The draft prices for stable sources of saves have shot up in 2022 compared to the last couple of years. We should see those prices go down a little as free agents find homes and situations in places like Los Angeles (NL), San Diego, and Boston become more clear, but it’s becoming clear that the going price on good closers has increased quite a bit in 2022. That means that the ability to find sources of saves in the late rounds has become an essential part of building a winning roster. Here are three standard league sleepers and three deeper sleepers whose value could be realized late this year or sometime next year.
Drew Pomeranz/Pierce Johnson (SD)
2021 Stats (Pomeranz): 25.2 IP, 1.75 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 29 K%, 10 BB%
ADP: 630 (Includes Draft Champions and FAAB leagues since January 1st from NFBC)
2021 Stats (Johnson): 58.2 IP, 3.22 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 32 K%, 11 BB%
How likely is it that Craig Kimbrel gets traded to San Diego? If you think it’s anything less than likely, you should be jumping at the chance to pair Drew Pomeranz and Pierce Johnson to corner the market on a team that should be a decent source of saves. With Pomeranz expected to start the year on the IL as he continues to recover from a torn flexor tendon, Johnson is an obvious stopgap given his success over the past two seasons if the Padres stand pat in their bullpen. If you draft Johnson with one of your late-round picks, why not grab Pomeranz with your final pick and immediately IL him so you get two lottery tickets for the price of one? If Johnson excels and holds onto the role, congratulations, you’ve just got yourself a solid RP2 with the final pick of your draft, an increasingly difficult feat if this year’s early draft ADPs are any indication. If he struggles, drop him in May when Pomeranz comes back and you get to join Padres fans in performing whatever unholy rituals you can think of to keep Pomeranz healthy. As the draft stands right now, there aren’t any better opportunities at snagging saves with your final few picks. It may seem like a lot to use two picks on Padres relievers who haven’t been named the closer, but you basically get that pick back upon placing Pomeranz on the IL and can quickly adjust and add the hottest Spring Training breakouts if the Padres bring in a guy like Kimbrel. That flexibility is an underrated asset in the early season. It’s a low-risk, high-reward play that you can pass judgment on quickly and that’s exactly what you want to be looking for at the end of your drafts.
Lucas Sims (CIN)
2021 Stats : 47 IP, 4.40 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 39 K%, 9 BB%
Armed with two effective breaking balls and loads of untapped spin potential, Lucas Sims is already starting to climb up draft boards as the market for relievers gets more and more competitive. He’s currently the 24th RP off the board per NFBC, and I think he’s going to rise even higher up draft boards come March. His potential is sky-high with that already nasty K-rate, but his low spin efficiency numbers (55% on the curveball and 35% on the slider) hints at the potential for further improvement. He also got better as the year went on, finishing the year with 21 Ks and one walk on a 1.54 ERA in his final 11.2 innings hinting that he was possibly already starting to tap into that potential. If the job was clearly his, he’d be a surefire breakout pick that I would put in the top-15 of closers with the potential to crack the top-10 by season’s end. Unfortunately, the Reds are coming off a tumultuous year in their bullpen, where the team leader in saves got just 8. Total. For the whole season. It’s tough to put much trust in Sims given how he started last year or the Reds given how they used their bullpen. If you’re looking for an upside play with your RP2, though, this should be your guy.
Taylor Rogers (MIN)
2021 Stats : 40.1 IP, 3.35 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 35 K%, 5 BB%
Taylor Rogers’ current draft price reflects a concern that he will be moved midseason or even before the season starts. Without this concern, I think he’s a top-12 closer. He has been nothing short of a great pitcher over the last five years and is currently in a decent situation. The Twins might not be a winning team next year, but they’re a solid bet for 75 wins – plenty to provide a good closer an opportunity to hit 30 saves, as Rogers did in 2019. Even though Rogers had some injury problems last year, it was the first IL stint of his major league career, and he still put up solid numbers. It would be prudent to monitor the condition of his finger as we enter Spring Training, but I’m continuing under the assumption that his durability will win out. If we consider the entire body of work, we have a pretty durable closer who has been consistently above average over the past five seasons and who is pretty squarely first in line for saves on the team. Even if he gets traded at the deadline, I’ll take the solid production for the first two-thirds of the season, then I’ll see where I’m at (Admittedly, I play nearly exclusively roto, so this type of mindset might not seem as appealing to the H2H players out there). Given his past performance, his team context, and how draft prices for closers have been going this year, this is a guy who should be going 50 spots higher. That’s not even to mention the indications that Rogers is improving. His 12.8% swinging strike rate last year was a career-best, which propelled him to a career-best 35% strikeout rate. His career-high o-swing % (how often the batter swings at pitches out of the zone) and career-low z-contact % (how often the batter contacts pitches in the zone) hint at improving deception in his offerings, while his career-high first-strike % and consistently sub-5% walk rate indicate strong command for his pitches. There’s a lot to like about Rogers’ trajectory as a pitcher. You’re unlikely to find someone else with this combination of consistency, durability, and job security after pick 200, especially given the prices people are paying on closers so far this year. He’s currently the 20th RP off the board, but I’d be happy pairing him with a low-end RP1 like Jordan Romano or Giovanny Gallegos if I get priced out of the top tier of closers and want to spend that early draft capital somewhere else.
