Dynasty Rankings: Top 10 Relief Pitcher Prospects

It's time to bring the heat.

Relievers are often the most underappreciated position in fantasy. They throw less innings and have less impact on a team’s overall performance. But if you’re like me, finding the next RP stud is one of the most enjoyable aspects of playing dynasty baseball. There is just something rewarding about staking an early claim on a guy whom half your league mates have never heard of, and then watching that player blossom into the next Josh Hader.

Ranking relief prospects is tricky, though. So many are brought along as starting pitchers until very late in their development. To keep things simple, I did not count minor leaguers who were used primarily as starters in 2019. So, prospects like Bryan Mata, Hector Yan, Cristian Javier and Enoli Paredes weren’t considered, though they’re all great names to keep in mind for the future. If a player made their MLB debut in 2019, however, and was used as a reliever in the big leagues, I did consider them for the list.

Here are the top 10 relief pitching prospects for dynasty:

 

1. James Karinchak, RHP, CLE

 

Age: 24
Highest Level: MLB

Usually, we’re splitting hairs for the no. 1 spot on these lists. But that’s not the case here. James Karinchak is my clear-cut top RP prospect to own in dynasty. The dude simply misses a ton of bats. Like a historic amount of bats. Per MLB.com, his 59.2 K% and 21.96 K/9 last year were the highest marks in modern history in the minors (at least since 1963) for pitchers with at least 30 IP.

Even though traditional closers are becoming less prevalent in today’s game, Karinchak is one I see destined to pitch the 9th inning. He showcases two plus pitches. The fastball ranges from 95-99 mph, but it’s the vertical movement that makes it exceptionally hard to square up. He pairs it with a fantastic mid-80s curveball that has a beautiful downward break.

 

 

If there are any warts, it’s his control. He walked 13.6% of batters in the minors last year, though he issued only one free pass in 5.1 innings with the Indians. I’m not super concerned about the walks yet, but it’s something to keep an eye on as he enters his first full year in the bigs.

 

2. Brusdar Graterol, RHP, LAD

 

Age: 21
Highest Level: MLB

Brusdar Graterol became a hot topic this offseason when he was thrust into the Mookie Betts trade drama. Is he a starter? A reliever? Is he even healthy? While it took a while to sort out, it may be a blessing that Graterol ended up with the Dodgers. The club has done well developing young pitchers in recent years and L.A. could benefit from beefing up its bullpen.

And for fantasy, I am treating Graterol as a reliever. His repertoire, while electric, is tailor-made for shorter outings. He can hit 100 mph with both his sinker and 4-seam fastball, and the sinker especially was dominant (.125 avg. against) last year in a brief call-up with the Twins (9.2 IP).  His slider is also nasty and gives him another out pitch. He does have a changeup, but like a lot of starters who convert to relief, it became an afterthought in the pen, as he threw it just 2.1% of the time.

There are also concerns about the health of his shoulder. But Graterol was hitting 99 mph regularly in spring training, and by all accounts, he looks healthy now. So, I’m not factoring that in much with this ranking. Kenley Jansen is signed through 2021, but if he passes on the closer mantel before he leaves L.A., my money is on Graterol to take it.

 

3. Kevin Ginkel, RHP, ARZ

 

Age: 26
Highest Level: MLB

A bit of a late bloomer, Kevin Ginkel is the “oldest” player on the list at 26. After posting a strong 45.6 K% in the minors last year, Ginkel pitched 24.1 innings for the Diamondbacks down the stretch. He didn’t disappoint, recording a 1.48 ERA and 0.99 WHIP. His mid-90s fastball is complemented by a standout slider that generated a 21.3 SwStr% against big-league hitters in 2019.

What’s most telling, though, is the Diamondbacks weren’t afraid to use him in the 9th inning when closer Archie Bradley needed a day off in September. As a result, Ginkel notched two saves as a rookie, which bodes well for him getting late-inning work in the future. That being said, both Bradley and former closer Héctor Rondón are under contract through 2021, so I wouldn’t necessarily expect more saves right out of the gate.

 

 

4. Bryan Abreu, RHP, HOU

 

Age: 23
Highest Level: MLB

The Astros moved Bryan Abreu to the bullpen to close out 2019, and I’m on board for it. While he threw just 8.1 innings in the majors, Abreu looked like an overpowering, future closer in waiting. He struck out 13 and yielded zero barrels with Houston, and that’s after posting a 31.8 K% in the minors as a starter.

It’s true, the Astros could ask him to start games again. They toyed around with it this spring, as Abreu reportedly was in the running for the fifth starter’s role. I can see why, too. Abreu has a deep arsenal that includes three plus pitches. His curveball has been touted for years, and per Fangraphs, ranks in the top-5 in RPM (3000) among all minor leaguers. He also has a fastball that touches 97 mph and a slider to give him another chase pitch. He will throw a changeup as well, though he mostly scraped it as a reliever.

His control wasn’t great as a starter, though. At AA last year, he walked 14.2% of batters in just over 75 innings. This contributed to a bloated 5.05 ERA. Given that his changeup hasn’t developed like his other pitches, I do think he ends up in a late-inning role. Either way, Abreu has a special arm with a ton of Ks coming in the future.

 

5. Hunter Harvey, RHP, BAL

 

Age: 25
Highest Level: MLB

Please stay healthy. After battling arm injuries for years, Hunter Harvey transitioned to a reliever last year and earned a late-season call-up after seven years in the minors. The former 1st-round pick has a glorious 4-seam fastball that can touch 100 mph and has good vertical ride to it. He featured it heavily (70% usage) in his cup of coffee with the O’s last year in which he racked up 11 Ks in just 6.1 IP. His curveball and changeup give him two solid offspeed offerings, though I do wonder if he’s too reliant on the fastball and how that will play out over a larger sample size.

