Back by popular demand, Razzball presents the hottest young firefighters you need to know for 2021. 

Oh, wait, sorry; that’s the tagline of a daily calendar we all put together last year. Works here, too, I suppose. 

For all my rankings this year, I have abided by Major League Baseball’s numberwanging insofar as prospect eligibility is concerned. Within these specialized rules, we find a days-on-roster component and a magical August 14, 2020 demarcation line and I suppose the traditional 50-inning barrier matters as well, although a relief pitcher is much more likely to graduate on time served than innings pitched. 

All that is to say: hard pass on MLB’s shizz for the purposes of this list. 

The only way forward is to minimize fuzziness and speculation. Also I believe this list functions as a way for deep leaguers to find MiLB eligible relievers on the wire. 

One caveat: anyone currently on a starting pitcher path is disqualified. Converted starters make up a big portion of the player pool, so we’ll blend them in here if/when that switch happens but not before.

I’ll also set aside a small group who could switch and quickly leap the ranks like Devin Williams and Jonathan Hernandez have here. I suppose JB Bukauskas qualifies for the switch-and-leap bucket, but he’s in the rankings already because Arizona has clarified they want him in the bullpen this spring. Likewise, Genesis Cabrera and Taylor Hearn are out for the moment because the Cardinals and Rangers have them starting this spring. 

In case you missed it, here’s the Top 10 Relief Pitcher Prospects for 2021 Fantasy Baseball.

 

11. LHP Joely Rodriguez | 29 | Texas Rangers 

I do not have enough Joely Rodriguez shares. I have no idea what happened. Well, that’s a lie. It’s pretty plain what happened. I got outbid and sniped and bamboozled and confoozled by my own confidence in this arena. I suspect I’ll be fine anyway on the relief front. These guys pop up like weeds these days, but it typically takes quite a while for them to matriculate into some saves chances. That’s where Joely stands out on this list. That and the age. Lefties who throw high-90’s with movement are more common today than ever, but they still strike fear in the hearts of any who’d face them on the field. Missing this guy in all my leagues is going to hurt.

 

12. RHP Codi Heuer | 24 | Chicago White Sox

Gas rarely looked so easy as it does coming from Codi Heuer’s relaxed base. At 6’5”, Heuer gets great extension, which pairs with a super casual, stretch-only delivery to create deception for his high-90’s fastball, high-80’s change-up combination. I picked him up in two leagues the first time I saw him throw. Dude’s that nasty.

 

13. RHP Jordan Romano | 27 | Toronto Blue Jays

Looked like Romano was about to get his chance at the big gig this year, but then the reliever market cratered and the Jays avoided the pink tax on Kirby Yates at 5.5 million bucks. Rafael Dolis remains, and the Jays have more than enough money to bring in another veteran or two next winter, but Romano will almost certainly be in the running for saves next year if he can stay healthy and replicate his small sample 2020 over a longer stretch.

 

14. RHP Emmanuel Clase | 23 | Cleveland Spiders

More than anyone on these lists, I struggled with where to place Clase. On the one hand, he looked pretty good in 23.1 innings during 2019. On the other hand, he was using a performance enhancing drug and got caught. On the third hand, he only struck out 22.3 percent of the batters he saw in his first MLB stretch. On the fourth hand, he’s in Cleveland now, throws 100 mph cutters and looks generally unhittable when he’s right. I’m between the other hand and the fourth hand. I think he’s likely to be really good but worry the profit is dampened by the hype if he’s got fans in your league.

 

15. LHP Burl Carraway | 21 | Chicago Cubs 

Frankly, I thought Carraway was among the worst picks of the 2020 MLB draft. No offense to Burl, who’s true spin four-seamer and nasty curveball pair and tunnel in an almost Karinchakian way. I just felt it was a pick born more from the weird pandemic setting and the panicking Ricketts than it was from the kind of risk/reward developmental math that wins championships.

