The Philadelphia Phillies are having a difficult season: 23-45 as I write this, last place in the National League East, with the worst record in baseball and in an intense dogfight with the Milwaukee Brewers to see who qualifies for the top pick in the 2016 draft. One of the few bright spots has been the performance of young relief pitcher Ken Giles.
Through 29 innings, Giles has a 1.86 ERA and a 33/13 K/BB. As you may remember he also pitched very well after being promoted to the majors last summer. All told through 75 major league innings this year and last (one full season of work for a typical reliever) he has a 1.45 ERA, 97/24 K/BB with just 50 hits allowed. Should the Phillies find a trade taker for Jonathan Papelbon, Giles would certainly be in line for closer opportunities.
During the recent 2015 MLB draft, there was considerable commentary about the appropriate slot position of relief pitchers on draft day. In the not-too-distant past you would see college closers drafted in the first round with the expressed intent of them reaching the majors quickly in a bullpen role.
Ryan Wagner, first round pick by the Reds from the University of Houston in 2003 was one example. University of Texas closer Huston Street was drafted in the supplemental first round in 2004 and was saving games in the majors in less than a year for the Oakland Athletics. 2005 saw the selection of St. John's relief ace Craig Hansen in the first round by the Boston Red Sox. Street worked out well; Wagner and Hansen did not.
Teams seem less willing to draft closers that early nowadays; indeed, a closer projection seems to hurt a pitcher's stock. In this year's draft, Illinois closer Tyler Jay was drafted sixth-overall by the Minnesota Twins but with the idea that he would convert to starting. Vanderbilt ace starter Carson Fulmer went eighth-overall to the White Sox because they believe he has the durability to start long-term. Not everyone agrees with that, however, and analysts who see Fulmer as a future closer didn't rate him as highly.
In his case, Giles was a reliever in junior college and projected that way as a pro, leading to his selection in the seventh round in 2011.
So let's discuss this. How early would you, personally, be willing to draft someone who projects as a closer? If you knew with certain knowledge that Jay or Fulmer would not succeed as starters and would definitely end up in the bullpen, how much would that impact your assessment of them?
You can say "it depends on the case" of course, but as a general principle, where do you stand?