Here is a potential future closer for each team

May 4th, 2023

Jordan Romano was an All-Star in 2022 and is among the MLB leaders in saves this year. He had been a reliever in college before spending three years as a starter in the Blue Jays system. He was a Rule 5 pick who was eventually returned to the Jays and it wasn’t until he moved back to the pen in 2019 that things started happening for him and he didn’t emerge as a big league closer until 2021, when he was 28 years old.

Many other closers in the big leagues were starting pitchers, at least at the outset of their careers, before getting the chance to pitch late in games. Jhoan Duran was almost exclusively a starter until he made it to the Twins, as a reliever, in 2022. Then there’s the career active leader in saves, Kenley Jansen, who began his professional career as a … catcher before moving to the mound and making his way up, almost entirely as a reliever.

We bring these examples up to show that closers can come from just about anywhere. The 30 arms we highlight below are all in a variety of roles right now, but could be the types who end up ending ballgames at the highest level in the future.


Blue Jays: Hagen Danner, RHP (No. 22)
Once a catcher who was taken in the second round of the 2017 Draft, Danner transitioned to the mound in 2021 and showed enough promise to earn a 40-man spot the following offseason. A fastball capable of touching the upper-90s, along with an above-average slider and solid curveball, were big reasons why Toronto protected him from the Rule 5 Draft and could make him an absolute weapon out of the bullpen. Injuries have been an issue, including this spring’s right forearm inflammation, but good news there: Danner was added to the Double-A New Hampshire active roster on Tuesday.

**Orioles: Carlos Tavera, RHP (unranked)
**The Orioles took Tavera in the fifth round of the 2021 Draft out of the University of Texas-Arlington and he spent his first full year as a starter, where he missed bats and struggled with command. He’s still starting and is in Double-A now, and his stuff could tick up in shorter stints, featuring a fastball up to 96 mph with plus life and a good changeup, thrown in the mid-80s, along with a slider thrown at the same velocity.

Rays: Colby White, RHP (No. 27)
White was one of the most dominant Minor League relievers in 2021, posting a 1.44 ERA and 0.66 WHIP while striking out 104 in 62 1/3 innings across four levels of the Tampa Bay system. Tommy John surgery knocked him out for all of 2022, but entering his age-24 season, the 6-foot right-hander could be knocking on Tampa Bay’s door quickly after his return. His 95-98 mph fastball gets a ton of whiffs, while his slider also earns above-average grades.

Red Sox: Luis Perales, RHP (No. 12)
Perales' fastball began reaching 95 mph a month after he signed for $75,000 out of Venezuela in 2019 and now tops out at 99. He also has a mid-80s slider with two-plane depth at its best, but he's not especially physical and could wind up in the bullpen down the road. He just turned 20 three weeks ago and has a 6.75 ERA with 11 strikeouts in 12 innings in Single-A.

Yankees: Clayton Beeter, RHP (No. 14)
Acquired from the Dodgers in the Joey Gallo trade last August, Beeter has three weapons in a 93-98 mph fastball with carry, a mid-80s slider that plays as well above-average and a low-80s downer curveball that can be a plus pitch at times. He sports a 1.74 ERA and 23 strikeouts in 20 2/3 innings through four Double-A starts.


Guardians: Tim Herrin, LHP (No. 25)
Herrin went from 29th-round pick out of Indiana in 2018 to Cleveland's Opening Day roster in 2023, and he logged a 7.45 ERA with 13 strikeouts in 9 2/3 innings before getting sent to Triple-A in late April. His stuff has taken a huge leap since he turned pro, and he now deals with an explosive 94-99 mph fastball and a lively 85-91 mph slider that he can turn into a shorter, harder cutter.

Royals: Steven Cruz, RHP (No. 29)
The heat is certainly there. Acquired from the Twins this offseason, Cruz pumps fastballs in at 96-100 mph, and the carry on the pitch helps keep the whiffs coming. He’ll also mix in an upper-80s slider that may be just average but gives hitters something else to think about. It’s no wonder Texas League batters are hitting just .097 off Cruz in the early going this season. The major issue will always be his control – he’s walked seven in 9 2/3 innings so far for Double-A Northwest Arkansas – but if he can harness that even a little bit more, he could succeed Aroldis Chapman’s heat in KC.

Tigers: Freddy Pacheco, RHP (No. 22)
A right elbow sprain has kept Pacheco, a waiver acquisition from the Cardinals in March, from showing Tigers fans his true potential, but once he’s healthy, those looks could wow some first-timers. Pacheco specializes up in the zone with a 95-98 mph fastball, and his mid-80s slider can freeze hitters too, leading to impressive strikeout rates. Pacheco notched 12 saves between Double-A and Triple-A in 2022, while fanning 84 batters in 62 innings, so the ninth shouldn’t scare him if given the opportunity in Detroit.

