Fantasy Baseball draft prep: Bullpen arms to target

Over his last 109 1/3 innings, <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/mlb/players/8439/" data-ylk="slk:Shawn Kelley">Shawn Kelley</a> has struck out 143 batters. (Getty Images)
Over his last 109 1/3 innings, Shawn Kelley has struck out 143 batters. (Getty Images)

With spring training underway, it can mean only one thing: your fantasy baseball draft is just around the corner. With that in mind, the Yahoo Fantasy Baseball collective offer up some bullpen arms to target, or at least add to your Watch List:

Q. Which expected opening day closer are you most interested in based on his current ADP (average draft pick)?

Brandon Funston: KELVIN HERRERA. 27 years old. 97 mph average fastball. Career 2.63 ERA, 1.12 WHIP , .223 BAA and 9.1 K/9. And I can have all that for what is, on average, the No. 14 closer off the board in current Yahoo drafts? I don’t need to ask where I have to sign up, because I’ve already put pen to paper.

Dalton Del Don: KEN GILES. After a slow start to last season, Giles posted a 3.00 ERA and a 1.17 WHIP with a whopping 86 strikeouts over 54.0 innings. That’s good for a 14.3 K/9 rate, which would’ve been higher than Aroldis Chapman’s (13.97) last year. Giles still needs to improve his control to be sure, but his 19.9 SwStr% was the second best among all relievers in baseball. His 2.86 FIP reveals an unlucky ERA (4.11), and his ADP is a modest 123.6 (12th reliever off the board). The Astros project to be one of the better teams in baseball, so plenty of save opportunities should be available as well.

Scott Pianowski:  Giles and Herrera are good answers; I landed both of those guys in a Thursday night draft. I’m also assuming the Nats will do the reasonable thing with SHAWN KELLEY (ADP: 205), who had the closer tint to him last year (zesty K/BB rate, 2.64 ERA, 0.90 WHIP). 

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Q. Which expected opening day set-up man do you expect to compile the most saves by season’s end?

Funston: MATT BUSH. An incredible sinker aside, Sam Dyson simply can’t match the closer profile of Bush, who throws harder (97 mph average fastball), fans more hitters (almost two more hitters per game last year than Dyson) and issues fewer free passes (almost one less per nine than Dyson last season). It’s easy to make an argument that Dyson’s ground-ball heavy profile might work best in high leverage spots in the 7th or 8th inning, leaving Bush to shut the door in the 9th. But even if that doesn’t happen, I expect Bush to merit employment in standard mixers as an elite set-up man.

Del Don:  NATE JONES. Andrew Miller is the safest answer here, but that feels like cheating, so give me Jones. He posted a 2.29 ERA and a 0.89 WHIP with an 80:15 K:BB ratio over 70.2 innings last season, but more importantly, David Robertson is one of the best candidates to be traded in MLB. Jones would almost certainly slide into the closer’s role when/if that happens and would have the upside to be a top-10 closer from that point forward. 

Pianowski: Again, I can easily nod in agreement with my colleagues; they’ve identified two speculative plays I’m interested in making. I’m also going to do some shopping behind A.J. Ramos in Miami, wondering if BRAD ZIEGLER’S guile or KYLE BARRACLOUGH’S wipeout stuff will eventually lead to a ninth-inning appointment. Ramos allowed too many baserunners last year. Oakland’s SEAN DOOLITTLE is another pet speculation of mine. 

Q. Which expected opening day minor league reliever has the best chance to make a Edwin Diaz-esque ascension to a closer role this season?

Funston:  FRANKIE MONTAS. Like Diaz, Oakland’s 23-year-old prospect  offers up a fastball that can touch triple digits and a power slider. Unlike Diaz’s situation, though, the A’s have yet been willing to let go of the idea of Montas being a starter. But Montas doesn’t have a reliable third pitch, and he’s had trouble maintaining his health, which lends support to the idea of a switch to the bullpen. And Oakland certainly doesn’t appear to have a long-term answer at closer among those expected to break camp in the team’s bullpen. 

Pianowski:  I tend to ignore minor-league relief prospects until they get into the majors and actually prove something, but we should at least have the name ZACK BURDI tucked on the clipboard somewhere. He was a first-round pick in last year’s draft, and had an interesting first trip around the minors (12.1 B/9, 4.7 BB/9). If the control comes around, we’ll see him on the South Side of Chicago fairly soon.

Del Don:  FELIPE RIVERO. This is a tough question. I’ll say Rivero, who was part of last year’s Mark Melancon deal. While he pitched for Pittsburgh after getting shipped over, that came with 18 walks over 27.1 innings, so there’s a chance he starts the year in the minors to work on his control. But Rivero has plenty of upside (that stretch also came with 39 strikeouts), and the Pirates don’t exactly have an established closer on their roster. 

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