Dylan Coleman (KC)
2021 Stats (MiLB) : 57.2 IP, 3.28 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 40 K%, 10 BB%
2021 Stats (MLB): 6.1 IP, 1.42 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 28 K%, 4 BB%
Dylan Coleman saw a huge velocity rebound in 2021, sitting 96-100 mph throughout the season and averaging 98.2 mph on the 65 fastballs he threw in his cup of coffee at the end of the year. His slider also greatly improved giving him another tool to turn to when hitters geared up for his fastball. The combination of these two factors made 2021 a huge breakout for Coleman and he’s a near-lock to make the team in 2022. If he maintains this velocity improvement and stays consistent with his slider, he’ll quickly ascend to the third option in KC behind Scott Barlow and Josh Staumont. With Barlow inching closer and closer to free agency, Coleman may soon find himself in a dead heat with Staumont to be crowned closer of the future. Take a look at this slider and tell me who your money is on.
Andres Muñoz (SEA)
2021 Stats (MiLB) : 3.2 IP, 4.91 ERA, 0.55 WHIP, 54 K%, 8 BB%
2021 Stats (MLB): 0.2 IP, 0.00 ERA, 3.00 WHIP, 25 K%, 50 BB%
Injuries cost him most of 2 years, but Andres Muñoz is back. A highly touted prospect with an 80-grade fastball, Muñoz wasted no time in his brief return last year throwing four pitches 100+ mph in his lone appearance, including this one at 101.
He’s in a crowded Seattle bullpen with Paul Sewald, Drew Steckenrider, Diego Castillo, and Ken Giles all making valid claims for saves, but Muñoz is good enough to make a name for himself anyway. He’s also still very young (23 as of Jan 16th) and could easily outlast all of those guys on the team.
Jovani Moran (MIN)
2021 Stats (MiLB) : 67.1 IP, 2.41 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, 42 K%, 12 BB%
2021 Stats (MLB): 8 IP, 7.88 ERA, 2.00 WHIP, 26 K%, 18 BB%
This is not a name that you’ll see on many lists yet, but Jovani Moran had potentially the nastiest changeup in all of minor league baseball last year. While the performance didn’t immediately translate to MLB success in his short stint at the end of the year, there are at least a couple of nuggets that he can hopefully build on. First, his swinging strike rate in his eight short innings was 16.7%, on par with the best relievers in the league. Given a longer stay in the majors, I think we would have seen that K-rate climb over 30%. Second, his changeup was just as good as advertised. He threw it a total of 76 times and generated 19 swinging strikes (25%) and allowed just five balls in play. Only one of those batted balls went for a hit – a bunt single by Cam Gallagher. It’s a puny sample size, yes, but when you have one pitch that is that dominant, I tend to think it’s a good bet that they can find a way to leverage it. There are still lots of questions about Moran. Can he get righties out consistently enough? Can his fastball develop to an average pitch? However, he’s likely free in all but the deepest of dynasty leagues and has, in my mind, as good a chance to succeed Taylor Rogers as anyone, including Jorge Alcala. Tell me, how many people did this to Marcus Semien last year?
(Photo by John Jones/Icon Sportswire) adapted by Shawn Palmer (@Palmerguyboston on Twitter)
Why would Pagan not be at the top of the pecking order for saves in SD? Any problems that Pagan has are not remedied by those other two. Pierce Johnson has literally never done anything ever and Pomeranz is never healthy and left handed. I suspect that Pagan is the name to own. All three are the same speculative bet. I would not trust SD to commit to any of them in any scenario. SD is one of those orgs that does not prioritize winning or at least do a good job of helping themselves – like the Dodgers, they have a surplus of talent and they are pretty hell bent on squandering what they have as a sacrifice to the gods of progress. That never bodes well for bullpen roles.