It’s never too early to prepare for your draft, and some of us draft fiends are already setting our draft dates for 2017. The hot stove league is still developing, but it’s still a fun time to look toward the 2017 fantasy baseball season.
For the third year in a row, I’ll be breaking down category sleepers at each of the 5x5 roto categories. So far we’ve looked at batting average, WHIP, home run, strikeout, ERA, and stolen bases sleepers. In the seventh installment of the series we’ll be reviewing pitchers who could be sleepers for saves. Over 10 weeks, I will be providing a list of sleepers for each 5x5 roto category (BA, HR, RBI, R, SB, W, ERA, WHIP, K, SV). After looking at categories that were more based on player skill over the first five weeks, we shift to categories that are more dependent on opportunity, supporting cast, and batting order spot.
Before reading any further, it’s important to note the definition of a sleeper. In this case, it’s a player who will exceed draft day ADP AND projections in a particular category. The players are broken down by mixed league sleepers and single league sleepers.
Saves are one of the most frustrating categories for fantasy owners because we are at the mercy of major league managers. Much of the fun in fantasy preparation is forecasting based on indicators, talent, and predictable skill, yet saves are just as much about opportunity and being in the right place at the right time.
Below is a rundown of the obvious saves sleepers heading into 2017 – mostly pitchers with a history of closing and at least a fair probability of getting a significant opportunity to close at some point this season. Also, there are a few less obvious picks to keep an eye on. Despite our best efforts to predict, there will surely be a few new closers crowned in 2017 that no one expected. That makes the strategy of dumping saves seem that much more attractive.
The Obvious (Mixed League Worthy)
Cam Bedrosian, RP, Angels
After struggling during his first two major league seasons, Bedrosian rounded into an outstanding reliever for the Angels last season. The son of 1987 NL Cy Young winner Steve Bedrosian, Cam finally started to solve his control issues, lowering his BB/9 by two walks to 3.1 and also posting a dominant 1.12 ERA. Bedrosian also showed an uptick in velocity, and threw his nasty slider nearly one-third of the time, a slight increase from 2015.
Bedrosian likely would have seen save opportunities late in the season while Huston Street was injured, if not for a blood clot in his throwing arm that kept him sidelined for nearly the last two months. Street is set to return in 2017, but not necessarily as the closer. Manager Mike Scioscia said that Street, Bedrosian, and Andrew Bailey will compete for the closer job in spring training. Based on last season’s results, Bedrosian is the clear frontrunner, though Street might deserve a pass after trying to compete through a knee injury when he was on the mound last season. Even so, the corrected control and dominant performance from Bedrosian last season shows huge upside for 2017.
Carter Capps, RP, Padres
Capps makes his second consecutive appearance on this list. He was expected to compete with A.J. Ramos for the closer job in spring training for Miami last season, but another arm injury, this time Tommy John surgery, doomed him in the competition. Prior to the injury, Capps performed as an elite reliever in 2015 with a 1.16 ERA, 16.8 K/9, and average fastball of better than 98 mph in 31 innings.
Capps was quietly shipped to the San Diego in the Andrew Cashner trade, which could be a coup for the Padres. After having surgery last March, it’s possible that Capps will be ready for Opening Day. While Brandon Maurer took hold of San Diego’s closer job late last season, he was far from perfect in the role and had a 4.52 ERA out of the bullpen for the year. Staying healthy has been a major issue for Capps, but he’s well worth stashing if he doesn’t have any setbacks in spring training.
Addison Reed, RP, Mets
Reed has been incredible since being traded to the Mets in late August, 2015, with a sub-2.00 ERA in Queens. Last season he was arguably the team’s most valuable reliever, making 80 appearances with pinpoint control (1.5 BB/9) and a 10.5 K/9 to go along with his 1.97 ERA in 77.2 innings. He’s obviously taken well to the setup role in New York. As we know, Reed also has significant closing experience with 106 saves since 2012.
Mets closer Jeurys Familia has been outstanding on the mound, but he’s expected to receive a suspension of at least 30 games, according to the New York Daily News, after an alleged offseason domestic violence incident. Reed is the obvious next man up, but the question is whether Reed could retain the closer role when Familia returns? If Reed pitches as well as he did last season, we certainly can’t rule out the possibility. It’s also worth noting that under similar circumstances, Jose Reyes was suspended for 51 games by MLB last season. Reed should be drafted in all leagues, and given his skills, ranking him among the top 20 closers isn’t crazy.
Drew Storen, RP, Reds
Storen signed a one-year, $3 million deal with the Reds earlier this week, immediately becoming the most experienced closer in the Reds pen. He lost the closer role in Washington late in 2015 when the team acquired Jonathan Papelbon, then faltered as a setup man last season in Toronto, with a 5.23 ERA and 1.6 HR/9 in 33.1 innings. The good news is that Storen pitched much better late in the year with Seattle (3.44 ERA, 5.33 K/BB) in 18.1 innings. The bad news is that his decline wasn’t just in the numbers but also a velocity problem, losing more than two mph on his fastball compared to 2015.
