Potential future closers -- one for each team

May 8th, 2024

Big league closers can come from all areas of the pitching world. Some are guys who have always been relievers, from college all the way up to the big leagues. Some were starters whose power stuff (and perhaps lack of command) were better suited for shorter stints coming out of a bullpen. It’s not always clear who can handle the pressure of the ninth inning until they get the ball.

Below is a list of 30 potential future closers, and there's obvious crossover with our recent Top 10 future closers list. Some are still in Minor League rotations, while others have already made the transition to the 'pen. It’s a list worth keeping an eye on. Our 2022 future closers list included Félix Bautista, a 2023 All-Star, and Jhoan Duran, one of the most overpowering stoppers in the game.


Blue Jays: Connor Cooke, RHP (No. 19)
The highest-ranked pure reliever in the system, Cooke hasn’t gotten off to a tremendous start at Triple-A Buffalo (5.73 ERA, 10 K, 11 BB in 11 IP), but the pieces are there for him to return to dominance. His fastball still sits 94-96 mph, but it’s his low-80s slider that steals the show. The pitch has averaged 18.2 inches of horizontal sweep, seventh-most among Triple-A pitchers with at least 50 sliders thrown in ’24. If Cooke can work more in the zone and set up that slider to get swing-and-miss, he could be a bullpen arm in Toronto in short order.

Orioles: Juan Nuñez, RHP (No. 26)
The Orioles got Nuñez at the 2022 Trade Deadline in the deal that sent Jorge López to the Twins. He started for most of his first full season with his new organization, making it to High-A Aberdeen and missing bats (10.7 K/9) but also walking a lot of hitters (5.0/9). He’s both started and relieved back with Aberdeen this year and is throwing more strikes in the early going (3.1 BB/9) while still striking out more than 10 per nine. His fastball, which touches the upper-90s, could be even better in shorter stints and he has both a power curve and gyro slider that could be downright nasty late in games.

Rays: Yoniel Curet, RHP (No. 17)
Tampa Bay famously doesn’t employ a traditional closer – six different Rays have Major League saves this season – but go with us here. Curet is still being developed as a starter and has been a good one with a 1.93 ERA, 0.89 WHIP and 34 strikeouts in 28 innings for High-A Bowling Green, but control concerns remain. His upper-90s fastball and wicked slider are both potential plus-plus pitches, and he lacks much of a third pitch, another reason why he could be headed to the bullpen long-term. Added to the 40-man in the offseason, Curet would fly up the Tampa Bay chain if and when that role change comes.

Red Sox: Luis Guerrero, RHP (No. 30)
After ranking third in the Minors with 19 saves a year ago, Guerrero has compiled a 2.08 ERA, .156 opponent average and 17 strikeouts in 13 Triple-A innings. A 17th-round pick out of Chipola (Fla.) JC in 2021, he works primarily with an upper-90s fastball more notable for velocity than life and a low-80s splitter that dives at the plate.

Yankees: Jack Neely, RHP (No. 24)
An 11th-round find in 2021 from Ohio State, Neely ranked fifth among Minor League relievers (minimum: 50 innings) with a 40 percent strikeout rate in 2022 and fourth with a 39 percent K rate last year. His devastating mid-80s slider and mid-90s fastball are continuing to work in Double-A, where he has a 2.03 ERA with 20 strikeouts in 13 1/3 innings.


Guardians: Andrew Walters, RHP (No. 25)
Walters had more saves (26) than earned runs allowed (16) in three college seasons, recording a 1.41 ERA with a 170/22 K/BB ratio in 102 innings at Miami before the Guardians drafted him in the supplemental second round in 2023. He relies heavily on a deceptive fastball that works at 94-96 mph and touches 99 with riding life, and it has helped him post a 0.73 ERA, .178 opponent average and 26 strikeouts in 12 1/3 innings while making his pro debut in Double-A this spring.

