These AL West arms will rack up saves soon
Whether the outs recorded in the last inning are more important than the outs recorded in any other part of the game is up for debate. But there is no denying the added pressure that comes with pitching while clinging to a small lead during the final inning. And it takes a special type reliever to deliver under those circumstances.
Some teams choose to take on the closer role by committee while others slot their best reliever to pitch in the highest leverage situations regardless of the inning. Many teams across the American League take the traditional route by picking a closer for the final inning and sticking with him all season.
These are the future closers in the AL West.
Angels: RHP Ty Buttrey
The Angels acquired Buttrey from the Red Sox for veteran second baseman Ian Kinsler at the 2018 Trade Deadline and Buttrey immediately emerged as one of the organization's best relievers. Armed with a fastball that averages 97 mph and two plus breaking pitches, Buttrey posted a 3.31 ERA with 20 strikeouts in 16 1/3 innings as a rookie in '18 before posting a 3.98 ERA and 84 strikeouts in 72 1/3 innings last season as the club's primary setup arm before Hansel Robles. Buttrey had an impressive first half with a 2.57 ERA heading into the All-Star break but faded a bit in the second half with a 5.93 ERA over his final 31 appearances. He remains under team control through the 2024 season, so there's plenty of time for him to continue to develop into a closer. Robles is under team control through 2021 and is coming off a solid season as closer, but Buttrey is waiting in the wings. -- Rhett Bollinger
Astros: RHP Jojanse Torres
Signed two years ago for $150,000 out of the Dominican Republic, Torres is 24 years old, so the Astros may feel they can push him more rapidly through the system. The fireballer made his domestic pro debut last year and dazzled, going 12-0 with a 1.71 ERA, .175 opponents’ average against and 107 strikeouts in 94 2/3 innings between Class A Quad Cities and Class A Advanced Fayetteville. Torres has a 100-mph fastball and a slider that sits close to 90 mph, but he’ll need to throw his changeup more often. His control needs work (46 walks last year) and he has had trouble repeating his delivery at times. Astros closer Roberto Osuna is under contract two more seasons, which means there could be a need for a closer in Houston in 2022, and Torres will certainly be in the big leagues by then if he refines his stuff. -- Brian McTaggart
Athletics: RHP Lou Trivino
Based off his wildly successful 2018 rookie campaign, you would think Trivino has shored up ninth-inning duties in Oakland by now. The right-hander burst onto the scene with a debut season that saw him lock down the eighth inning of games as a bridge to closer Blake Treinen, posting a 2.92 ERA over 69 appearances. However, Trivino hit a massive sophomore slump last season, struggling to find his form as his inconsistency led to a 5.25 ERA. He still showed off the nasty cutter and sinking fastball that made him nearly unhittable as a rookie.
The issue was one that often hinders young relievers -- command. While his fastball was still blazing around 98 mph, Trivino had trouble keeping it out of the heart of the zone. His walk rate also went up over a full point from 10.4 percent in 2018 to 11.5 percent in ‘19. This upcoming season will be vital for Trivino. If he can get things back on track, the right-hander does have the arsenal to re-establish himself as the A’s closer of the future. -- Martin Gallegos
Mariners: RHP Austin Adams
Adams certainly isn’t ready to be Seattle’s closer just yet, but if anybody is benefiting from the current shutdown it’s the 28-year-old right-hander, as he was already slated to be sidelined until midseason while recovering from left knee surgery. Before getting injured in the closing weeks of the season, Adams was one of the Mariners’ brightest bullpen discoveries in 2019 as he struck out 51 batters in 31 innings over 29 appearances as a rookie after being acquired from the Nationals in a May trade for Minor League pitcher Nick Wells.
Adams averages 95 mph with his four-seam fastball, but the Mariners convinced him to go more with his outstanding slider and the results were impressive. Opposing batters posted just a .133 batting average and .229 slugging percentage against the slider even while he was throwing it 63.6 percent of the time, per Statcast. His 40.8 percent strikeout rate was fourth best in the Majors for pitchers with 30-plus innings and he was seventh in strikeouts per nine innings. The question for Adams is command, and if he continues to improve there, it certainly appears he could be contending for a closer role in the Mariners’ young bullpen once he gets back to full health. -- Greg Johns
Rangers: RHP Demarcus Evans
Evans was impressive in his first big league camp, throwing four scoreless innings, allowing two hits and two walks, and striking out five. He was even given credit for two saves, further evidence the Rangers see him as a future closer. Evans, who stands 6-foot-4, throws 93-96 miles per hour with excellent vertical movement on his slider and a swing-and-miss curveball. He still has some control issues, allowing 5.85 walks per nine innings last season between Class A Advanced Down East and Double-A Frisco. But he also struck out 15 batters per nine innings while allowing just 3.45 hits alongside a 0.90 ERA and a 1.03 WHIP. Evans could use more time in the Minor Leagues to work on his control, but the Rangers clearly see him at the back end of their bullpen in the future. -- TR Sullivan