Despite the velocity issues, Storen is intriguing now just heading into his age 29 season with 98 career saves. The Reds said even more adding Storen that they’d have an open competition for closer between Raisel Iglesias, Tony Cingrani, and Michael Lorenzen. That’s a lot of arms for Storen to jump, but his experience in the role could be all he needs to get the nod if he’s effective in spring training. Granted, that’s not a sure thing with the loss in velocity, but considering Tony Cingrani’s struggles to throw strikes and the recent injury issues for Iglesias and Lorenzen, Storen is a major competitor.
Brad Ziegler, RP, Marlins
Striking out on their attempt to acquire Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen, the Marlins signed both Ziegler and Junichi Tazawa to create a super bullpen that will hopefully compensate for their lack of quality starting pitching. Ziegler’s skillset is no mystery. The submarine right-hander is one of the most extreme groundball pitchers in baseball, and has a career 2.44 ERA along with 52 saves over the last two seasons. He’s far from the prototypical closer, pitching to contact and recording a career-high K/9 of just 7.7 last season, but he has gotten the job done.
Ziegler will likely enter the season as A.J. Ramos’ setup man. Ramos is a pitcher who better fits the closer prototype because of his offspeed stuff and high strikeout rates. He has a sub-3.00 ERA over each of the last two seasons serving as Miami’s closer, but his control issues returned last season with a poor 4.9 BB/9. That’s just above his career average, and could make the Marlins and fantasy owners nervous when he’s not missing bats, as was the case last August when he allowed seven earned runs in 7.2 innings. Ramos’ ERA metrics haven’t exactly been spectacular as a result of the walks (3.94 SIERA in 2016), so there could be reason to be nervous and invest in Ziegler.
The Less Obvious (Single League Worthy)
D.J. Baxendale, RP, Twins
A former 10th round pick out of Arkansas, Baxendale has served mostly as a starter in the minors until his promotion to Triple-A Rochester last season. While he’s actually been effective as a starter, he was terrific following his promotion with a 1.29 ERA and 10.3 K/9 in 35 innings in relief. Baxendale has been a control pitcher during his pro career without much fastball velocity, but his uptick in strikeouts as a reliever is a very good sign.
He doesn’t fit the closer prototype with his velocity, but the competition for the rebuilding Twins isn’t exactly fierce. Groundball pitcher Brandon Kintzler, with a low-90’s fastball and extreme groundball rate, is the current option, and no other reliever currently on the roster had an ERA below 3.00 last season. Former closer Glen Perkins could also return this year, but after major shoulder surgery, he can’t be counted on. Baxendale is another name to add to the list in what currently looks like a very shaky pen.
Zack Burdi, RP, White Sox
It’s rebuilding time on the South Side of Chicago, and that means opportunities for young players. The White Sox haven’t moved any bullpen pieces yet this offseason, but closer David Robertson and setup man Nate Jones have been mentioned in rumors. We’re still about three months from Opening Day, giving the White Sox plenty of time to collect more young assets for their top major league players.
If the White Sox do decide to sell their top bullpen pieces, Zack Burdi is a name that could be valuable for fantasy owners. The 26th overall pick in last year’s draft out of Louisville, Burdi spent the last two seasons as a closer and made 26 pro relief appearances after signing with the White Sox. He really struggled with his control between four levels (4.7 BB/9) but also had a dominant 12.1 K/9 and 3.32 ERA in 38 innings. This isn’t the first time in recent years the White Sox have pushed a recently drafted college closer quickly through the minors (see Addison Reed), and Burdi’s nine appearances at Triple-A last season shows just how optimistic that organization is already. Burdi’s velocity hits triple digits, and he reportedly hit 104 mph on the radar gun last season. Despite the poor control, it wouldn’t be a shock if Burdi gets a chance to finish games at Guaranteed Rate Field before the season ends.
Rafael De Paula, RP, Padres
We’ve already discussed Brandon Maurer’s issues above, which could pave the way for other relievers in the Padres bullpen. One of those is former Yankees top starting prospect De Paula, who moved to the bullpen full-time between Double- and Triple-A last season. De Paula has always had very favorable strikeout rates, and that continued into the pen last season with a 12.2 K/9 to go along with his fair 3.1 BB/9 rate. Moving to the pen did help De Paula keep the ball in the park and post a 2.66 ERA, though he was also older that much of his competition at age 25. Bringing mid-90’s velocity, De Paula should still have a bright future despite his age, and it would be surprising if he didn’t get a long look in spring training. The strikeout rate gives him upside to finish games, so he’s a name to stash away.