Twins: Kody Funderburk, LHP (unranked)
A funky lefty, Funderburk began his career as a starter who the Twins took in Round 15 of the 2018 Draft out of Dallas Baptist. He started and relieved last year and is now in a bullpen-only role and has already been bumped up from Double- to Triple-A. His primary fastball is a hard, low-90s cutter, though he also throws a two-seamer to go along with a sweeping slider and a changeup. It’s an east-west profile that makes for a very uncomfortable at-bat.

White Sox: Jared Kelley, RHP (No. 16)
Kelley has lacked consistency and battled the strike zone since signing for an over-slot $3 million as a 2020 second-rounder from a Texas high school, but he does have a 92-96 mph sinker and a quality low-80s changeup with fade and tumble. He missed the first three weeks of the season with a fractured left foot before reporting to High-A, where he worked two scoreless innings with two strikeouts in his first outing.


Angels: Ben Joyce, RHP (No. 10)
Joyce created buzz at the University of Tennessee by hitting 105 mph on the radar gun with his fastball. That kind of heat has continued during his brief pro career after the Angels took him in the third round of last year’s Draft, as he’s averaged 100 mph on his fastball to date. He can also miss bats with his slider, though he’ll have to refine his command to continue closing games as he has in Double-A this year.

Astros: Forrest Whitley, RHP (No. 19)
A 2016 first-rounder from a Texas high school who once ranked as the best pitching prospect in baseball, Whitley has dealt with multiple injuries (including Tommy John surgery in 2021) and inconsistent mechanics and control. He still can run his fastball up to 100 mph, flash a dastardly changeup and unleash some power breaking stuff, though he has compiled a 6.67 ERA with 58 strikeouts in 54 Triple-A innings over the last two seasons.

A’s: Luis Medina, RHP (No. 18)
Yes, he’s still a starting pitcher… for now. But Medina has long been considered a future reliever because his power stuff -- a fastball that’s been up to 102 mph this year and an unhittable low-80s curve (He also has a solid changeup) -- would play up in shorter stints and you wouldn’t have to worry as much about his lack of command (6.3 BB/9 rate in his Minor League career).

Mariners: Stephen Kolek, RHP (unranked)
Originally drafted by the Dodgers in 2018, Kolek has had opportunities to both start and relieve since joining the Mariners in 2021. After pitching in the Double-A rotation last year, he’s in the 'pen for good this season and his velocity has jumped as a result. The right-hander has been 95-98 mph with his fastball and complements it with a solid slider that has allowed him to quickly move from Double- to Triple-A this season.

Rangers: Marc Church, RHP (No. 19)
Church didn't start pitching until he was a rising Georgia high school senior and a summer teammate bet him he couldn't throw 88 mph off the mound. He hit 90, went on to land an over-slot $300,000 bonus as an 18th-rounder in 2019 and has blossomed into one of the best relievers in the Minors. Armed with a 94-97 mph fastball with carry and an upper-80s slider with two-plane depth, he has posted a 1.74 ERA and 17 strikeouts in 10 1/3 Double-A innings.


Braves: Victor Vodnik, RHP (No. 11)
Ever since joining the Braves out high school as a 14th-round pick in the 2018 Draft, Vodnik has had a reliever profile and a move to the role full-time last year allowed him to pitch very well at the upper levels. His electric fastball touches the upper-90s regularly and he’s flirted with triple digits. He backs it up with another plus pitch, his changeup, which misses bats and gets weak contact.

Marlins: Sean Reynolds, RHP (No. 25)
A two-way star as a California high schooler when the Marlins drafted him in 2016's fourth round, Reynolds began his pro career as a slugging outfielder but swing-and-miss issues led him to the mound two years ago. His fastball hit 95 mph in his pro pitching debut and he now operates at 96-100 mph with carry while backing up his heat with a tight mid-80s slider and a lively low-80s changeup. He owns a 4.15 ERA with 14 strikeouts in 13 Double-A innings.

Mets: Grant Hartwig, RHP (No. 29)
The 6-foot-5 right-hander has typically gotten better grades for his low-80s sweeper, but he’s shown some decent velocity on a mid-90s sinker this season at Triple-A Syracuse too. Both potentially above-average to plus pitches have helped him earn three saves so far in 2023 (second-most in the system), and in this age of spamming the breaking pitch, Hartwig could be proof you don’t need elite heat to work in high-leverage relief, even in an organization that employs Edwin Díaz.

Nationals: Zach Brzykcy, RHP (No. 18)
Tommy John surgery will keep Brzykcy off Minor League mounds in 2023, but if anyone in this system has the look of a future MLB closer, it’s him. An undrafted free agent in 2020, the 6-foot-2 right-hander can fire in a 95-98 mph fastball with promising rise, while his low-80s curveball can give him a second above-average pitch. He fanned 95 batters over 61 1/3 innings, while notching 14 saves, across three levels last season and should be knocking on Washington’s door upon his return in 2024.

Phillies: Orion Kerkering, RHP (No. 21)
Kerkering gave starting a try for a while in his final year at South Florida, but moved back to a relief role when things unraveled a bit in the rotation. The Phillies took him in the fifth round of last year’s Draft and sent him straight to the 'pen. He’s been virtually unhittable so far this year, and might need a challenge in terms of a promotion out of Single-A Clearwater, where his upper-90s fastball that’s touched triple digits and his high spin-rate slider (north of 3,000 rpm) are dominating opponents.


