Pre-Season Sox Stock: Relief Pitchers

RobertsonThe lack of a consistent bullpen was undoubtedly one of the major downfalls of the Chicago White Sox season in 2014. If you had a dollar for every time the Sox surrendered a lead in the 6th inning or later last season, you might be able to fill up your gas tank. The bullpen was a problem before the team even headed to Arizona for Spring Training. In fact, the bullpen was a problem the moment the Sox traded away their already-established young closer Addison Reed to the Diamondbacks in December of 2013.

The audition for Addison Reed’s vacant closer role lasted an entire calendar year until this past December when the Sox acquired David Robertson from the Yankees. From Nate Jones to Matt Lindstrom to Ronald Belisario to Javy Guerra to Jake Petricka, the list of failed/injured closers went on and on last year. Unfortunately, the team’s 162-game regular season was the casualty of trial and error. The Sox had hoped to discover a new closer during Spring Training, but that didn’t happen, and the search didn’t conclude until the 2014 season was already over.

As the team heads into Spring Training this year, there is much more optimism and structure in the bullpen.

MAJOR LEAGUE STOCK: Up and Rising

The achilles heel of a good bullpen is a reliable closer. Sure, the set-up men play a big role, as do the middle relief guys. But without a good closer, no lead is safe. Just ask the 2014 Sox. David Robertson had a tremendous season last year for the Yankees, and the team is hopeful that he can have equally productive seasons on the south side of Chicago in 2015 and beyond.

Another void that needed to be filled in the bullpen is the left-handed specialist role. Much like the closer role, the team saw many failed auditions for left-handed specialist throughout the season. The team broke camp with Scott Downs and Donnie Veal, but neither of them were even remotely successful. Then we saw Eric Surkamp struggle, and we even saw the experiment of not having any lefties in the bullpen. Need I say that experiment didn’t work either?

When the season was said and done, general manager Rick Hahn’s first off-season move was signing free agent lefty reliever Zach Duke, who is coming off a career year in Milwuakee. Hahn then added lefty Dan Jennings just weeks later. Jennings is also coming off a very good year in Miami.

The Sox are already optimistic about their right-handed arms that they will likely be returning in 2015 – Guerra, Petricka and Zach Putnam. All three of those guys had productive seasons a year ago.

MINOR LEAGUE STOCK: Down and Constant

It’s hard to differentiate starting pitchers from relief pitchers in the minor leagues, considering their roles may change if they are promoted to the majors. Therefore, we should have basically the same outlook on the team’s minor league relief pitching as we do starting pitching. However, if we discount the three pitching prospects I mentioned in my starting pitching stock report, that leaves us with just one more pitcher left in the team’s top 10 prospects (according to mlbpipeline.com)…. and even that pitcher (Spencer Adams) is projected to be a starter at the big league level.

The back end of that top 20 list rounds out with three more relief prospects, but only one of them had a good season last year. Nolan Sanburn, a hard-throwing righty who was acquired in the trade that sent Adam Dunn to Oakland, posted a 3.28 ERA in 42 relief appearances in the A’s farm system last year.

Ultimately, it looks as if the Sox AA and AAA affiliates will rely mostly on their position players to win ball games in 2015.