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 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.
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.