There are pretty simple qualifications for a relief pitcher to be . Any closer-in-waiting with a power arm could logistically fit the bill. Here are three pitchers who could see their relief role and, in turn, their fantasy value elevate this season.
Jordan Hicks, St. Louis Cardinals
Hicks was the Cardinals closer in 2019, when he nailed down 14 of 15 opportunities, struck out 31 batters in 28.2 innings and finished with a 3.14 earned run average. That season, however, was cut short when he had to undergo Tommy John surgery. Then Hicks outed out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19 concerns. He’s back now and healthy. Giovanny Gallegos and Alex Reyes will pose competition for saves, but Hicks has proven himself successful in that role before, and he will likely re-gain it if he’s still throwing 101 mph average with a 60-65% ground-ball rate as he was doing prior to his elbow reconstruction. His draft stock might shoot up with an impressive camp, but for those owners drafting now, he is still being found in the late rounds of many leagues. It helps that the Cardinals look like the class of the NL Central right now.
Joakim Soria, Arizona Diamondbacks
Soria’s placement here has as much to do with his surroundings as it does with his own talent. The 36-year-old has been a closer for the majority of his 14-year career, and he’ll do the same for the D-Backs, who signed him in early February. He was solid enough for the Athletics in 2020 — 24 Ks in 22.1 innings with a 2.82 earned run average. He will never be overwhelming, but he is going to get a long leash in Arizona, where the bullpen is a glaring weakness. There just isn’t anyone who can clearly compete with Soria right now. There will be outings when Soria hurts your ERA and WHIP, but saves are largely the name of the game in fantasy, and he should receive as many ninth-inning chances as he can handle. Still, because he isn’t a flashy commodity, he will be available in the later rounds of many drafts. And let’s not act as if Soria is washed up; he’s still good to average more than a K per inning.
Josh Staumont, Kansas City Royals
Soria is worth grabbing for the role; Staumont is worth grabbing for the skills. He is someone who will likely go undrafted barring a sudden change in the Royals’ bullpen hierarchy this March. But it’s worth bookmarking Staumont’s name because, with so many uncertain ninth-inning situations, it’s sometimes better to grab an elite reliever who is next in line instead of paying for the opening-day closer.
You might not have noticed during the shortened 2020 season, but Staumont was pretty dominant for the hapless Royals. He struck out nearly 13 batters per nine innings and finished with a 2.45 ERA. That ERA is a little misleading since Staumont walked 16 men in 25.2 innings and his FIP was more than a run higher. Nonetheless, he can baffle the competition with his 98-mph fastball and low-80s curve. With a little bit more control, he should establish himself as the best ninth-inning option in KC. Greg Holland has that gig right now and although he was great in 2020, the 35-year-old posted an ERA above 4.50 in each of the two seasons prior. Staumont will still help your ratios and give you Ks while he’s in middle relief.