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2021 Fantasy Baseball: American League Closer Reports

High-stakes fantasy baseball guru Shawn Childs runs through each American League team's closer and top relief pitcher options
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AL EAST

Baltimore Orioles

The often-injured Hunter Harvey landed on the injured list in mid-March, which puts him on the sidelines until early June.

Tanner Scott looks to be the early favorite for saves for the Orioles despite questionable command. Scott allowed one run over 4.1 innings with three walks and six strikeouts.

In 2020, Baltimore gave the early save chances to Cole Sulser before he started to fade. He’s allowed two runs over five innings this spring with seven strikeouts.

The Orioles picked up Tyler Wells in this year’s Rule 5 draft after missing 2019 with TJ surgery and sitting out last season. Over three seasons in the minors, mainly as a starter, he posted a 2.82 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, and 288 strikeouts over 255.2 innings. Wells gave up one run over six innings in relief this spring with six strikeouts. He’s worked hard to get in better shape, giving him a chance to surprise in Baltimore’s bullpen.

READ MORE: National League Closer Reports

Boston Red Sox

The expected coin flip for saves in Boston earlier in the year is between Matt Barnes and newly acquired Adam Ottavino. Both players will walk many batters with a combined 34 saves on their major league resume.

Barnes has a rising HR/9 rate (1.6), and his command continues to move in the wrong direction. At age 30, his window to be a viable ninth-inning arm is closing. This spring, he allowed no runs over 4.1 innings with two walks and eight strikeouts.

Ottavino could be the lesser of two evils while being tougher to hit. I wouldn’t fight for either arm as a dark horse in the bullpen should emerge at some point in 2021. At age 35, I would temper my expectations.

Garrett Whitlock threw the ball well in the minors in 2018 and 2019 (2.28 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, and 182 strikeouts over 197 innings. His arm has stood out in spring training (1.00 ERA over nine innings with no walks and 12 strikeouts). He is also a Rule 5 addition in 2021. Whitlock had TJ surgery in 2019. His fastball sits in the mid-90s with sinking action while also offering a slider of value.

Tanner Houck pitched his way back to the minors after walking 10 batters over his 6.1 innings in March. He may play a role in Boston’s bullpen this season. His high 90s fastball has closing upside.

aroldis thumb

New York Yankees

Aroldis Chapman is the lockdown closer for the Yankees when he is healthy. He’s never had a difference-maker season in saves, and innings tend to fall below 60. Chapman added a split-finger fastball this year, which may be an impact pitch if he can get batters to swing at it when he is ahead in the count.

New York lost Zack Britton for a good portion of the season after suffering a left elbow injury early in March. He is expected to miss half of the season.

Tampa Bay Rays

Nick Anderson was the Rays' top reliever in 2020, but he did miss some time with a forearm issue. His arm projects well, but Tampa likes to rotate their relievers late in games. Anderson allowed one run over three innings in March with two strikeouts.

The first contender to unseat Anderson for saves is Diego Castillo. He can pitch late in games, but Castillo tends to walk too many batters with risk in home runs allowed at times. He's yet to give up a run in spring training over four innings.

Pete Fairbanks has a big fastball with some wildness. He has more bad than good on his career resume in the minors and majors.

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Tampa may turn to Shane McClanahan late in games after looking electric in spring training. He brings a triple-digit fastball with success in March (no runs over three innings with no walks and seven strikeouts). The Rays stated they still view him as a starter, which is why they already shipped him back to the minors.

Toronto Blue Jays

The news on Kirby Yates’ right arm didn’t sound promising, which is a significant blow to the Blue Jays’ bullpen. He stated that he expected to miss multiple weeks. Before the injury, Yates tossed two shutout innings with two strikeouts.

Jordan Romano looks poised to take over the ninth inning after pitching well in spring training (one run over five innings with 12 strikeouts). He is a former starter whose arm made a jump in value after a move to the bullpen.


AL CENTRAL

Chicago White Sox

Liam Hendriks signed in the offseason after showing growth over the last two seasons for the A’s. He tends to be one of the top two closers drafted in 2021.

The White Sox have two arms with elite upside developing in their bullpen. Codi Heuer hasn’t allowed a run or walk over seven innings in spring training with a dozen strikeouts. Garrett Crochet will earn his keep out of the bullpen while projecting as a starter down the road. He has a big left fastball with two runs allowed over six innings in March with six strikeouts.

