forever keep10 + 10 farm .. was offered his Cruz + 9th rounder for my Rolls .. all keepers are in .. I just traded my Bichette for his Yordan… so my future at SS/MI right now is Rolls/Brujan/Downs …. what do you think ? Thank you as always

    • Trust the Process says:
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      Should also probably add that is the last pick in the 9th if it makes a difference

      • The Itch

        The Itch says:
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        Thanks, Trust the Process!!

        Smart offer by the other team there . . .

        Think you’ll do something good with that 9th?

        Tough to know who’ll be around about then, but do you typically find yourself wanting picks around then?

        If not, I wouldn’t do it because perceived value still has a sizable gap between these two, and I try to resist paying the premium requested by people who know how much I like their player. Kind of a marriage tax. I’m still learning how to navigate it. I straight walked away from an trade with a guy who’d read my thoughts on Gilberto Jimenez and wanted to charge me nine times sanity, but a couple weeks later he sold him straight up for someone so forgettable I’m literally blanking on the name (He’s on the Tigers. Rhymes with frisking talkers . . .)

        Frisking Talkers?

        . . . zat chu Bloomberg?

        Anyway, maybe the lesson for me is revisit it in a week if you do walk away now.

        I might just counter for a better round and see how it goes.

  6. Shawnuel says:
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    Interesting on Art Warren. I have both Joey Gerber and Sam Delaplane higher on my Mariners list than Warren but he is closer to making an impact. If he ends up closing by the end of 2020, my guess is he loses the job to Delaplane by mid-season 2021.

    • The Itch

      The Itch says:
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      Thanks Shawnuel!

      I like Gerber over Delaplane but agree I can see either stating a good case for late innings.

  7. Smitty says:
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    Very cool! Love your takes on these up and comers. Happy to see Alex Vesia and DeMarcus Evans. I took both in an early NFBC 50 round draft. Great work Itch!

    • The Itch

      The Itch says:
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      Thanks Smitty!

      I’ve been looking forward to completing and sharing this one for quite some time!

      Love both those picks in that format. Even if they’re not closing, they’ll soon be options for their potential to get 3 innings and 6 Ks with a WHIP in the one range.

  8. Frank White says:
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    I know he lost his prospect status but do you view Cease long term as a RP or do you think he can get better command and reach his peak as a #2 SP?

    • The Itch

      The Itch says:
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      Good question, Frank,

      I think the Sox have shown patience rarely present in other organizations when it comes to developing arms. I don’t know if Cease is a number two or not, but I know he’ll get more chances there than he could expect most places, and that’s a huge plus. Some people think ReyLo’s is a reliever, but that doesn’t even cross Chicago’s mind, or so it seems.

  9. Mordacious Levator says:
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    12 team dynasty. also with max 7 man NA only list (so guys that aren’t in yahoo like matos, h.hernandez, pena, hed perez, l.acuna not obtainable yet, stupid ass yahoo). my NA list can’t have brujan on it since they haven’t given him that till probably in march (this draft is sat), but puig does have it since not signed yet by anybody, which is really weird since hitters no better than him are getting signed all over. his agent is probably pulling the l.lynn (where he tricks his client into thinking he’ll get some huge multi-year deal where all he’s really doing is costing his client somewhere in the 5 mil- 10 mil range and also is probably making him move cities, which costs money. see also lately: ozuna)

    active roster keepers (some of these will be dropped later, we have to keep 26 on active pre NA only draft on sat (later can make drops/adds, like in less than a week). extra cats h2h like OPS, holds, QS, hits.
    C (1) kraken
    1B (1) E5
    2B muncy (1-3B)
    SS mondesi
    3B dozier (1B/RF)
    LF yordan
    CF acuna (all OF)
    RF dannys antana (pretty much all non 1B/C)
    util (1) j.polanco (SS)
    BN: k.davis (if healthy and not freaked out from impregnating somebody he’ll probably be fine again, did drop upton though on him vs him), brujan
    SP: paddack, darvish, ryu, kluber, carrasco, hendricks, carmart, a.reyes, turnbull (streamer spot), yarbrough
    RP (max 5): osuna, rogers, r.iglesias (actually prefer him to get holds), hand, britton (so i have too many saves too little holds guys)
    NA (max 7, i draft the 2 i don’t have filled): r.lewis, groshans, k.robinson (CF), larnach (RF), puig (later puig and brujan will switch spots)

    i have the 9th pick in all rounds. thinking i should go pitching unless abrams (no chance), j.dom (some chance), vaughn (not good chance) falls to me due to me only having hitter prospects stashed already. from your list these are out there:
    abrams
    j-dom
    vaughn
    o.cruz (he’d almost certainly be around at 1.9)
    carroll (he might be gone and i don’t need speed guys nor OF guys, esp for prospects)
    rutchsman (probably gone and i’m not going catcher anywhere near this high, already have kraken too)
    b.davis (OF)
    witt (likely gone)
    howard (SP, who i need)
    skubal (same)
    n.marte
    x.edwards (speed guy but i’m already pretty good on active and brujan and SS/2B)
    bracho (too shallow of a league to stash a guy that far off at positions i’m already strong at, plus i’m strong at SS)
    downs (SS)
    valera (OF
    puasson (SS, far away)
    kirby (SP)
    also all of these SP: j.gray (LAD), lodolo, cantillo, j.ryan.

    thinking of going just SP twice (unless 1 of those early guys falls). what about farther off possibly more upside SP like espino? didn’t make your top 200 but i’m guessing that’s mostly an ETA thing. so what we have here is a shallow prospect stashing situation (max 84 guys stashed at any time). also it’s a league where guys like upton/braun/puig if they aren’t hot are just in FA (i dropped braun/upton just now).