Brewers: Abner Uribe, RHP (No. 11)
Anyone in the Milwaukee area who’s heard of Uribe’s triple-digit-touching fastball must be dreaming of the day when he’s an option of the Crew bullpen. After knee injuries were a concern each of the last two seasons, the 6-foot-3 right-hander has dominated at Double-A Biloxi so far in 2023, striking out 16 of the 31 batters he’s faced. And while his fastball velo will always grab headlines, Uribe will sometimes have even more confidence in his upper-80s slider, making him all the more difficult to touch.

Cardinals: Guillermo Zuñiga, RHP (No. 29)
There’s announcing your presence with authority, and there’s touching 100.8 mph in your Major League debut. That’s what Zuñiga accomplished Tuesday, beating out his highest velo from his early stint with Triple-A Memphis, though not by much. The 24-year-old right-hander, who also starred for Colombia in the World Baseball Classic, can get whiffs with his mid-80s slider too. He’ll have to work on limiting walks, but the building blocks of a power reliever are certainly present.

Cubs: Daniel Palencia, RHP (No. 13)
Purloined from the Athletics in a 2021 deal for Andrew Chafin, Palencia has an extremely fast arm that produces 96-102 mph fastballs, mid-80s knuckle-curves and tight upper-80s sliders. The Cubs are developing him as a starter -- he has posted a 4.26 ERA with 14 strikeouts in 12 2/3 Double-A innings -- but also believe he could help them at some point this season if they make him a reliever.

Pirates: Colin Selby, RHP (unranked)
A starter at small Randolph-Macon College in Virginia taken by the Pirates in round 16 of the 2018 Draft, Selby began his pro career in a rotation. A switch to relief work in 2021 has paid off. He pitched his way from Double- to Triple-A in 2022, saving 10 games and earning a spot on the 40-man roster. He’s continued to be effective with Indianapolis this year, though he needs to keep refining his command, with a fastball that has averaged around 96 mph and a nasty upper-80s slider that misses a lot of bats.

Reds: Jacob Heatherly, LHP (unranked)
The Reds went over slot to sign Heatherly as a high school arm out of Alabama back in 2017, but he made just four starts in his full-season debut in 2019 because of a shoulder injury, then barely pitched in 2021 before having Tommy John surgery that fall, which kept him out for all of 2022. He’ll turn 25 soon, but the stuff has been nasty out of the 'pen this year with a fastball that’s been up to 97 mph, a slider that misses bats and an effective changeup.


D-backs: Justin Martinez, RHP (No. 19)
Martinez has averaged 99.0 mph on his four-seamer with Reno, giving him the third-highest average velo on the pitch in Triple-A behind Mason Miller (100.0) and Bobby Miller (99.5), and he’s touched as high as 101.9 mph, per Statcast. His upper-80s slider and splitter have both been better at generating whiffs, however, giving him a more well-rounded profile. It all comes down to limiting walks; Martinez has issued 13 free passes in nine innings, though only two have come in his last four appearances.

Dodgers: Ronan Kopp, LHP (No. 20)
Kopp's velocity and control fluctuated wildly during his amateur career, though that didn't dissuade the Dodgers from drafting him in the 11th round in 2021 out of South Mountain (Ariz.) CC. He has better stuff than most southpaws, dealing at 95-99 mph with riding life on his fastball and flashing a plus mid-80s slider with sweep. Through five High-A starts, he has logged a 2.45 ERA with 26 strikeouts in 14 2/3 innings.

Giants: Cole Waites, RHP (No. 21)
A strikeout machine at NCAA Division II West Alabama before turning pro with the Giants as an 18th-rounder in 2019, Waites has boosted his velocity and now works at 95-100 mph with carry and boring action. He also has a mid-80s slider with two-plane depth that qualifies as a plus pitch when he lands it for strikes. Though he got off to a rough start with a 9.31 ERA and 12 walks versus 10 whiffs in 9 2/3 Triple-A innings, San Francisco called him up on Tuesday.

Padres: Angel Felipe, RHP (No. 29)
Felipe’s four-seamer and sinker both touch 99 mph and average around 96 on the radar gun, giving him two primary weapons near the top of the velo scale. His mid-80s slider can help get him whiffs too, and he has the 31.4 percent K rate this season at Triple-A El Paso to back that up. He’s also walked 13.7 percent of his batters faced too, and therein lies the issue for the 25-year-old. Felipe’s stuff gives him an easy back-end-relief ceiling, but the control will determine his chances of reaching it.

Rockies: Angel Chivilli, RHP (No. 29)
Signed for $200,000 in 2018, Chivilli largely started across two summers in the Dominican Summer League before becoming a reliever when he came stateside last year. He pitched his way to full-season ball in 2022 and saved 10 games for Fresno and he has backend bullpen potential, with easy gas up into the mid-90s with life and a late-breaking slider that could be a true out pitch in time. He even has feel for a seldom-used changeup.