Royals: Will Klein, RHP (No. 18)
The 6-foot-5 right-hander struck out a pair of Tigers in a perfect inning during his Major League debut and should be an immediate option again next time Kansas City needs to call up a reliever. His upper-90s fastball and pair of 85-88 mph breaking balls in his curveball and slider all have shown called-strike-whiff rates above 30 percent at Triple-A Omaha, and control (nine walks in 14 1/3 innings) may be the only thing standing between him and a more prominent role in K.C.

Tigers: Wilmer Flores, RHP (No. 9)
Flores sat around 90-92 mph last year with his fastball but showed improved velocity this spring, shortly after the Tigers added him to the 40-man roster as Rule 5 protection. He’s moved to full-time relief duty with Triple-A Toledo and is averaging 95.8 mph with the heater now. His mid-80s slider is his most effective offering with tremendous depth, while he’ll also mix in a 79-81 mph curveball, particularly to lefties. The 6-foot-4 righty’s control has been rough in the early going, but he’s still getting used to the new role and has upside in shorter bursts.

Twins: Jacob Wosinski, RHP
Long-shot play here. Wosinski was signed as a 24-year-old undrafted free agent in late May and he’s now 25 in High-A, but he might not be there for long. He’s 6-foot-8 with some deception to his delivery. He has a fastball up to 97 mph to go along with a 78-mph sweeper and 84-mph changeup, which both are getting greater than 50-percent miss rates. He’s striking out hitters at a 31-percent rate.

White Sox: Jordan Leasure, RHP (No. 16)
The Dodgers helped Leasure upgrade his stuff after taking him in the 14th round in 2021 out of NCAA Division II Tampa, then included him in the Lance Lynn/Joe Kelly trade with the White Sox last July. Armed with an upper-90s fastball and an upper-80s slider that come out of a low release height with a lot of extension, he has been the White Sox best reliever this spring (2.57 ERA, nine strikeouts in 14 innings) as a rookie.


Angels: Ben Joyce, RHP (No. 4)
We’ve been hearing about Joyce’s high-octane stuff since he came out of Tennessee as a third-rounder in 2022, but he’s not been able to find a consistent groove in using that stuff. If he can ever harness his fastball that’s averaging 99 mph and touching 102 mph this year and his upper-80s slider that has generated a 65 percent miss rate, he has closer stuff, but his 8.3 BB/9 rate shows he has a ways to go.

Astros: Miguel Ullola, RHP (No. 21)
Though the Astros have deployed Ullola as a starter since signing him for $75,000 out of the Dominican Republic in 2021, his power repertoire (92-97 mph fastball with exceptional carry, short slider that reaches the upper 80s) and lack of finesse may fit best in the bullpen. He has recorded a 4.88 ERA, Texas League-best .120 opponent average and 38 strikeouts in 27 2/3 innings in Double-A.

A’s: Royber Salinas, RHP (No. 15)
Coming to the A’s in the December 2022 Sean Murphy trade, Salinas has almost exclusively been a starter in his Minor League career, and he’s had some success early on this year in Double-A (2.59 ERA, 12.2 K/9). His career 5.0 BB/9 rate might make it hard for him to stick in a rotation, but his fastball that already touches 98 mph could tick up and his power slider misses a ton of bats. That would be enough, but he has a crisp curve he can go to as well.

Mariners: Troy Taylor, RHP (No. 27)
Taylor has closing experience, saving six games for UC Irvine in 2022 before landing in the 12th round of the Draft that summer. He pitched across two levels of A ball in his first full season and was really effective in the Arizona Fall League (1.74 ERA, 6.00 K/BB ratio). Back in High-A to start this season, he has four saves in nine appearances, allowing just 3.7 hits per nine while still missing a ton of bats (10.2/9) with a nasty slider and a fastball that touches 98 mph.

Rangers: Antoine Kelly, LHP (No. 21)
A second-round pick out of Wabash Valley (Ill.) CC by the Brewers in 2019, Kelly went to the Rangers in a mid-2022 trade for Matt Bush and started throwing a lot more strikes after becoming a full-time reliever last season. He can overmatch hitters with two pitches: a mid-90s fastball that peaks at 99 mph with tremendous induced vertical break and a sweeping mid-80s slider. He missed four weeks early this season with shoulder issues but has returned and owns a 1.93 ERA with eight strikeouts in 4 2/3 Triple-A frames.


