A reader recently asked for a list of successful minor league relief pitchers who could, in theory, perform well in a major league bullpen if given an opportunity, but who are not currently guaranteed a certain big league job in 2016 and are not considered top prospects. I'm not sure if the reader was looking for sneaky sleeper sources of saves or just pitchers who could provide some quality filler innings, but the topic is worth a look.
Given that the reader asked specifically about 2016 potential, we will limit our scan to pitchers at the Double-A level or higher. That precludes any Roberto Osuna-type who makes a leap from A-ball, but those guys are impossible to predict five months out.
Here are nine to consider. There are a ton of these guys around so this is hardly comprehensive and for the most part I have focused on older guys who did receive brief major league time this year to show what they can do. It does not include LOOGY types.
Shawn Armstrong, RHP, Cleveland Indians: Age 25, 18th round pick in '11 from East Carolina, posted 2.36 ERA with 16 saves, 80/26 K/BB in 50 innings in Triple-A, fanned 11 in eight big league innings, can hit 97 and has a good slider.
Silvino Bracho, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks: Age 23, from Venezuela, 1.60 ERA, 73/10 K/BB in 51 innings between AA/AAA, 19 saves, then a 17/4 K/BB in 12 major league innings. Undersized at 5-10 but can hit 95, good slider, throws strikes.
Erik Cordier, RHP, Free agent: Minor league vet, age 29, pitched in Giants and Marlins systems most recently, history of command troubles and injury but dominates when on his game, 1.26 ERA with 57/27 K/BB in 43 innings this year, can hit 100.
Oliver Drake, RHP, Baltimore Orioles: Age 28, 43rd round pick out of Navy in 2008, long and solid record, 0.82 ERA with 66/16 K/BB in 44 innings, 23 saves in Triple-A, 2.87 with 17/9 in 16 innings with Orioles, maxes at 92 but knows how to pitch,
Ryan Dull, RHP, Oakland Athletics: Age 26, 32nd round pick in '12 from UNC-Asheville, 0.74 ERA with 73/16 K/BB in 61 innings in AA/AAA this year, 16/6 in 17 innings, 4.24 in the majors, another short 5-10 pitcher but can hit 93, has always been successful.
Jay Jackson, RHP, San Diego Padres: Age 27, ninth round pick by Cubs in '08 out of Furman, once a top prospect as starter but faded in Triple-A, converted to relief this year and thrived, 2.42 ERA, 86/18 in 75 innings, 15 saves, gave up seven hits in four big league innings but fanned four, can hit 95-96. More here.
Paul Sewald, RHP, New York Mets: Age 25, 10th round pick from University of San Diego in 2012, 1.75 with 24 saves, 56/10 K/BB in 51 innings in Double-A, does not throw hard but consistently gets people out. Great bargain for $1,000 bonus.
Layne Somsen, RHP, Cincinnati Reds: Age 26, 22nd round pick from South Dakota State in 2013, 2.74 ERA with 60/30 K/BB in 62 innings in AA/AAA this year. Tommy John survivor, needs better control but he has enough arm strength to play in the pen.
Nick Wittgren, RHP, Miami Marlins: Age 24, ninth round pick in 2012 from Purdue, 2.95 ERA in 64 innings with 67/8 K/BB this year between AA and AAA, low-90s heat, throws quality strikes with splitter and curve, impressive track record.