 

16. RHP Enoli Paredes | 25 | Houston Astros 

I was buying on Enoli Paredes before his debut, so I’m not about to back away now just because his fastball was a bit more hittable than I expected. That happens to rookies fighting to repeat their delivery and find their command, which is exactly what Paredes did after his first few weeks. From August 16 until the end of the year, Paredes posted a 1.22 WHIP, much closer to what we need than his 1.40 covering the whole season. His ERA- for that stretch was 69. Very nice. About 30 percent better than league average. Paredes climbed the pecking order along the way and was pitching high-leverage innings in the playoffs.

 

17. RHP JB Bukauskas | 24 | Arizona Diamondbacks 

Here’s one I’m super excited to see. A key piece in the Zack Greinke trade, Bukauskas always seemed more likely to fit in relief than a rotation despite his draft pedigree (15th overall in 2017). He’s about six feet tall and lost some velocity during the minor league grind, but that should come back a bit in the bullpen. If it does, that unlocks his slider, change-up combination that should be all he needs to dominate for an inning or two at a time.

 

18. LHP Matt Cronin | 23 | Washington Nationals 

A dominant SEC closer at Arkansas, Cronin lasted until the 4th round of the 2019, in case you’re wondering where I think the Cubs could’ve considered Burl Carraway. Their skill sets are more alike than they are unalike, my friends, and Cronin continues to come at a fraction of the cost of these more publicized names. He’s struck out 48.2 percent of the professional hitters he’s faced to this point in his career. Granted that happened at the end of his draft season in 22 innings at A ball, but the fact that he picked up in the pros where he left off in college is extremely impressive to me.

 

19. RHP Sam Delaplane | 26 | Seattle Mariners 

Shout out to all the people who’ve loved Delaplane and made certain I know it. At 5’11” 175 lbs, he’s a little like Paredes in that he doesn’t look the part of a closer getting off the bus. Or de la plane. However they travel now. Rickshaw after this next CBA, perhaps. Anyway this cat has as nasty a minor league baseball card as anyone in the game save Karinchak. He’s got an undisclosed injury as of press time, so that’s not good, and I’m hesitant to hype his filthy fastball, slider combo. That paired with Rafael Montero, Andres Munoz and Ken Giles really clouds the plane’s future. Seems like a buying opportunity if Sam’s someone you might be interested in.

 

20. RHP Justin Topa | 30 | Milwaukee Brewers 

The morning. There. I couldn’t help myself. Milwaukee has been an effective place to extract pitching value, and Topa’s the next in their line of rate-stats dominant relievers. The ballpark and deep backend help scare away potential buyers, but Topa can bring anyone’s staff some strikeout energy if they need that kick. 

 

21. RHP Matt Foster | 26 | Chicago White Sox 

Changeup artist with no real path to saves anytime soon. Not Australian. Great ratio suppressor and win vulture on a strong team. If I had to predict a few relievers to push toward double digit wins in 2021, Foster would be near the top of the list. Hell he claimed six wins in the 60-game season. That prorates to about 14 wins. Seems improbable. Would be fun though. If you had him on your team, I mean.

 

22. RHP Brent Honeywell | 26 | Tampa Bay Rays 

Alright alright what’s the big idea here? Who smuggled this guy onto the list?

Well, I’m not sure what role anyone in Tampa will occupy, but I do think Honeywell’s a likely bullpen arm moving forward. Could put their whole minor league system on this list somewhere.  McClanahan, Ryan, Baz, all of em. One thing they do as well as anyone is schedule off days for relievers. I do not trust the Cardinals to plan 100 safe-ish innings for Alex Reyes, suspecting instead that he warms up and doesn’t enter the game several times this year. Tampa doesn’t do that. Or tries like hell to avoid it. Whereas I thought St. Louis would keep Reyes in the rotation because they’re just not dedicated enough to managing bullpen innings safely, I feel confident Tampa will do whatever it wants with Honeywell and all these other gifted arms. 