Given his injury history, I’m hesitant to put Harvey so high. But there is an opening for him to make real fantasy impact over the next few years. In March, O’s manager Brandon Hyde made it known that he viewed Harvey as a potential closer for the 2020 season. While saves are finicky by nature, if he’s going to be in the O’s pen and in the mix for saves right away, it does boost his value. He’s someone I’d take a shot on in the short term for saves and hope it turns into a longer run as a shutdown reliever.

 

6. Emmanuel Clase, RHP, CLE

 

Age: 22
Highest Level: MLB

Well, this is awkward. If I’d made this list in January, Emmanuel Clase would have been in contention for the top spot. But it feels like eons ago the Indians acquired the hard-throwing right-hander from the Rangers, as his stock has nosedived since coming to Cleveland. It started with a back strain in February that put Clase on the shelf for 8-12 weeks. Then while rehabbing in May, MLB suspended him for 80 games after testing positive for a PED.

I debated even including him on the list. He likely won’t play at all in 2020 and being popped for a banned substance doesn’t bode well for his decision making and character moving forward. But we don’t know to what extent, if any, the banned substance played into his recent performance. Also, we’ve seen a slew of players make successful returns from drug suspensions in recent years.

So for fantasy purposes, I still view him as valuable piece. He can hit 100 mph regularly with good movement, and he showed in his brief debut last year that his cutter/slider combo is strong enough to get big-league hitters out. There’s added risk investing in him now, but his value may never be lower. I’d look to stash him and hope he returns at full strength in 2021.

 

7. Andrés Muñoz, RHP, SD

 

Age: 21
Highest Level: MLB

This was another tough one to rank. Andrés Muñoz made waves in 2019 when he debuted for the Padres at 20 years old throwing 102 mph gas. He put up a 30.9 K% in 23 innings last year with a fastball-slider approach that is straightforward but effective. In March, though, he underwent Tommy John surgery and is now expected to miss all of 2020 and a chunk of 2021 as well.

There’s always a bit of an unknown with pitchers coming back from TJ, so just assuming Muñoz will pick up right where he left off could be a mistake. But he’ll be just 22 next season, and it’s clear the Padres think highly of him, as they ushered him through the minors at a young age fairly quickly. I’m open to acquiring him in dynasty if the price is right, but a better time to trade for him might be in the fall when his owners are getting sick of seeing the red injury tag next to his name.

 

8. Sam Delaplane, RHP, SEA

 

Age: 25
Highest Level: AA

It could be argued Sam Delaplane was the best reliever in the minors in 2019. The former 23rd-round pick racked up 120 Ks in just 68.2 innings, and most impressively, was near unhittable after a mid-season promotion to AA (.107 BAA in 37 IP).  What really stands out, though, is his ability to miss bats while keeping the walks to a minimum. His 37.0 K-BB% last year was the highest mark of any pitcher in the minors with over 60 IP. Of all pitchers with at least 30 IP, only James Karinchak was better (45.6%).

The more I research Delaplane, the more I like him. His main weapon is a fantastic slider with sharp, late downward movement. He pairs it with mid-90s heat, which he does a good job throwing from the same arm slot to keep hitters guessing. Here’s a strikeout from the Arizona Fall League last year:

 

 

The fact the Mariners sent Delaplane to the AFL after a full year of work is telling. I think he’ll be up in 2020 if we get baseball, and could be thrown into a late-inning role in short order.

 

9. Demarcus Evans, RHP, TEX

 

Age: 23
Highest Level: AA

Demarcus Evans was the only pitcher in the minors last year to record 100 Ks in less than 65 IP. Across 60 innings split between High-A and AA, the righty gave up just six earned runs (0.90 ERA) while notching a 42.5 K%. His mid-90s fastball has earned 70 grades, and he compliments it with a wipeout curveball. He’s also a big presence on the mound at 6’4″, 270 pounds and has that ‘future closer’ tag written all over him.

His control needs work, as shown by his 16.6 BB%. But we’ve seen a bunch of late-inning arms have success in the majors with a similar approach as long as the stuff gets enough whiffs (see current Rangers’ closer Jose Leclerc). It’s very possible we see him up with the Rangers this year, though a more robust role is more likely to come in 2021.

 

10. Alex Vesia, LHP, MIA

 

Age: 24
Highest Level: AA

The only southpaw on the list, Alex Vesia is one of the best-kept secrets in the minors. He pitched across three levels in 2019, and struck out 100 batters with a 1.76 ERA and 0.95 WHIP in 66.2 IP. He had a strange split where at low-A he struggled with his control (12.6 BB%) and then after a promotion he flipped a switch and walked just two hitters in his final 35 innings. If you count the AFL and spring training, Vesia hasn’t allowed an earned run in his last 40 innings.

His fastball sits in the low-to-mid 90s but plays up thanks to some deception in his delivery. And his changeup looks like a difference-maker. The ball really drops off the table and gives him a weapon to attack right-handed batters. Trying to predict how saves will shake out in Miami is not a prudent venture. But if I’m in a deep dynasty league or one in which Holds matter, now is the time to grab Vesia before it’s too late.

Just missed: Junior Fernandez (STL), Peter Fairbanks (TB), Connor Brogdon (PHI), Isaac Mattson (BAL), Kodi Whitley (STL), Cody Stashak (MIN) and Tyler Zuber (KC).

Photo by Ric Tapia/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)

Nick Randall

Cardinals fan and writer living in Chicago. Enjoy 80s films but not so much 80s music. I also post about my adventures in fantasy baseball at Betteroffbaseball.com

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