"There's no such thing as a pitching prospect," is a decade-old saying in the sabermetric community meant to indicate, and slightly exaggerate, the volatility of minor league pitching performances, the frequency of pitching injuries, and the extreme risk involved in projecting any young arm for success in the major leagues. While it may not be entirely true that there is "no such thing" as a pitching prospect, it is almost completely true when it comes to closers.
There really is no such thing as a closer prospect. Just look at my list ranking the top closers in the game. Three of the top four (
The A's seemed to discover a new source of closing talent when they drafted University of Texas closer
Because minor league closers so rarely become major league closers, it's difficult to identify the next superstar at the position before he emerges either seemingly out of the ether, like Soria or K-Rod, or by shedding the skin of failed starter, like Rivera, Nathan, or Jenks. That said, there are a few compelling closers in waiting on major league rosters right now. The most obvious is
In the minors, there are two pitchers who stand out as potential star closers. Distressingly for the rest of the American League, one belongs to the Red Sox, giving them an embarrassment of riches at the position. The Sox drafted Texan righty
As for where the other future closers might come from, look no further than the top starting prospects in the game, as relief stints by
Closers could emerge from the All-Star scrap heap.
Closers are an odd group. Despite the old stereotype of fire-breathing, mustachioed madmen stomping about on the mound, most closers today are made, not bred, and they're typically made at the major league level. Much like Mariano Rivera in 1995, the next great closer may actually have been the otherwise unimpressive spot-starter or middle reliever you watched pitch last night. I hope you were paying attention.