Early Middle Relief Targets
I have spent an inordinate amount of time searching for relief options early this fantasy season. It’s a tedious exercise, predicated on assigning too much value to small samples and guessing about eventual roles. Sound like fun? I didn’t think so, but that’s why I’m here for you.
Yimi Garcia, Los Angeles Dodgers
If you’re just now learning about Yimi, it’s probably too late for a pickup but his performance warrants discussion anyhow. Through 9.2 innings, Garcia has struck out 16 and walked only three, while allowing one unearned run. He picked up his first save of the season on Friday and has quickly ascended to a ninth inning option. Garcia has a minor league track record of gaudy strikeout totals despite lacking overpowering stuff. He throws his fastball in the mid-90s but deception helps it play up. Garcia gets incredibly low and compact and his the ball explodes out of his side-winding arm as his delivery uncoils. He throws the fastball three quarters of the time but keeps hitters off balance with an improved slider that he adds or subtracts velocity to/from, as needed.
Kenley Jansen’s recovery from March foot surgery is progressing on schedule and he should be back in May. Garcia’s save opportunities will dry up with Jansen’s return but he should remain in a high leverage role throughout the season and can provide value even without the saves because of the strikeout potential, excellent ratios, and relatively high inning total, if his usage pattern holds.
Aaron Barrett, Washington Nationals
Barrett had a strong 40-inning major league debut in 2014, appearing in 50 games and striking out nearly eleven per nine innings while posting a 2.66 ERA and 1.30 WHIP, which was bloated by uncharacteristic control issues. So far in 2015, he has increased the strikeout rate to almost 13 per nine innings and has trimmed his walk rate from 11.5 percent to 6.9 percent, a number more in line with his minor league performance. Barrett throws a sinking fastball that sits around 95 and backs it up with a slider that he is throwing more than 40 percent of the time so far in 2015. That kind of slider usage will eventually put some money in Dr. Andrews’ pocket but for now, Barrett is pitching the eighth inning for Washington. Drew Storen is pitching well but his seat always seems unfairly warm. No matter what happens, Barrett will always have this epic victory over Brandon Barnes.
Cam Bedrosian, Los Angeles Angels
Bedrosian pitched at four levels in 2014, climbing to the majors all the way from High-A. He struck out more than a batter per nine innings at every stop, including almost 16 per nine innings in Double-A, where he spent the most time, and 9.31 per nine in the majors. Command is his bugaboo, evidenced by his 13 percent walk rate during the 19 inning stint in Anaheim. The former first rounder opened 2015 back in Triple-A and struck out 13 against zero walks in eight innings of work before being recalled last week. There’s no question about the pedigree or the raw stuff but Bedrosian’s path to a high leverage role in the major leagues is dependent on his ability to improve his command.
Carlos Contreras, Cincinnati Reds
Contreras was a somewhat highly regarded prospect in the Reds organization not that long ago, sneaking in to the back-end of some scouts’ top ten lists in 2014. That ranking was the result of a 2013 spent mostly in High-A that saw him successfully convert from a relief role to a starter. After battling back spasms early in 2014, the Reds pushed him back to the bullpen. Contreras made it to Cincinnati late in the summer and pitched 19 mostly uninspiring innings due to awful command and lack of an above-average secondary pitch. On the bright side, he did strike out nearly one batter per inning. Early in 2015, he’s piling up the strikeouts in Triple-A (15.12 per nine) and has trimmed his walk rate to 7.9 percent. You might have heard that Cincinnati has a pretty decent closer but the rest of their bullpen is poor. Assuming the Raisel Igleasis-as-starter experiment doesn’t fail, Contreras is a decent bet to eventually earn a setup role.
Cory Mazzoni, San Diego Padres
How about another converted starter on a team with an elite closer? The Mets’ second round pick in 2011 went to San Diego in exchange for Alex Torres and was promoted to the big league club last week, though hasn’t pitched yet. Mazzoni was dominant in Triple-A El Paso’s bullpen to open the year, striking out 13 in eight innings. His stuff should play well in relief; he uses a mid-90s sinking fastball and an average slider and splitter. He’ll likely be employed as the long man because of his history as a start and San Diego’s quality bullpen depth but could climb the ladder if the conversion continues to go smoothly and the high strikeout total sticks around.
Hansel Robles, New York Mets
Yet another converted starter, Robles got the call to Queens last week after a few good innings in Triple-A Vegas. As is true for many pitchers converting to relief, Robles’ fastball jumped up a few ticks and showed more run after the switch. He complements the fastball with a slider and changeup, each of which is presently average but lack enough velocity separation from the fastball to be consistently effective. He’s young and still learning his new job and I’m interested to see if he can get big league hitters out while developing his secondaries.