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If you have read my previous fantasy baseball draft guides, you already know that my least favorite part of any draft (and any draft guide) is choosing relief pitchers.
The list of closers with real value is very short, and it got even shorter after last season with the retirement of Mariano Rivera, who was the very model of consistency at a position that has very little consistency from year to year.
Yet, in Mo's wake, it seems we do have another year-in, year-out dominant RP emerging. He's the clear No. 1, though I still wouldn't go out of my way to draft him before late fifth round or early sixth round in a 10- or 12-team league.
1. Craig Kimbrel, ATL: Fifty saves last year were a career-high. His strikeout total did slip under 100 for the first time to 98, but his K/9 IP is still in the double digits (13.2), which is what you want from a top closer; his K/BB ratio is almost 5/1. No reason he won't lead the NL in saves again.
2. Kenley Jansen, LAD: His 111 strikeouts in 77 IP and 0.86 WHIP last year both were better than Kimbrel, and though he topped out at 28 saves and missed some time due to injury, his stock is surging as the Dodgers look like a clear postseason contender again.
3. Trevor Rosenthal, STL: A little lower on some lists, mainly because he's a first-time closer, but he's been groomed for the job by a team that does everything exactly right. His 108 strikeouts in 75 innings as a set-up man last year make him arguably as good a choice as Jansen for No. 2.
4. Aroldis Chapman, CIN: In stretches, he is the most unhittable RP of this bunch, and with 15.8 K/9 IP, he can deliver as many strikeouts a week as some starters. His downside is streakiness, and there can be a very ugly game or two between the hot streaks.
5. Greg Holland, KC: The Royals found the win column a lot more often last year, which helped Holland to 47 saves. His high points were a 1.21 ERA and 0.86 WHIP, and if he comes anywhere close to those numbers this year, he'll net 50-55 saves for a still-improving team.
6. Koji Uehara, BOS: It took the eventual champs a while to find their closer last year, but when they did, he was unhittable, with a .130 batting average against, and a 1.09 ERA. He is about to turn 39, so this could be a risky ranking, but the Red Sox should give him many save chances.
7. Joe Nathan, DET: Another oldie but goodie. This 39-year-old recorded his most saves in four seasons last year, and his lowest ERA and WHIP in five seasons. He should be even tougher in a pitchers' park after moving from Texas to Detroit during the offseason.
8. Michael Wacha, STL: SP/RP. If you slot him as an RP, you're more interested in ensuring you win the wins and Ks categories than battling to win the save category, but that's a strategy some managers use, and if you do, Wacha is at the top of the dual eligibility list this year.
9. Tony Cingrani, CIN: SP/RP. And this guy would be No. 2 on that same list. He's going to have some nice weeks of 15-20 strikeouts; hard to beat in the RP slot.
10. David Roberston, NYY: Mo Rivera's heir apparent had just 18 walks in 66 IP, though he did yield 51 hits. He's not as dominant a strikeout pitchers as some closers, but the bottom line is that the closer for the Yankees is going to be assured plenty of save opportunities.
11. Jim Johnson, OAK: The most difficult ranking on this list. He led the AL with 50 saves last year, giving him 101 in the last two seasons. Yet, every other number was worse in 2013, including a .273 BAA, not what you want to see in the 9th inning. Plus, many more grounders than whiffs.
12. Rafael Soriano, WAS: Another guy not strong in strikeouts, with 51 in 67 IP last year, but he gets the job done. He has managed 40+ saves in each of his last three years as a closer.
13. Sergio Romo, SF: Somehow managed 38 saves last year while giving up 53 hits in 60 IP. At least his ceiling his no longer limited by Bruce Bochy's old closer committee approach.
14. Andrew Cashner, SD: SP/RP. Could finally be in line for a breakout year, so he could end up giving you a very good fifth starter from the RP slot. Injury risk is high, however.
15. Glen Perkins, MIN: His sterling 36-save season was the Twins team highlight for 2013. A .196 BAA and 0.93 WHIP are promising signs for better things, and might make him a bargain here as a second closer. Still, the Twins won't be any better, so he could max out at 35-36 saves again.
16. Grant Balfour, TAM: Mostly delivered on considerable hype last year with 38 saves for Oakland, and went back to Tampa, the scene of his great past success as a set-up man. However, his ERA has ticked upward four straight seasons, and his 1.20 WHIP last year isn't great for a closer.
17. Steve Cishek, MIA: Young closer managed 34 saves in 36 chances for a bad team. Miami won't be much better, but a little. With only one year under his belt, he's not a No. 1 RP just yet.
18. Jonathan Papelbon, PHI: A ridiculously low 11 walks in 61 IP last year show he's still got control, but 59 hits yielded show a veteran closer on the wane. Things could get interesting if he's traded or manages to find his mojo again.
19. Jason Grilli, PIT: Part of this aging arm's success story is that he landed with the right team to collect 33 saves for last year. The Pirates will be good again, though at 37 and with some time out last year from injury, I don't see Grilli doing much better.
20. Fernando Rodney, SEA: He became the wild card of this bunch when he recently signed with the Mariners, who should end up in plenty of close games. He did have eight blown saves for Tampa last year, but rallied as the season wore on, and earned 37 saves.
Just missed: Ernesto Frieri, LAA: His inconsistency last year could be seen in his 3.80 ERA, though he did have 37 saves for a middling team. If the Angels start hot and Frieri piles up strikeouts, he could move deep into the top 20.
Sleeper: John Axford, CLE: He's a few years removed from his best year in Milwaukee, but signs suggest the closer job is his to lose, and Cleveland should hand him plenty of leads.
Sleeper who isn't really a sleeper: Addison Reed, ARI: How does a guy with 40 saves not make the top 20? He was often shaky and actually blew eight saves for the White Sox, and the Sox might have had the right idea trading him when he still had value. I see him more likely as an in-season pick-up if he shows a hot hand early.
Next week: We mash up all of our position research into an overall fantasy top 50.
Previously in the Draft Guide:
* The Pitchers & Catchers Report Report.
* The Big Fish.
Dan O'Shea is our man in fantasyland. He welcomes your comments.
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