RELIEVERS: 2020 NRIs for your watch list; TAM and SD pens

It is time to crank up the regular column and that means a quick look at some non-roster invitees ("NRIs"). It is usually very slim pickings and these players rarely (almost never) do anything that you want on your rosters. But sometimes they do, so lets leave no stone unturned in helping you add to your watch lists. And then at the other end of the spectrum, let's spend the last part of the article in two very deep bullpens: Tampa Bay and San Diego.

Here are NRIs in the AL who may be worth your consideration this spring:

AL (projections)       IP  xERA WHIP  Dom  Cmd HR/9  $  ADP
===================== ==== ==== ==== ==== ==== ==== === ===
L.Avilan (NYY) (L)     44  3.83 1.25  8.4  2.9  1.0  -6  --
L.Garcia (TEX)         44  3.82 1.30  8.6  2.5  0.8  -6  --
C.Allen (TEX)          15  3.90 1.20 11.4  3.2  1.2  -8 751
J.Nicasio (TEX)        44  4.05 1.18  9.0  2.9  1.0  -5  --
B.Lail (CHW)           15  4.07 1.27  9.0  3.0  1.2  -9  --
G.Holland (KC)         15  5.26 1.53  8.4  1.4  1.2 -10 745

The New York Yankees boast one of the best and deepest projected bullpens in baseball according to 2020 projections. Two of the higher leverage lefties are closer Aroldis Chapman (LHP, NYY) and Zach Britton (LHP, NYY). The Yankees have a handful of strong right-handers too. Enter non-roster lefty Luis Avilan (LHP, NYY). His projections are solid with a nice 8.4 Dom and 2.9 Cmd ratio, he keeps the ball in the park (1.0 HR/9) and the 1.25 WHIP and 3.83 xERA are numbers that suggest making the roster. He has had success before as a second lefty in weaker pens. But in this Yankees pen, he will have to fight just to get innings. This pen is stacked. Avilan surely won't come near saves, and if he makes the team at all, he will likely shuffle between majors and minors all season. Rosterable? Probably not. On your radar? Yes, for now. Avilan is someone to track and if he pitches well and gets traded to a team desperate for lefty help, then you might want to focus a bit more.

Next we have three right-handers trying to make it in the Rangers bullpen. Luis Garcia (RHP, TEX) has the best looking skills, with a 3.82 xERA and solid Dom, Cmd ratio and HR rate. And let's face it, after closer Jose Leclerc (RHP, TEX) and set-up men Rafael Montero (RHP, TEX) and Brett Martin (LHP, TEX) jobs are up for grabs. Garcia projects to have a better xERA than other competitors. Strange things have happened in the Texas pen the past several years. Names like Matt Bush (RHP, TEX) and Shawn Kelley (RHP, FA) have had save chances. Put Garcia on your radar for now and see how March goes.

The bigger name here is Cody Allen (RHP, TEX) who used to close for the Indians. Allen is projected to a 11.4 Dom, so he might win a spot based on that alone. Allen was not great last season, so he will have to rebound to make this pen. But if Allen does make it, that 11.4 Dom could put him into a conversation for leverage and that would certainly be interesting. The third name on this list is Juan Nicasio (RHP, TEX). Nicasio has the best WHIP of these NRIs with a 1.18 and his peripherals are solid across the board. It would not be a surprise for Nicasio to make the team if he can hit these projections. For now, he is a wait and watch like the others.

Brady Lail (RHP, CHW) might be a name you haven't heard much, but he is in camp for the White Sox and the projections look promising. Lail started with the Yankees and spent most of 2019 at Trenton where he pitched well. Lail has been in the minors for several unspectacular years, so what puts him on this list? The projections. Lail's time with Trenton gives him a projected 4.07 xERA, 9.0 Dom, 3.0 Cmd ratio. Does that mean he will supplant Alex Colome (RHP, CHW) as the closer or Aaron Bummer (RHP, CHW) in set-up? No. But he should go on your watch list for March. If he performs well, he might still go back to the minors, but he could be an option down the road. The White Sox have a rather weak bullpen after the top four relievers and Lail could worm his way in if he can find a way to match the projections.

Greg Holland (RHP, KC) finding his way back to Kansas City is noteworthy because of the history. The projections are not. If Holland has anything left, he's going to have to show it right away. He's going to get a shot to make the staff, though. Ian Kennedy (RHP, KC) is the closer and Scott Barlow (RHP, KC) might be the top set-up along with lefty Tim Hill (LHP, KC). After that, slots are up for grabs. Don't expect Holland to show anything. But he should be on your watch list in the event that he might.

