Baseball's Top 20 Relief Prospects

A strong bullpen can be the difference in a close game. Each year, teams struggle to put together a bullpen that can hold leads. Find out what up-and-coming prospects can help your team - and many may see the majors this season.

1. Drew StorenWashington Nationals

The 2009 draft gave the Nationals a potential ace starter in Stephen Strasburg, and also gave them a potential ace reliever in Storen. His 92-94 mph fastball can be a bit straight, but he commands it well, and mixes his curveball, slider, and a new change-up in effectively. He could be closing in Washington very soon.

2. Jake McGee – Tampa Bay Rays

Currently completing the road back from Tommy John surgery, the early returns were very positive for McGee in 2009. If his stuff comes all the way back, he has shown he can run his fastball up to 98 at times, while possessing a solid breaking ball and showing feel fro a change-up. Though he may still start for a while, his future likely resides in the late innings.

3. Chris WithrowLos Angeles Dodgers

While he is being worked in as a starter in Double-A this season, Withrow doesn't have the changeup necessary to keep hitters off-balance three times through a lineup. With a fastball that has hit 99 mph, and a curveball that can buckle knees, however, Withrow is positioned as a top flight closer.

4. Phillippe AumontPhiladelphia Phillies

Though the Phillies have shown interest in keeping him in the rotation, his delivery and raw stuff scream high leverage reliever. A gigantic and imposing presence on the mound, Aumont can work in the mid-90s out of the bullpen with plus-plus sinking action on his two-seam fastball. His breaking ball can be a swing-and-miss pitch, and could give him the second top notch offering he needs to excel in relief.

5. Daniel SchlerethDetroit Tigers

A first-round pick by the Diamondbacks, Schlereth was moved to the Tigers as part of the Edwin Jackson/Curtis Granderson blockbuster last off-season. Despite some struggles with command, Schlereth's plus-plus velocity and potential plus breaking ball still give him the chance to be a legit big league closer.

6. Rex BrothersColorado Rockies

Brothers could move very quickly, and may even see Colorado at some point during the 2010 season. With a fastball that works in the 94-96 mph range, and a filthy slider that can approach the upper-80s, Brothers could be a dynamic closing option down the line. He must improve his strike throwing ability, but his ceiling as a reliever is significant.

7. Jordan WaldenLos Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Walden battled through injury last year and was finally converted into relief this season. He never fully grasped the changeup, and his command has been erratic at times. A mid-90s fastball that has good sink and a tough slider that bites when he stays on top of the ball play well into a late inning role.

8. Kameron MickolioBaltimore Orioles

Mickolio's 6-foot-9 frame allows him to generate an outstanding downward plane toward the plate, and makes his mid-90s fastball that much harder for hitters to lift and square up. His delivery has some funk and deception, as he throws slightly across his body, and there are concerns about his durability. If he sharpens his slider and command, he could help Baltimore close down leads this year.

9. Mark MelanconNew York Yankees

Armed with three plus pitches, including a nasty sinkerball and an equally effective curveball, Melancon has posted impressive numbers through his career. He will give the opposition too much credit at times and simply needs to mature before he becomes a dominant force at the big league level.

10. Josh Lindblom – Los Angeles Dodgers

While he has been working as a starter, most expect Lindblom to find his home as a reliever. With a darting fastball that dives down in the zone and a power curveball, Lindblom is especially tough in those shorter stints. He can be exposed without a quality third pitch as a starter.

11. Sam GervacioHouston Astros

The rare potential late-inning reliever that prefers to use his breaking ball more than his slider, Gervacio's slider is absolutely fantastic. It is a hard-biting slider with excellent velocity, working consistently in the mid-80s. His fastball can sit in the low-90s, and it serves as a nice change of pace from his slider. With little standing in his way in the Houston organization, Gervacio could get a chance to close some games in 2010.

12. Craig KimbrelAtlanta Braves

The only lingering concern surrounding Kimbrel entering the 2010 season, was his ability to locate his 93-95 mph fastball. A hot start in Triple-A has helped quell some of those concerns, and he is cementing himself as Atlanta's closer of the future. He could be in the big leagues by mid-season, and his fastball-curveball combo could dominate in the late innings.

