Royals closer Joakim Soria was having himself quite the rough spring this year. Not only was he being hit hard in Cactus League games, but he also struggled in ‘B’ games and in intrasquad contests as well. Both Soria and manager Ned Yost seemed to be rather nonchalant about the struggles – chalking it up to early spring mechanic differences and offseason rust – but on Sunday, things took a turn for the worst.
Soria left Sunday’s exhibition game after allowing three runs off three hits and a walk while recording just one out and immediately complained to Yost and team trainers of elbow soreness. There have been no comments from the team as of yet, but Soria was more than forthcoming with his own concerns. “Oh, yeah, I’m worried,” he admitted. “Since I’ve had my Tommy John surgery (in 2003), I’ve never had anything like that. I don’t feel it’s that bad because before the Tommy John surgery, all of my strength went away. This time, it hasn’t.” The words have made a very strong imprint on both Royals fans and fantasy owners that have already invested in the one formerly known as the ‘Mexecutioner.’ Losing him for any length of time would be a huge blow on all fronts.
But since sitting around and lamenting over the potential loss isn’t what we’re all about, it’s time to start looking at the other options in the Kansas City bullpen. There are a number of pitchers, both left and right-handed that are having solid springs for them right now, but only a small handful would be worthwhile candidates to take over ninth inning responsibilities. Here’s a look at the top candidates:
Jonathan Broxton – Given his lengthy experience as the closer for the Dodgers, the natural inclination is to turn the job over to Broxton. He’s coming off of offseason arthroscopic elbow surgery, but has, thus far, looked solid this spring. He’s only made two Cactus League appearances as of Monday, but he’s thrown a pair of scoreless innings and hit as high as 96 mph on the gun. His command looks strong as he has thrown 18 of his 24 pitches for strikes and actually needed just nine pitches to throw a perfect inning his first time out. Given his injury history in the past and the fact that he’s had surgery as recent as September of 2011, there has to be a bit of trepidation relying on Broxton. However, if the ailments are behind him, then he could prove to be a very strong asset in the wake of Soria’s absence.
Greg Holland – Though he probably won’t be the first choice by Yost, he’s likely to be the best. Holland was ridiculously dominant last season in his first full year, posting a 11.10 K/9, a 3.89 K/BB, and an absolutely delicious 16.6% swinging strike rate. This guy misses a ton of bats. He’s exhibited tremendous growth from the minors to the big leagues and there doesn’t appear to be any sign of him slowing down. He actually gave up his first run of the spring on Sunday, but had thrown a total of 4.1 shutout innings with five strikeouts before that. He’s more of a ground ball pitcher with consistent 95 mph heat to go along with his 87 mph slider and nasty curve. If Yost doesn’t give him the closing nod to start, he’ll be the primary set-up man and the first to take over if Broxton stumbles.
Aaron Crow – There was a point last season where Crow appeared to be the heir-apparent to Soria when all of the trade rumors swirled. However, there were plenty in the organization that preferred to try him out as a starter. He had a decent strikeout rate and a solid four-pitch arsenal, but just needed to work on his command. So they stretched him out this spring to give him a try. Well, with three weeks left to go in spring training, it was announced that Crow was no longer a candidate to win one of the remaining rotation spots and he was headed back to the bullpen. He could be a dark horse candidate here, but the likelihood of him getting the nod over Broxton or Holland is pretty slim.
Kelvin Herrera – Probably the darkest horse right now, but still someone with some serious talent. Herrera ripped through rookie and Class-A ball and put on quite a display at the Double-A level last year with a 1.75 ERA and a 10.00 K/9 over 36 innings of work. He struggled a bit moving up to Triple-A and had a mildly bitter cup of coffee in the majors, but that certainly doesn’t rule him out. Well, maybe initially. Though he’s having a solid spring, the chances are strong that he’ll begin the season in Triple-A to hone his skills. If he can prove that he’s got that level beat, then a promotion won’t be too far off. When that happens, we’ll take a look at the Royals pen and re-evaluate.
But the bottom line here, for all you fantasy baseball folks, is that Soria needs a handcuff. If you’ve already drafted him, then Broxton and Holland are a must. If you’re planning on going after him and want to try and grab him for cheap, then you must have a handcuff ready immediately. Keep a close eye on reports this week as we’re sure to learn more once Soria has more tests done.
Howard Bender has been covering fantasy sports for over ten years on a variety of web sites including Rotowire, FanGraphs and The Fantasy Baseball Buzz. You can follow him on Twitter at @rotobuzzguy or email him at email@example.com.