And now the same thing with NRIs in the NL:

NL (projections)       IP  xERA WHIP  Dom  Cmd HR/9  $  ADP
===================== ==== ==== ==== ==== ==== ==== === ===
M.DuRapau (PIT)        15  4.15 1.07  7.8  2.6  1.2  -7  --
M.Diaz (SD)            29  4.16 1.31  8.7  3.1  2.8  -7  --
B.Norris (PHI)         29  4.24 1.55  9.9  2.5  1.2 -10 751
E.Ramos (LA)           15  4.30 1.13  8.4  2.8  1.2  -8  --
B.Morrow (CHC)         51  4.41 1.43  7.1  2.7  1.1  -7 738
K.Barraclough (SD)     29  5.78 1.62  8.4  1.1  0.0 -14  --

Montana DuRapau (RHP, PIT) has the best projected xERA among NL NRIs. That puts him on this list. It doesn't hurt that he is trying to make the Pirates who will struggle to put a bullpen together after Keone Kela (RHP, PIT), Michael Feliz (RHP, PIT) and Richard Rodriguez (RHP, PIT). DuRapau was terrific in Indianapolis last season and got a cup of coffee with the Pirates which did not go so well. DuRapau will have to reach these projections to make the team. The 7.8 Dom is most critical to that. But if he can do that, he can make the team. If he can duplicate his minors success last year, he would suddenly become interesting. Can he? It is very unlikely. But it does mean he should be on your watch list.

There are two Padres on this list: Miguel Diaz (RHP, SD) and Kyle Barraclough (RHP, SD). Both are real longshots to make the San Diego bullpen, particularly because this pen is so excellent down roster. Diaz makes this list because he has the xERA and peripherals except for keeping the ball in the park in 2019 bandboxes (10 home runs in 30+ innings in the minors in 2019). Diaz has been a starter but could transition to the bullpen in 2020, given the explosion of potential starters in the system. It would not be surprising to see Diaz exceed these projections. But will it be enough to make the pen? Maybe not.

The other Padres reliever on this list is Barraclough, who has a terrible projection. He will not make the team with that projection. He is going to have to get back to a few years ago when his Dom was sky high and his Cmd ratio was somewhat under control. This is just someone to watch in camp, nothing more, at this point. If he can throw strikes, then see what happens after that.

The Phillies picked up Bud Norris (RHP, PHI) for another go around. Norris was the emergency closer for the Cardinals in 2018 when Greg Holland (RHP, KC) didn't work out and then was cut at the end of spring training in 2019 by the Blue Jays and didn't hook on with anyone. It gives you some insight into how fickle relievers truly are. A closer one year, then out of the league the next. Norris has interesting projections with a 9.9 Dom and 2.5 Cmd ratio. The 1.55 WHIP is not going to work, though. To make the team, he will have to beat that 1.55 WHIP. Frankly, Norris will be a longshot to make the team. Will he report to the minors to give it an extended go? He wouldn't do that last year. It may be the only way Norris gets to log MLB innings in 2020. Put him on your watch list anyway--he's only a year removed from closing games.

Edubray Ramos (RHP, LA) is in Dodgers camp and his projections really do not look much different from mainstay Pedro Baez (RHP, LA). Baez has a tick higher Dom and gives up a few more home runs as well. Is there room for Ramos? The 1.13 WHIP and 8.4 Dom with a 2.8 Cmd ratio is promising. If he shows that early, he could get a call sooner than later. The Dodgers like to throw waves of players at games, so Ramos has a fighting chance to go up and down this year. For leverage, he will have to beat that 4.30 xERA. Worth a watch list? For now, certainly.

Brandon Morrow (RHP, CHC) is taking another shot with the Cubs after being injured in 2019. Morrow has always tantalized with great stuff, but injuries always seem to stop him. Now, he is looking at an uphill battle just to make a roster. Luckily, he chose to return to the Cubs where he could well make that pen if he can stay healthy long enough. He would have to beat that 4.41 xERA and 1.43 WHIP projection--but not by much, given the other options. As with the others, put him on your watch list and see how it goes. Unlike the others, if it goes well, you may want to pounce, particularly if closer Craig Kimbrel (RHP, CHC) is struggling for any reason.