Braves: Hurston Waldrep, RHP (No. 2/MLB No. 81)
Though he started at Southern Miss and then at Florida, there’s always been reliever risk with Waldrep because of his up-tempo delivery that features some effort, leading to issues with commanding his outstanding stuff in the zone. He was able to make it to Triple-A in his first summer of pro ball and is currently in the rotation with Double-A Mississippi. He’s been up to 99 mph with his fastball consistently in the past to go along with a hard upper-80s slide, so seeing triple digits with a wipeout breaking ball in shorter stints is certainly possible.

Marlins: Anthony Maldonado, RHP (No. 20)
An 11th-round pick from Bethune-Cookman in 2019, Maldonado immediately moved to the bullpen after turning pro. He throws his 83-85 mph slider with two-plane depth about two-thirds of the time, complementing it with a low-90s sinker. Called up in late April, he hasn't surrendered a run in five big league appearances while fanning four in seven innings.

Mets: Raimon Gomez, RHP (No. 27)
It’s becoming an all too familiar tale. Gomez was touching triple digits a year ago at this time and was generating enough Mets excitement that they moved him into a starting role at High-A Brooklyn. But he needed Tommy John surgery three outings in and has yet to return. If the 22-year-old can show that same velo post-operation – and many TJ arms can – he has the stuff to be a solid reliever, considering his upper-80s slider also looks like a plus pitch. Edwin Díaz won’t have competition in Queens for a bit, but Gomez has closer-level electricity in his arm when healthy.

Nationals: Jarlin Susana, RHP (No. 10)
Susana’s fastball, which can touch 103 mph, has been eye-popping since he signed with the Padres in January 2022, and it was a big reason why the Nationals acquired him in their Juan Soto blockbuster. His high-80s slider can also be a plus pitch, and the combination has helped him strike out 151 in 124 1/3 career innings in the Minors. But Susana’s severe control concerns have him back in Single-A, and they’ve been a reason why many evaluators always believed he’s ticketed for the ‘pen. Good news on that front for now: he’s only walked five in 16 1/3 innings to begin 2024.

Phillies: Orion Kerkering, RHP (No. 6)
We’ve already gotten to see how the stuff plays in the big leagues, and even under the postseason spotlight. It’s a sinking fastball that hits triple digits and an elite slider that generates a very high miss rate. He struggled with his command a little bit when he got his first call to the big leagues last year, but this season he’s been much closer to the guy who walked only 2.0 per nine in his quick climb through the Minors in 2023. It’s José Alvarado’s job … for now.


Brewers: Mark Manfredi, LHP
There’s a temptation to go with Jacob Misiorowski, who could be the right-handed Josh Hader, but we’ll go with a different arm here. Manfredi was a senior sign as a ninth-rounder out of Dayton last July, and he’s shown a fastball up to 97 with a promising slider at High-A Wisconsin. He’s fanned 42.4 percent of his batters faced in the Midwest League, thanks in part to deception and a low three-quarters arm slot, and he has a curveball and changeup to play with too. He’s piggybacking for now, but he’d fly as a bullpen arm who can dominate lefties.

Cardinals: Andre Granillo, RHP (No. 27)
A 14th-round pick out of UC Riverside in 2021, Granillo has been relief-only in his four years of pro ball and has struck out 209 in 151 1/3 career innings. He’s leaned heavily on his 79-81 mph slider this season at Double-A Springfield, and it’s easy to see why; Synergy has recorded 97 of his sliders in 2024, and the pitch has a whiff rate of 61 percent. He also sports a 92-95 mph fastball and a decent changeup. The right-hander turns 24 on May 12 and could be in line for MLB innings later this season.

Cubs: Michael Arias, RHP (No. 11)
Originally signed by the Blue Jays as a shortstop in 2018, Arias never played in a game before getting released in May 2020. He shifted to the mound after joining the Cubs eight months later and now unleashes mid-90s fastballs with sink and tail, upper-80s changeups and mid-80s sliders. Since Chicago decided to expedite his path to Wrigley Field by making him a full-time reliever this spring, he has compiled a 2.12 ERA with 19 strikeouts in 17 Double-A innings.