    • The Itch

      The Itch says:
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      I can see the double-tap SP but would probably lean toward Cruz, Davis and maybe Downs.

      • Mordacious Levator says:
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        how’d you rank for upside if we didn’t care about ETA on these pitchers:
        howard (gotta think his high ranking is ETA based)
        skubal (similar, probably why you have him higher than manning/mize)
        kirby
        j.gray
        lodolo
        cantillo
        j.ryan
        manoah
        espino
        rutledge

        waltson (this latter group i don’t think i’d need to reach for, and the others probably better)
        small

        since i’m pitcher none on the prospect side i’m probably going one of these, but i am pretty strong in short term SP anyway, so ETA not as big a factor. so probably not howard or skubal

        • Mordacious Levator says:
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          throw frias in there, next highest not owned SP guy.

  10. ozone ranger says:
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    Muñoz has ridiculous stuff. He was outright dominant until he ran out of gas and the Padres shut him down. I really like him as a future closer, but you wisely listed the Friars having two other studly future potential closers in Baez and Castillo. Who knows who will take over for Yates once the Padres are out of it, again, and they trade him.

    You can never have too much pitching. Refer to Braves, Atlanta.

    • The Itch

      The Itch says:
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      He’s so much fun to watch, and I do think it’s his for the taking in the long run.

      And as you say, maybe as early as this year.

  11. Grey

    Grey says:
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    I’m drafting Art Warren in every league deeper than 15-team — we will celebrate together or you will be blamed for all my teams, wish us luck!

    • return2earth says:
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      excellent article The Itch!

      might help that Woodworth is the pitching coach for the Mariners this year too .. Warren has spent his career as a closer in the minors developing alongside him .. grabbed Warren in the last round of a few 15 team draft & holds so i’m with ya’ll on this one

      Abreu is another player that i’ve grabbed in a few draft & holds .. Strom digs him and there will be innings to pitch in that bullpen .. Pressly is effective but those knee issues still linger so who knowwwwwwssss where he could end up if his pitching is effective

      non-closing relief pitchers are my favorite players to monitor heading into 2020 .. these aren’t prospects but i’m interested in players like Tyler Duffey & Michael Lorenzen as a final round pick in leagues as small as 12 teamers .. they’ll be the new Ottavino / Pressly / Nick Anderson / Gallegos types we’ll be hearing about this season .. wouldn’t be shocked to see Duffey end up sharing the closer role w/ Rogers at points in 2020 since Duffey is a righty and Iglesias could just as easily be traded at some point w/ Lorenzen grabbing saves alongside Garrett as a lefty and the 3 batter minimum rule .. seems like Cincy is tiring of Iglesias and they’ve got plenty of arms to replace him .. who knows

      • The Itch

        The Itch says:
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        Thanks return2earth!!

        They’re always among my faves to track as well.

        Their escalator to huge value jumps is always a few days away, and the incline is steep.

        Good calls on Duffey and Lorenzen. Someone is going to launch in that Cincy bullpen given the combination of Boddy and Johnson–probably more than one somebody–and Lorenzen is a strong bet. My money’s on Robert Stephenson.

        • return2earth says:
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          Stephenson .. yesssss sir .. agree with you on that choice!

          Ray Black coming out of the hard streets of Wilkes-Barre, PA is a favorite of mine to follow in 2020 .. don’t even care if he’s fantasy relevant at all .. drafted a few shares in 15 teamers and glad i’ll have something to talk about at the triple A all star game w/ all the locals in scranton this summer

    • The Itch

      The Itch says:
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      Every day is touch and go when your job’s riding on your tenth ranked relief prospect!

      • Grey

        Grey says:
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        “Hang in there” — as it says on my favorite cat poster

    • The Itch

      The Itch says:
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      Have you seen Wall-e?

      If so do you remember that opener when the titular character and only surviving Wall-e is rolling through the field of Wall-e corpses.

      That’s Art Warren showing up for work this year.

      Matt Magill already short circuited. Hirano just had a 1.38 WHIP and turns 36 in march.

      I dunno . . . maybe it won’t happen . . . but somebody’s gotta pitch in the off chance Seattle’s ahead in the ninth. Can’t put Wall-e out there.

      Yet.

  12. toolshed says:
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    Thoughts on kristian robinson? Do you like him to be inside the top 10 soon?

    • The Itch

      The Itch says:
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      Yes. V soon.

  13. Joey Jo Jo Jr Shabadoo says:
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    what happened with balazovic, were quite high on him months ago, dropped at least around 100 slots since.

    • The Itch

      The Itch says:
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      Hi, Joey!

      Just a lot of moving pieces and players I liked a lot along the way on the org lists. Lots of time and fantasy stuff in between where I saw Balazovic doesn’t trade at quite the value I thought he would.

      Also Minnesota added a lot of pitching between that initial list and the update, so that pushed him a year out and added some risk.

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