 

23. RHP Jordan Weems | 28 | Oakland Athletics 

A converted catcher, Weems features the short arm action that’s all the rage these days. Anyone know how Robbie Ray is doing? Asking for a friend. Anywho, Weems just screams high-leverage relievers. Oakland’s bullpen got deep in a hurry after I’d already drafted him late in the Razz 30 (a S+H format), adding you-know Sergio Romo and Trevor Rosenthal in a matter of days, but if I had it to do over again, I’d still place that bet on Weems breaking through. He struck out 31 percent of the batters he faced in his first 14 innings, and I think that number goes up a bit and settles around 35. A quick glance at the stats doesn’t tell the whole story. His slider and changeup were both wipe-out pitches last year, yet he threw the fastball 62.2 percent of the time. If he brings that down around 45 or so, he’ll be racking up strikeouts in reams.

 

24. RHP Kodi Whitley | 26 | St. Louis Cardinals

If you remember Josh Collmenter, he might come to mind as you watch Kodi Whitley’s delivery. Heck, Collmenter might come to mind as you watch James Karinchak if you’re so into deliveries that you can separate them from how the pitch looks in the air. Weird to think of Collmenter as way ahead of his time, although I think everyone kind of knew it then even as they considered him more an anomaly than a blueprint. Whitley’s exaggerated over-the-top, drop-and-drive delivery is different than Collmenter’s because Whitley can still gas it up to the high nineties before he drops a plus slider or change on a hitter. Would be a bit higher if we’d seen more than 4.2 innings last year thanks to the Cards covid troubles. Or if this bullpen were a little thinner.

 

25. RHP Nick Mears | 24 | Pittsburgh Pirates 

With Blake Cederlind on the 60-day IL with a UCL strain, Nick’s big opportunity Mears.

Sorry.

Mears is looking good this spring after dominating his way up the chain. He got just five innings in 2020 after skipping AAA but figures to find a spot somewhere near the back of this bullpen, awaiting for the departure of underrated closer Richard Rodriguez. Mears has plenty of stuff (big fastball, sharp curve) to claim a steady role in a shallow bullpen if he can keep repeating his delivery. 

Thanks for reading!

I’m @theprospectitch on Twitter.

24 Comments
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What's a Drexl?
What's a Drexl?
1 year ago

so w.diaz over bracho (i know rankings, it’s 45th vs 63rd)

Mark Maharaj
Mark Maharaj
1 year ago

Fantasy league with holds and k per 9 added, in 7×7 h2h league.

Which 2 would you keep Devin William’s or Pablo Lopez, or Jose Urquidy?

i don't want to brag but i have irritable bowel syndrome
i don't want to brag but i have irritable bowel syndrome
1 year ago

got a guy in OPS/hits/total bases added h2h keep 9 (5 hitters but they have to come from different positions each, except OF which can be 2 max of those (espn eligibilities here). DH counts as a position. have goldy, somebody is trying to trade me rizzo, go with which? here i’m keeping otani as pitcher and get both.

dill
dill
1 year ago

Love the work Itch. I am now looking for your posts as much as Grey’s.
Do you plan on doing a top 200 prospects this year ?
Thanks !

Kcc26
Kcc26
1 year ago

Nice. Had been eyeing Heuer as an endgame $1 add. This post got me all the way there!

I’m trying to decide what to do in my keeper. We can keep forever but only 6 players. It’s a snake draft so the cost is a specific round (avg of previous years draft round and current year ADP). Considering:

Darvish (2)
Story (3)
Woodruff (4)
Acuña (5)
Albies (7)
Alonso (10)
Arozarena (15)
Kelenic (21)

Part of me wants to attack the relative scarcity of aces (pitching goes really fast in this league!), but I’m really tempted to hold Kelenic with indications that he could be up relatively soon. Feels pretty unpredictable though especially with the injury.

Thoughts on which 6? Thanks!