Pirates: Patrick Reilly, RHP (No. 22)
While the Pirates are committed to letting Reilly develop as a starter for the time being in order to let him work on his full repertoire and his overall command, it wouldn’t surprise anyone if he eventually lands in the pen. He throws his fastball in the 95-99 mph range up in the zone with good ride and his mid-80s slider could be even nastier in shorter outings. He’s been doing a better job of throwing strikes so far this year with High-A Greensboro than he did at Vanderbilt, but he wouldn’t have to worry about pinpoint control as a reliever.

Reds: Zach Maxwell, RHP (No. 27)
Maxwell is all about size and power stuff, delivering a fastball that reaches triple digits with armside run and carry and a power breaker that touches 90 mph from his 6-foot-6, 275-pound frame. It’s always been a question of finding the one enough. In his first full season, he struck out 14.1 per nine across two levels of A ball, but walked 5.6. He’s been unhittable in Double-A this year, averaging 99 mph with his heater and missing bats at an impressive 48 percent clip overall. That’s led to a 17.5 K/9 rate, a more reasonable 4.0 BB/9 and a stretch of 11 1/3 IP without allowing an earned run.


D-backs: Landon Sims, RHP (No. 23)
Sims already dominated as a reliever for Mississippi State during its national-title run in 2021, and after he underwent Tommy John surgery as a junior in 2022, the D-backs considered using that year’s 34th overall pick as a starter but have moved him back to relief this season at Single-A Visalia. Sims is ticking back up toward the mid-90s with his fastball, and his slider can be a wipeout pitch, giving him the two necessary weapons to dominate again in short bursts.

Dodgers: Kyle Hurt, RHP (No. 6)
The Dodgers' 2023 Minor League pitcher of the year, Hurt led all Minor Leaguers who worked as many as his 92 innings in strikeout rate (14.9 per nine innings), strikeout percentage (39.2) and strikeout minus walk percentage (27.8). He has a four-pitch repertoire that some club officials consider the best in the system, highlighted by a mid-90s fastball with a low release height and carry and an upper-80s changeup that drops at the plate. Mostly a starter in his pro career, he might profile better as a high-leverage reliever and posted a 3.38 ERA with 11 strikeouts in 10 2/3 innings between Double-A and Triple-A before going on the IL with shoulder inflammation.

Giants: Reggie Crawford, LHP (No. 8)
The Giants took Crawford in the first round out of the 2022 Draft even though he had missed his entire junior season at Connecticut following Tommy John surgery. He worked just 20 1/3 innings in three years of college and only 19 as a pro last year while missing time with mononucleosis and an oblique strain, then strained a lat during his offseason program. San Francisco is using him as a reliever in Double-A -- he has a 2.08 ERA, .103 opponent average and 16 strikeouts in 8 2/3 innings -- and his explosive upper-90s fastball and mid-80s slider with two-plane depth could make him a closer.

Padres: Bradgley Rodriguez, RHP (No. 28)
Signed for $370,000 out of Venezuela in 2021, Rodriguez didn’t pitch in either of the last two seasons but is already on to his second affiliate of 2024, having seen both Single-A Lake Elsinore and High-A Fort Wayne. His fastball touches triple digits and is regularly around 98-99 mph, making it the talk of the Padres system early on. His upper-80s changeup and slider can both be above-average pitches too, giving him electric stuff, but he’ll need to limit walks more against advanced hitters if he’s going to continue his quick ascent.

Rockies: Jaden Hill, RHP (No. 26)
The combination of injuries and command issues had most people earmarking Hill to the bullpen, a move that started with a solid stint in the Arizona Fall League last year. He’s picked up four saves over eight appearances for Hartford and he’s missing bats (13.0 K/9) and finding the zone (2.0 BB/9). He still has a starter’s repertoire with an upper-90s fastball, mid-80s changeup and mid-80s slider, all of which could be at least above-average.