Now let's shift gears. Tampa Bay just traded away 2019 closer Emilio Pagan (RHP, SD) to San Diego. Both of these teams have incredibly deep bullpens and the Pagan trade makes for a nice excuse to take a look at each pen after the trade. Let's start with Tampa Bay:

TAM (projections)      IP  xERA WHIP  Dom  Cmd HR/9  $  ADP
===================== ==== ==== ==== ==== ==== ==== === ===
P.Fairbanks            44  3.07 1.32 12.9  5.3  1.4 -12  --
N.Anderson             58  3.18 1.10 13.0  4.9  1.2   5 252
A.Kittredge            44  3.23 1.16  9.6  4.7  1.0  -3 746
D.Castillo             65  3.30 1.12 10.4  3.6  0.8   4 509
O.Drake                44  3.53 1.25 10.2  3.1  1.0  -5 741
J.Alvarado (L)         44  3.70 1.25 10.8  2.3  0.8  -4 613
C.Poche (L)            51  3.82 1.10 12.9  4.1  1.1  -1 675
C.Roe                  51  3.88 1.29  9.4  2.7  1.1  -6 751

Nick Anderson (RHP, TAM), right? 13.0 Dom and 4.9 Cmd ratio, crazy numbers in 2019 out of nowhere and even better for Tampa Bay than he was for Miami. People I trust say he will close. But that's just the start of the story with the Rays bullpen. Four relievers projected under 3.50 xERA. Eight under 4.00 xERA. Only one of those with a WHIP over 1.30. The worst Cmd ratio is 2.3. The worst Dom is 9.4. This group is going to mow down opponents in 2020.

Save chances found not only the departed Pagan, but also lefties Jose Alvarado (LHP, TAM) before a small meltdown, Colin Poche (LHP, TAM) and his 12.9 Dom, 4.1 Cmd ratio combo, Diego Castillo (RHP, TAM) who also proved versatile enough to open a bit, as did Chaz Roe (RHP, TAM) and Andrew Kittredge (RHP, TAM), demonstrating that some of these guys can go more than one inning at a time with great effect. And then there is flamethrower Peter Fairbanks (RHP, TAM) who didn't do much and then didn't even pitch in 2018 after a second Tommy John. Fairbanks came back with an absurd 98 strikeouts against 22 walks in 64.2 innings in the minors before 13 strikeouts against 3 walks in 12.1 innings in the majors. The projection says 12.9 Dom and 5.3 Cmd ratio. The xERA says 3.07. That will play.

The one thing you can count on is that the Rays will figure out how to deploy these stellar arms to maximize the effect. If that means Anderson goes two innings in a close game and Poche gets some tough lefties at the end for the save one time every two weeks, then that's what it means. Even if Anderson is the designated closer—and why wouldn't he be?—he won't cover that role in the traditional manner of other teams. Grab him for the added strikeouts, but beware the save total dipping a tad below expectations. As for the others—they may all get some small added bump out of it, beyond their projected BPIs.

We have already talked a bit about Miguel Diaz (RHP, SD) and Kyle Barraclough (RHP, SD) and the uphill battle they will have getting into games for San Diego. Here is a chart that shows you just how deep the Padres bullpen really is:

SD (projections)       IP  xERA WHIP  Dom  Cmd HR/9  $  ADP
===================== ==== ==== ==== ==== ==== ==== === ===
K.Yates                58  2.54 1.00 14.0  6.0  0.9  14  79
J.Castillo (L)         29  3.11 1.00 12.1  4.3  0.6  -4 748
A.Munoz                65  3.53 1.15 11.5  2.9  0.8   2 545
C.Stammen              73  3.63 1.12  8.3  4.2  1.0   3 718
E.Pagan                65  3.72 1.00 10.9  4.9  1.5   ? 166
D.Bednar               29  3.73 1.38 10.9  3.5  0.6  -8  --
M.Strahm (L)           73  3.79 1.15  9.7  4.9  1.4   1 587
T.Wingenter            58  3.98 1.26 11.3  2.4  0.9  -4 751
D.Pomeranz (L)         87  4.20 1.29  9.7  2.5  1.3  -1 492

The worst xERA on this list belongs to Drew Pomeranz (LHP, SD) who posted a 1.88 ERA and 0.84 WHIP after transitioning to relief last season, with a 6.3 Cmd ratio. Pomeranz is probably not their worst reliever and it would be surprisingly for him to fail to beat this projection from the pen, except of course that 87 innings could be a lot lower. Add Pomeranz to Jose Castillo (LHP, SD) and Matt Strahm (LHP, SD) and the Padres boast three elite left-handers in the pen behind top closer Kirby Yates (RHP, SD). Add to that Emilio Pagan (RHP, SD) and Andres Munoz (RHP, SD) and there is not a late-inning leverage problem that this pen cannot solve. This is why it is going to be almost impossible for Baez or Barraclough to make this pen, at least in the early going.

Next pen column goes after some LIMA targets. Follow me @dougdennis41


Click here to subscribe

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