MORE FROM SI: 2021 MLB Bold Predictions

Cleveland Baseball Team

The upside swing in the ninth inning for Cleveland is James Karinchak. He hasn’t been named the closer, but Karinchak continues to be drafted as though he has the job. Strikeouts will be elite while being tough to hit. His only huddle is throwing more strikes. In March, Karinchak allowed four runs over eight innings with six walks and 18 strikeouts.

Nick Wittgren has a sleeper feel for fantasy owners looking to beat the early draft selection of Karinchak. He’s yet to allow a run this spring with six strikeouts while owning a closing resume early in his minor league career.

Emmanuel Clase has a triple-digit fastball, but he didn’t pitch in 2020 due to a suspension. His minor league command grades well, but he still hasn’t found a winning swing and miss pitch to complement his fastball.

Detroit Tigers

Joe Jimenez has already pitched his way out of closing contention in March after allowing three runs and seven baserunners over 4.1 innings with five strikeouts.

Gregory Soto looks to have the best arm in Detroit to pitch late in games. He does battle walks, which is critical for him earning saves over the long haul. This March, Soto allowed one run over 4.2 innings with three walks and six strikeouts.

A flier in the bullpen may be Erasmo Ramirez, who pitched well in relief in spring training (one run over 11.2 innings with nine strikeouts). As a starter earlier in his career, he did battle balls leaving the yard.

Greg Holland

Kansas City Royals

The ninth inning for the Royals out of the gate belongs to Greg Holland. He regained his form last year while tossing five shutout innings in March with one walk and seven strikeouts. Holland has plenty of closing experience.

Minnesota Twins

The Twins' closing role in 2021 will be in the hands of Alex Colome and Taylor Rogers.

Colome has the longer resume in the ninth, but he doesn’t have a dominating strikeout arm. I expect him to get at least two-thirds of the save chances for Minnesota. His arm has looked shaky in March (five runs over 6.2 innings with eight strikeouts).

Rogers lost some of his luster in 2020, but he still has the better arm to pitch in the ninth. His rub comes from being a lefty, which may be more valuable for the Twins earlier in some games. He allowed two runs over 6.2 innings in spring training with nine strikeouts.


AL WEST

Oct 5, 2020; Los Angeles, California, USA; Houston Astros relief pitcher Ryan Pressly (55) in the ninth inning of game one of the 2020 ALDS against the Oakland Athletics at Dodger Stadium.

Houston Astros

Last year Ryan Pressly stumbled out of the gate before rounding into form late in the season. The closing job for the Astros is his to lose. Over two innings in spring training, he didn’t give up a run with four strikeouts.

Enoli Paredes has closing upside once he gains more experience and improves his command. Over his first four seasons in the minors, he posted a 2.41 ERA and 297 strikeouts over 235 innings.

Los Angeles Angels

Raisel Iglesias takes over the ninth inning for the Angels after an offseason trade with the Reds. He brings a stable skill set while still not reaching his ceiling. Over six innings in March, Iglesias allowed two runs with eight strikeouts.

Oakland A’s

After losing Liam Hendriks to the White Sox in the offseason, the A’s signed Trevor Rosenthal over the winter. He regained his command last year, leading a successful closing role for the Royals and Padres. In his only appearance in March, Rosenthal allowed a run over one innings with one strikeout.

Seattle Mariners

Rafael Montero has the “safe feel” as a closer this year despite having injury risk in his career. He flashed over the last two seasons in the Rangers’ bullpen while picking up eight saves in 2020. Montero came to the Mets as an upside starter, but he failed to live up to expectations. Over six games in March, Montero has a 6.00 ERA with six strikeouts over six innings.

Texas Rangers

Before the calendar switched to April, the Rangers already lost two relief arms to injuries. Jose Leclerc picked up a right elbow injury in the third late in March, pointing to many missed games and questions with his value in 2021.

Earlier in spring training, Jonathan Hernandez landed on the injured list with a right elbow issue.

Ian Kennedy didn’t pitch well in 2020, but he handled himself over the final four months in 2019 as the closer for the Royals. Kennedy hasn’t allowed a run or hit in spring training over four innings with four strikeouts. The closing job looks to be his until he trips up.

Matt Bush is also a dark horse after pitching well in March (no runs over four innings with six strikeouts).

READ MORE: National League Closer Reports