Kcc26
Kcc26
Reply to  The Itch
1 year ago

Thanks for the response! Yeah I don’t love the value on the pitchers. But so many get kept and the ones that don’t get drafted quickly. As it stands currently, looks like Nola, scherzer and Kershaw are going to be available but will likely go before my 12th overall pick. Same is true of darvish if I throw him back. Might be able to re-draft woodruff there but then he’d be my ace and I don’t pick again until 4 and 6. Probably looking at guys going like Berrios, Wheeler, Morton, Paddack there given the keepers. Oy vey

Chris
Chris
1 year ago

Good morning.

I know a lot depends on the draft, but in a 14 league team which rounds do you start considering drafting RP (with saves and holds)?.

Also:
For a 7 keeper league with 14 teams.
I don’t have a 1st round pick (which is actually a 8th round).
H2h league, obp
No mi and no ci but 2 útil.

I have set:

Scherzer
Alonso
Story
Merrifield
Blackmon
Tucker

For the 7th keeper, should I keep Maeda or JD Martínez?

Thanks,
Chris

Smitty
Reply to  The Itch
1 year ago

Maton is a guy that I’ve liked after he caught my eye in SD. Love his late explosive stuff and his easy delivery. Cleveland BP is crowded, where he will serve as a middle man / setup guy but definitely like his potential. Stay tuned, thanks Itch

toolshed
toolshed
1 year ago

I have one more. Leody taveras has really struggled in spring and now may be hitting 9th. His glove should keep him in the lineup, do you buy the power surge he showed last year? He was graded at 50 but didn’t show any in the minors. His k% should go down, but do you think he has pop in that bat to hit 15 hr now? He made a big jump last year so not really knowing what to expect. I play in an obp league so I am not sure about him. He had a decent walk rate but if he hits .200 it won’t matter. Thanks

Harley Earl
Harley Earl
1 year ago

Hey Itch,

Not really a prospect question, but more of a bullpen in general question since that’s the topic you’re tackling today.

Does Stefan Crichton carry much value? I’ve seen where the Diamondbacks said they expect him to get some saves this year. But does that mean he shares the closer role with Soria, whom they’ll clearly try to flip at the deadline? And wouldn’t they just love to flip Crichton as well for that matter? Seems like Crichton might be good for saves for three months, then he’s good for nothing the rest of the way.

I also don’t see anything special or dominant about Crichton. I’m thinking about cutting him loose and wanted to see what you had to say about him. There’s a couple of hitters and relievers I’m considering. I just don’t have a good feeling about Crichton moving forward. What do you think?

Harley Earl
Harley Earl
Reply to  The Itch
1 year ago

Interesting take. I just don’t know what to do about him. Do you like Codi Heuer better? I like Heuer a lot.

Member Berries
Member Berries
1 year ago

How dare you make relief pitching so attractive!

For shame!

(Great stuff, though)

toolshed
toolshed
1 year ago

I also wanted to get your take on trevor rogers. Are you buying him? Does he start in the rotation? Thanks

tyler
tyler
Reply to  The Itch
1 year ago

So you are in on him, but not top 25 in on him?

toolshed
toolshed
1 year ago

So with the hernandez injury, it looks like leclerc is the front runner for closer. Leclerc hasn’t been good. The hernadez ucl sprain is considered low grade and he is supposed to not throw for 4 weeks. Anything with ucl is bad I guess, but would you draft him if he you had dl spots to play with? I also was intrigued by joely rodriguez but he is a lefty and they generally are not first option to close. I am looking for speculative closers in a dynasty format and the tex situation seems very much up for grabs . Clase also is interesting to me but his k rate has been low. Maybe there is upside for k since cle seems to find a way to get more out of some guys. Thanks

toolshed
toolshed
Reply to  The Itch
1 year ago

Thanks Itch. I have to say that you have helped me a lot in reshaping my dynasty team. I appreciate your excellent work.