13. Craig ItalianoSan Diego Padres

Acquired from Oakland, Italiano made an immediate impact within the system. With a mid-90s fastball and a sharp, late breaking slider that sweeps across the zone, it is near impossible for right-handed hitters to pick up. He has also proven to be effective against left-handers, using his moving fastball to keep the ball on the ground.

14. Carlos GutierrezMinnesota Twins

A college reliever, turned starter, Gutierrez seems destined to head back to the bullpen for his big league future. He features a dynamic sinking fastball that induces tons of groundballs, and helps his average secondary stuff look better than it really is. He likely won't be a big league fixture until sometime in the 2011 season, but once there, he could be a setup reliever or closer.

15. Zach BraddockMilwaukee Brewers

Health and durability have been longstanding concerns regarding Braddock. When he is healthy, however, the left-hander flashes a live arm with a mid-90s fastball and filthy slider. He uses his size well and is a commanding presence on the mound, changing hitters' eye level with his downhill plane.

16. Daniel RunzlerSan Francisco Giants

Runzler flew through five levels in 2009, making his debut with San Francisco late in the year. He made the club out of spring and has been put in key situations, showcasing his mid-90s fastball and power curveball. The southpaw has the makings of a future closer that works quickly and ahead in the count.

17. Mark Rogers – Milwaukee Brewers

It's been a long road for Rogers, having missed two full years with shoulder problems, and then receiving only limited action last year, but the talent is hard to ignore. With a big time fastball from the right side, Rogers can blow the ball by hitters when he is throwing strikes. He still needs plenty of polish, but there is late inning potential in there somewhere.

18. Casey Weathers – Colorado Rockies

Looking to get back on the mound after missing the 2009 season with Tommy John surgery, Weathers could be in the big leagues quickly if he shows the stuff that made him a first round pick. With a 92-94 fastball that has solid movement, and a swing-and-miss slider, Weathers has the stuff to compliment his late inning mentality.

19. Brandon Gomes – San Diego Padres

A slight change in his arm slot pushed his velocity up to the mid-90s. His slider is an above-average pitch. But it is his splitter that is the best pitch of all, grading out as a plus-plus offering that others are jealous of. He locates well, keeps the ball down and will aid the Padres sometime in the future.

20. Josh FieldsSeattle Mariners

Thought of as closer material since being drafted, Fields has struggled with command since entering the professional ranks. His repertoire, which features a fastball in the mid-90s and a knee-buckling curveball make him a terrific closer candidate. Finding consistency within his mechanics and a repeatable delivery could push him rapidly.

2010 Watch List:

Jose CedaFlorida Marlins

After missing all of 2009 and undergoing surgery on his throwing arm, Ceda is hoping to find his way back in 2010. Armed with an upper-90s fastball and hard slider, Ceda was close to the majors. He has to show that his command is improving and his considerable weight is under control. If those two are within range, Ceda can be dominant late in games.

Anthony Slama – Minnesota Twins

He doesn't have the big fastball that others have on the list but his two-seam fastball has sinking action that acts like a cutter. His slow-pitch slider is a true swing-and-miss pitch and he compliments things with a circle changeup. He can throw any pitch for a strike in any count. He doesn't profile as a closer but will wind up as a valuable member of the Twins bullpen, providing a bridge to the closer.

Clevelan SantelizChicago White Sox

Santeliz is an excitable reliever with tons of passion and energy on the mound. He relishes the late inning environment and challenges hitters to hit his best stuff; that stuff being a fastball that can reach 95-96 mph and a plus slider that just needs some consistency.

Alexis Lara – San Diego Padres

Turning heads when he tossed 95 mph this spring and mowed down hitters without fear, Lara has a plus changeup that is thrown with the same arm speed as his fastball. He is a max-effort pitcher with deception in his delivery and has worked on a slider to add a third pitch. It is not on par with the other two and may not even be needed.

Henry RodriguezOakland Athletics

Armed with a triple-digit arm and a hard, sharp slider, Rodriguez often has scouts salivating. His control problems, however, have kept him from meeting his potential. While hitters have a tough time getting good wood, he will walk the bases loaded just as quickly as he can strikeout the side.

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