Spring training has always provided an opportunity for teams to sort out their top performers at every position. Without fail, the most compelling of these competition is the volatile race to secure the role of team closer.
The bullpen has seen a role of increasing importance in recent years. Its use in high leverage playoff situations has been a major factor and the hallmark of successful World Series managers. This trend continues to develop with the advent of the long reliever and setup-man roles. Managers will inevitably continue to experiment with their late inning strategy, but the decision on who holds the ball with the game on the line, remains one of the most critical.
This topic was approached briefly in the Spring Training Fever article addressing the compelling Rockies closer situation. Today, The Game Haus takes a deeper look at the battle for the bullpen taking place around the MLB.
Los Angeles Angels
Up until last year, the Angels received respectable production out of veteran closer Huston Street. Arriving in 2014, Street managed to post 40 saves a season until 2016 saw a 6.45 ERA and nine saves. Looking to bounce back Street will compete with Cam Bedrosian and Andrew Bailey for the closer role this spring.
Cam Bedrosian will be coming off his own injury but appears next in line to challenge for the position. At only 25, Bedrosian appears to have both the skillset and the supporting statistics to be a serious contender.
Sporting a 1.12 ERA, 1.091 WHIP with 40.1 innings pitched provides the Angels with an excellent second option. It would be no surprise if manager Mike Scioscia opts for the veteran, but whomever ends up will the role will be challenged to earn it this Spring.
There has been no short list of successful closers that have spent some time with the Brewers. Unfortunately for Milwaukee, none of those closers remain.
The one bright spot has been the recent free agent acquisition of Neftali Feliz. Feliz had two outstanding seasons starting back in 2010 but after undergoing Tommy John surgery hasn’t shown the same dominance. Feliz will look to reclaim some of that excellence in 2017, but will contend with Corey Knebel during camp.
Knebel is a wild card after sustaining an injury early last season and missing on a few save opportunities. That said, given his youth and the opportunity at a healthy off-season Knebel should begin spring training ready to compete. Brewers manager Craig Counsell has left the door open for all contenders at this time, but safe money will be for the veteran Feliz to come out on top.
The Reds seem to have a knack for collecting bullpen arms. Since the departure of Aroldis Chapman, there haven’t been many save opportunities in Cincinnati, and the Reds’ bullpen has struggled.
However, with the development of a few young arms, Cincinnati may be poised for a bullpen renaissance. The three names in the mix in 2017 are Raisel Iglesias, Drew Storen and Michael Lorenzen.
Raisel Iglesias finished the 2016 getting most of the save opportunities after Tony Cingrani struggled down the stretch. Iglesias posted a very respectable 2.53 ERA with six saves and appears to be the main contender against Drew Storen.
Storen had a busy 2016 bouncing between Washington, Toronto and Seattle ending that campaign with a woeful 5.23 ERA. Consensus is that Storen is the favorite heading into camp, but will need a strong Spring to secure the position.
Finally, Michael Lorenzen also appears to be a very promising long-term option. Lorenzen has pitched sparingly up to this point but appears to be the Reds developmental hope and will also contend. Overall the Reds have a few solid options heading into 2017, the question for Cincinnati is how many saves situations will their bullpen actually have a chance at?