MINORS: 2020 Top RP Prospects

(Photo: Junior Fernandez, RP, STL)

This week concludes our annual review of the top prospects by position. We've examined one position a week by looking at both those rookies ready to contribute in the big leagues now, as well as the Top 15 long-term prospects at each position. Today, we finish with a look at the top RP prospects.

Here’s our previously covered positions:
Catcher | Shortstop | Second Base | Third Base| First Base | Outfield | Starting Pitcher

Historically few of the games top closers or setup men assumed those roles early in their careers. Of the top five active save leaders, only Joakim Soria pitched exclusively in relief and much of that work was done in the Mexican League.

A few teams have attempted to draft and develop collegiate closers, but often with disastrous results. The Tigers took Matt Anderson with the 1st overall pick in the 1997, but the injury-plagued right-hander amassed just 26 saves over 7 years. Similarly the Rockies took Vanderbilt closer Casey Weathers with the 8th pick in the 2007 draft and he never even made it to the majors. There are of course some exceptions. The Dodgers Kenley Jansen started just two games in the minors and the Tigers signed Joe Jimenez as an international free agent and groomed him as a closer from the outset.

Still for fantasy owners in long-term keeper leagues and especially for those in re-draft formats, the idea of landing the next impact closer from the minor league ranks is close to a pipe dream. Even someone like Joe Jimenez who was viewed as the Tigers closer of the future never cracked the HQ100 and it took him parts of three major league seasons on a team that lost at least 98+ games a year before he officially took over as the team’s closer. From our list of the Top 15 relief prospects in 2019 only Yoan Lopez ARI (1), Colin Poche TAM (2), and Jimmy Sherfy ARI (1) earned any MLB saves and none of them are close to assuming a bigger role in 2020.

Having said that, there are a few relief prospects who have a chance to earn a few fantasy dollars and could move into larger roles down the road. At the top of that list is Padres flamethrower Andres Munoz whose fastball has been clocked as high as 103 mph, but he’s firmly behind one of the games elite closer Kirby Yates. The Cardinals pen is one area of opportunity that should be monitored closely this spring. With 2019 closer Carlos Martinez moving back into the starting rotation the most likely closer candidates are veteran Andrew Miller and 2019 breakout reliever Giovanny Gallegos. Miller is currently injured and likely won’t be ready by opening day. If Gallegos struggles the Cards could turn to either Junior Fernandez or Genesis Cabrera, both of whom have elite velocity, but are inexperienced and struggle throwing strikes consistently.

The dollar ranges listed below represent projected values for 2020. (See a more detailed scouting report on each player by following the link to his team's organization report.)

Andres Munoz (SD)

Munoz has a double plus upper-90s fastball that maxes out at 103 mph with impressive late life. He backs up the heater with a good, but inconsistent slider. Not surprisingly Munoz struggles at times with control and has a career 5.5 Ctl rate, but that is more than off-set by his impressive 12.7 Dom. Munoz more than held his own in 23 innings with the Padres, posting a 3.91 ERA. Munoz isn’t going to challenge Kirby Yates for the closer role, but could move into the 7th or 8th inning role. Yates hits the DL or gets traded, Munoz is the closest thing to closer in waiting in the system and the Forecaster says “With opportunity… UP: 30 Sv.”

James Karinchak (CLE)
Karinchak, a 9th round pick out of Bryant College, has an 80-grade heater that sits in the upper-90s with a high spin rate and excellent late life. The 24-year blitzed through the minors and in 2019 posted a 2.67 ERA across three levels and punched out an amazing 74 batters in just 30.1 IP. He got into five late-season contacts with the Tribe and looked sharp (3H and 1ER with 8K in 5.1 IP). If incumbent closer Brad Hand struggles or the Indians fall out of contention in the AL Central, Karinchak would likely be in the mix to take over the closer role and is worth stashing in deep keeper formats.

Brusdar Graterol (LA)
Graterol came over from the Twins in the Kenta Maeda deal and has always been considered an elite pitching prospect. The biggest roadblock in his development has been an inability to stay healthy. He had Tommy John Surgery in 2016 and was on the DL last year with back spasms. When healthy he features a mid-to-upper 90s fastball that tops at 102 mph and an above-average hard slider. Like many young flamethrowers he struggles with control, but his career minor league line of 19-6 with a 2.48 ERA, 2.7 Ctl, 9.7 Dom, and a 1.07 WHIP hint at the tremendous upside. The Dodgers have not yet announced how they plan to use Graterol, but his power fastball/slider mix make him an ideal candidate to someday possibly take over for Kenley Jansen.

Junior Fernandez (STL)
With Carlos Martinez moving back into the starting rotation, the Cardinals bullpen will likely be in a state of flux early in the season. Most likely that means that Giovanny Gallegos will take over as the Redbirds closer, but it does leave a small window of opportunity for one of the Cardinals flamethrowing rookies to step into a larger role, or even earn a few saves. Long-term, Junior Fernandez has the skill set to close games at the major league level. He comes after hitters with a  95-97 mph sinking fastball that tops out at 99 mph, a 87 mph slider, and a much improved 86 mph change-up that neutralizes LHB and yielded a .071 oppBAA. Fernandez posted a 1.48 ERA in 24.1 IP at Triple-A Memphis and then a 5.40 ERA in 11.2 IP with the Cardinals. Fernandez still needs to improve his control and command, but has seen an uptick in DOM over that past two seasons and whiffed 16 in 11.2 IP in his MLB debut.

Genesis Cabrera (STL)
Cabrera is in the same boat as Junior Fernandez and has a similar profile but from the LH side. The 23-year-old Cabrera has a plus mid-90s heater that tops out at 99 in relief, a mid-80s cutter/slider, and a below-average change-up.  The Cardinals have not decided whether Cabrera will remain a starter at Triple-A or compete for a spot in their pen, but long-term his role will be in relief. Cabrera was a bit unlucky in 2019, posting a BABIP of over .320 at Triple-A and St. Louis, but needs to find the strike zone more consistently to become a reliable fantasy contributor. Note: Cabrera did leave his most recent spring outing with a cracked fingernail, but the injury is not deemed to be serious (3/2/2020).

Long-term Top 15 RP Prospects
1. Andres Munoz (SD)
2. Ben Bowden (COL)
3. Emmanuel Chase (CLE)
4. Justin Lawrence (COL)
5. Oscar De La Cruz (CHC)
6. James Norwood (CHC)
7. Melvin Adon (SF)
8. James Karinchak (CLE)
9. Jorge Alcala (MIN)
10. Peter Fairbanks (TAM)
11. Junior Fernandez (STL)
12. Genesis Cabrera (STL)
13. Robert Tyler (COL)
14. Ryne Nelson (ARI)
15. Camilo Doval (SF)

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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.