Who will close? Or, at least, who will close most often?
Benoit an in-house solution
The hyped, possibly prohibitive favorite is Bruce Rondon, a 22-year-old fire-baller with precisely eight innings of experience ... at the Triple-A level. The right-hander's heat occasionally registers at triple-digit velocities, but his control has been sorely lacking for the past couple of years. He's the riskiest investment option, at least if he costs most, although the reward is potentially great. What happens in spring training will have a lot to do with how his draft stock is priced and whether it's a fair number.
For what it's worth, Stan Belinda, in his age-24 season, registered 16 saves for Leyland's 1991 Pittsburgh Pirates, one off the team lead, and he led them in 1992, with 18. He wasn't a rookie in '91, but three other relievers pitching with less than 50 innings of MLB experience led a Leyland clubhouse in saves: Dan Miceli (21, 1995), Francisco Cordova (12, 1996) and Matt Mantei (nine, 1998). All those hurlers were 24 in those respective years as well.
Last month, the Detroit Free Press ran a piece that recounted the success of rookie relievers as closers, suggesting that Rondon's ascent was a great possibility. The paper also printed some skeptical comments from ESPN's Keith Law, and fantasy owners would be wise to heed those words.
More sensible, and likely less costly, choices are Joaquin Benoit and Octavio Dotel, two righties with previous closing experience. The Tigers may be hesitant to trust the former because of his miserable post-break work, but he was pretty sharp in the postseason, minus one tough outing. The latter kills right-handed batters but puts it on a tee for the opposite side.
Southpaw Phil Coke is the other veteran presence with a bit of a leg up. In a committee arrangement, a pairing of his services and Dotel's would seem to make sense, and the numbers back that up. Darin Downs' presence enables Jim Leyland to use Coke in the ninth, if the skipper plans it that way.
Brayan Villarreal, Al Alburquerque and Luis Marte have the kind of stuff that might make them nightmares to face at the end of a game, too. It wouldn't be a surprise to see one of them siphon a few saves, although it would be unexpected if one them seized control of the job for a significant portion of the season.
History doesn't appear to be on Rondon's side, but he'll probably be worth at least a low-wage flier. Assuming that Benoit is in good health, he could be the less heralded but likelier reliever to tally the most saves for los Tigres, however. This situation could easily devolve into a mess, too, of course, so putting much effort into deciphering the lyrics is not the way to make a hit.
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About Nicholas Minnix
Minnix is baseball editor and a fantasy football analyst at KFFL. He plays in LABR and Tout Wars and won the FSWA Baseball Industry Insiders League in 2010.
The University of Delaware alum is a regular guest on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio and Baltimore's WNST AM 1570.
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