Who’s the Next San Diego Padres Closer?
The Padres are headed for another ugly season, highlighted by the recent firing of GM Josh Byrnes. They currently sit 12 games back of the Giants, have one of the worst run differentials in the league (-58), and no way of making the playoffs. The Friars will be sellers at the trade deadline, so who will be the next San Diego Padres closer?
The front office is fielding calls for incumbent Huston Street and setup man Joaquin Benoit. Street has had a great first half, posting a 24% increase in strikeout rate and a 30% increase in ground ball percentage. While the veteran closer’s 99% strand rate and .200 BABIP are unsustainable, his 2.63 FIP and 254 career saves make him a valuable trade chip. He will bring stability and credibility to the ninth inning for contenders like Anaheim (who just traded Ernesto Frieri) or Baltimore. Given his reasonable $7mm contract (and $7mm team option in 2015), Street will net a solid return for the Padres. When Street is traded, though, who will fill the void in San Diego?
San Diego Padres Closer: Future Options
Joaquin Benoit, RHP, age 36
If Huston Street is enjoying a resurgence, Benoit is having arguably his best year as a pro. The former closer’s K/9 rate is up 7% and his walks per nine are down 33%. Additionally he’s posted the best FIP of his career (1.84), and best xFIP (2.81) since 2010. The 36-year old still throws one of the best whiff-inducing splitters in the league, and he’s under contract through 2015 with an $8mm team option. While Benoit has the stuff to close in San Diego, the Padres would be wise to shop him, clear salary and fill holes in their roster with young talent.
Kevin Quackenbush, RHP, age 25
An 8th round pick in the 2011 amateur draft, Quackenbush is a 6’4″, 220 lb. right-hander with a four-pitch repertoire (FB/CU/CH/SL). While the University of Southern Florida alum has thrown relatively few sliders, it’s been an effective whiff-inducing pitch (85%). Additionally his curve ball is an elite ground-ball producer. A relatively unknown commodity, the young righty’s minor-league numbers have been impressive. The strikeout rate hasn’t translated in the majors yet, but if he can continue to do this he won’t be long for high-leverage situations.(Video Courtesy of MLB.com)
Alex Torres, LHP, age 26
While lefties aren’t traditionally closers, Aroldis Chapman, Glen Perkins and Sean Doolittle have proved doubters wrong. Torres’ splits are almost identical versus righties and lefties, and his changeup has garnered a top-5 whiff/swing and top 15 ground ball rates (min. 50 IP).
IP AVG OBP SLG wOBA vs L 39.2 0.181 0.288 0.211 0.241 vs R 58.1 0.179 0.288 0.260 0.252
Jeff Reese noted command issues and difficulty repeating his delivery while he was still with the Rays in 2012. A career 4.13 BB/9 and a 39% increase in BB/9 this season doesn’t help his case to close, and at 26 there’s little room for growth. However if he can refine the command, he has the stuff to become the next San Diego Padres closer.
Casey Kelly, RHP, age 24
Mike Newman scouted Kelly in 2009 and was impressed:
Kelly was…the best prospect I’ve had the opportunity to watch this season. His polish and repertoire were extremely rare for a player in the SAL. At this point, he does not project as a true ace due to an average fastball, but he could move very quickly and settle in as a number two or three starter.
Newman noted that the fastball would add velocity with maturation, given his free and easy delivery. At the same time, he felt Kelly’s changeup would be more effective with slightly lower velocity. Jeff Reese saw a possible #2 starter before an elbow injury sidelined him in 2013.
Kelly has more value to the Padres as a starter now, and a move to the bullpen is not imminent. However the Padres have a number of future rotation options (e.g., Robbie Erlin, Joe Weiland, Matt Wisler, Corey Luebke), and will have need for a closer. As a converted shortstop with a career high 142 IP in 2011, a move to the bullpen would help protect the former top-100 prospect from further injury. Combine better fastball/changeup velocity as a reliever with a wipe out curve, and the Padres have the makings of a future elite closer.
Jesse Hahn, RHP, age 24Despite the strong start in 2014 (22 IP), Hahn has never thrown more than 67 innings as a pro. As a senior at Virginia Tech, the young righty pitched 40 innings posting a record of 5-1 with 65:6 K/BB ratio. He then missed the entire 2011 season after Tommy John surgery. The former Rays prospect has a fastball/sinker/curve arsenal, the later of which is his most effective strikeout pitch. Considering the lack of durability thus far in his career, Hahn’s ultimately destined for a bullpen role.
ROTOscouting continues to monitor depth charts to find future ninth-inning talent before the competition. It’s time to sell high on Street and Benoit, as their numbers have nowhere to go but down. Meanwhile Quackenbush, Torres and Hahn are watch-list material. Kelly should be targeted in trades, and I recommended grabbing him back in April as a starter. However with the imminent return of Andrew Cashner–whose durability concerns suggest a future bullpen role is possible–and Erlin, the rotation will be set and there will be need for a new San Diego Padres closer.
PREDICTION: With almost no closer experience past Street and Benoit, it’ll be open season for the youngsters in San Diego. Casey Kelly is the long-term play, with the arsenal and pedigree to take the job and run with it.
30 Jun 2014 / Joseph Pytleski / 6