Welcome to the Fantasy Roundtable, where the Rotoworld Baseball staff will have a free-flowing discussion about a topic de jour. The back-and-forth between the five of us occurred via email, but we’ve repurposed it in an article for your enjoyment. Hopefully you’ll enjoy it, anyway.
Drew Silva: D.J., Christopher, and I discussed on last week's episode of the Rotoworld Baseball Podcast that we would need to handle the pitching element of this series a little differently than the position player editions. The idea we came up with was to each rank five starters -- a 2025 top starting "rotation" -- and then guess on a top 2025 closer for fun, writing out a little explainer at the bottom of our selections. I'll start with my contribution ...
Closer: Jordan Hicks
I admittedly went a little chalky with my starters, plucking a group of five that rank (er, ranked) among my top 20 options for the currently-suspended 2020 baseball season. Luzardo is on the lower end of that top 20 for 2020, but he has all the goods to be a future fantasy ace if his health cooperates. The 22-year-old left-hander returned from a shoulder scare last season to deliver a 1.20 ERA with 20 strikeouts over his first 15 major league innings, including his three shutout frames in the American League Wild Card Game. Buehler, Flaherty, Cole, and Bieber don't need much explaining. It hurt to leave Jacob deGrom out of the mix, but he'll be 36 years old -- going on 37 -- in 2025. Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander will presumably be retired.
Hicks could be fully recovered from Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery by the time live baseball returns and the 23-year-old flamethrower has some of the best raw stuff I've ever seen, beyond just the triple-digit fastball. He should be the long-term answer at closer for a Cardinals organization that has been competitive for 25 years running, with only brief interruptions.
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Christopher Crawford: Fun one. I'm going with ...
Closer: Brusdar Graterol
I'm also going chalk, and the only thing I have differently from Mr. Silva is the inclusion of deGrom. Bieber would probably be sixth or seventh on my list, but even in five years, I can't see deGrom not being one of the best fantasy options in baseball. Luzardo is probably the "riskiest," but as long as he stays healthy -- a big if for a pitcher, particularly one with injury history -- he's going to be awfully good. I suppose the question mark is the order, and I think Buehler will be that top starter by 2025 because of his ability to miss bats and locate.
As for closer, I'm going with the top relief prospect in baseball in Graterol; a hurler who can get into triple digits with his fastball and miss bats with his curveball. I also considered Edwin Diaz and James Karinchak, but ultimately, Graterol is the choice.
Closer: Emmanuel Clase
As we’ve seen with the likes of Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander, pitchers don’t follow the same aging curve as hitters. With that in mind, I’m not afraid of putting deGrom here despite him being 36 years old in 2025. Simply put, he’s on a Hall of Fame track with a 2.62 ERA through 171 starts in the majors, including back-to-back NL Cy Young Awards in 2019 and 2020.
The only new name in my list relative to Drew and Chris would be Paddack. I’m honestly a little surprised he hasn’t been mentioned yet since he checks all the boxes for what you want in a future ace. Heck, he’s already there. It’s just a matter of getting a bigger workload. I was very tempted to put another Padre, top prospect MacKenzie Gore, in the fifth spot, but Paddack is already thriving at the major league level. Still, it was tough.
Brusdar Graterol was also at the top of my list for future closers, so instead I’ll mention Emmanuel Clase. Acquired from the Rangers in the Corey Kluber deal, Clase was expected to fill a late-inning role for the Indians this year before going down in late February with a teres major muscle strain in his upper back. It’s concerning, but the potential is off the charts if he can avoid setbacks. The 22-year-old averaged 99.3 mph — yes, averaged — with his fastball in 21 appearances as a rookie last year.
Closer: Jordan Hicks
I worry that Chris is going to be kicked out of the Phi Beta Prospect fraternity by neglecting to include Gore. There's inherent risk in listing anyone here that hasn't thrown a pitch at the major league level, but Gore looks to be as safe a bet as they get to become an elite hurler and he just turned 21 a couple months ago. Obviously, in putting both Gore and Paddack in my top five, I'm expecting the top of the Padres' rotation to be awfully good for a while.
It certainly wouldn't surprise me if deGrom maintains his elite status in 2025, but he will have quite a bit of mileage on his arm at that point so I decided to leave him off. Luzardo was another tough cut. His shoulder issue last season served as a tiebreaker for me in selecting Gore over him. I also considered Mike Soroka, who is just 22 and already has an excellent full big league campaign under his belt. Obviously, the reason I ultimately didn't pick him is his lack of strikeout upside. I do think he'll improve in that regard and become an above-average bat-misser, but the lack of certainty in that area makes it difficult for him to crack the top five.
Picking the best closer five years from now is a fool's errand, but I think Hicks probably has the best odds to be the cream of the crop.
Crawford: I definitely thought about Gore, but it should be known that I think about Gore a lot. I also gave some thought to Nate Pearson, a prospect who was really impressing this spring before the COVID-19 shutdown and should be a part of the Toronto rotation before this season ends -- assuming it begins.
It's also interesting that Mr. Short picked Clase as his closer -- a very good pick -- but I almost went with his teammate: James Karinchak. I have Karinchak slightly ahead of Clase because of Karinchak's ability to locate, and he also has two elite pitches in his fastball and curve. Both are pitchers I can see handling the ninth inning, so I'll be curious to see how that plays out.
Closer: Edwin Diaz
I’m not quite with the consensus here, obviously.
Ohtani could be one more arm injury away from becoming a full-time hitter, but he’s one of the most talented pitchers in the world and he looked the part before getting hurt in 2018. He’ll be 30 in 2025 and perhaps a little past his prime as a hitter, and I do think it’ll eventually make sense to use him exclusively as a pitcher.
I thought Gore was a better prospect than Pearson a few months ago, but I’m no longer so sure after Pearson added even more velocity to his already exceptional fastball. Also, Pearson is 6’6” and 250 pounds, and while that hardly promises health, he does look built to last.
As for Diaz in the closer’s role… well, you all would have picked him a year ago, right? I’d say he’s still the best bet, given that there was no real decline in his stuff during his ugly 2019. He hasn’t had any durability issues, and he’ll be 31 in 2025. I certainly wouldn’t bet money on him being the No. 1 closer in 2025, but I’d say that 5-10% chance that he has is about the same as Hicks and ahead of everyone else.