During the regular season, the Closer Hot Seat will be your go-to guide for Major League Baseball's bullpen chatter. During spring training, KFFL's Fantasy Baseball Bullpen Session will get you tuned up for the fantasy baseball saves chase. Camp happenings don't always impact closer battles, but if there's MLB news you should know for your fantasy baseball draft, you'll find it here.
Two Chicago White Sox relievers battling for the closer gig are also waging a war against their own secondary offerings.
A matter of appearances
Matt Thornton, whose heat sits in the mid- to high 90s, has been trying to streamline the effort level and break on his cut fastball and slider; faulty location, likely tied to his movement offering, was partly responsible for the struggles last April that eventually cost him his shot at being the sole savior.
In an eight-pitch frame on Friday he induced three groundouts - positive yield so far. Mastering complements for his heat will be vital for him to sit down right-handed bats if he wants to take the reins. Of course, if you remove that first month last year, his numbers didn't stray much from his already closer-resembling track record.
Meanwhile, 23-year-old Addison Reed, owner of drool-inducing peripherals and a trio of beyond-his-age pitches, still needs to work on hitting both sides of the plate with his "breaking pitch," which PITCH f/x classifies as a slider. A notable growth moment (yes, they're possible in spring ball) was his impressive K of Matt Kemp, which featured a promising display of the slide piece.
Though skilled, Jesse Crain is the third fantasy horse in this race and deserves chiefly desperation consideration. Thornton has the short-term edge, but a smooth continuation of Reed's dynamite 2011 stint would give him an easier road to claim it if Thornton struggles.
A handcuff of Thornton and Reed makes sense, especially in deeper setups; whoever doesn't close will still give difference-making numbers.
Blame his delayed timetable, not the competition: Jim Johnson (lower back strain) hasn't yet received the title of Baltimore Orioles closer from Buck Showalter. He probably just wants to see the grounder-forcing, heat-seeking RP throw in a few more games he's confident in giving him the keys. Johnson fanned two in a "B" game on Sunday during his first spring contest.
Johnson still has plenty of time to round into form and remains the top saves target from B-more, but Kevin Gregg - there's money invested there, after all - and Matt Lindstrom, who has a hint of sleeper in him, have some experience (albeit rocky) in the role. It's not a stretch for Showalter to turn to one of them in a pinch, but it would be a messy game for stat sheets and fantasy ownership.
About Tim Heaney
Tim's work has been featured by USA Today/Sports Weekly, among numerous outlets, and recognized as a finalist in the Fantasy Sports Writers Association awards. The Boston University alum, who competes in the prestigious LABR and Tout Wars, has won numerous industry leagues in both baseball and football.
He appears frequently, including every Sunday, on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio, as well as every Wednesday on 1570 AM WNST in Baltimore.
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