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Closer Breakout Candidates

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Major League Closers have about as much job security as Billy Martin and because of this we see a few new names finishing games for teams around the league. 2011 sees more opportunities for new stars of the position to emerge. Here are the best of a handful of players who could be your source for saves this year.

Drew Storen - He won't put up eye popping strikeout numbers but he should be around 1 per inning which is about average for a closer. Where Storen could help is in the ERA and WHIP areas which will lead to saves. He has 3 above average pitches that he uses to keep batters off balance; a 94 MPH fastball, an often used slider and a curveball. With little competition in the Nationals organization he should get the lion's share of save opps in Washington.

Craig Kimbrel - The Braves have yet to come out and announce Kimbrel as their closer but he is the clear front runner. The wild righty has the potential to enter Carlos Marmol K/9 territory with a walk rate to match. He bullied minor league hitters to the tune of 14.4 K/9 over 3 seasons before ringing up 17.42 K/9 in 20.2  big league innings. He also walks about a half dozen batters per nine innings. The Braves have talked about a closer by committee between Kimbrel and Jonny Venters which would drive down his value but teams rarely stick with that strategy and one of them should have the role outright by May at the latest. Kimbrel is the better choice as Venters would be better used as a lefty specialist giving the Braves a dominant back end to their bullpen.

Jake McGee - Another pitcher without a guaranteed closer role, McGee should work his way into the job in 2011. A former top starting pitching prospect, McGee battled injuries and the Rays decided his arsenal worked best as a reliever. He mixes solid command with above average strikeout ability and is able to avoid the long ball. Tampa may want to see how he handles major league hitters before making him the last line of defense against comebacks but if all goes as expected he should be getting saves regularly by the end of the year if not from the get go.

Koji Uehara - The Japanese import has earned the closers role for the Orioles but whether they give it to him is another story. A dominant closer in Japan, he has the experience and his 11/1 K/BB last year could make him one of the game's premiere stoppers this year. His age may scare off some but he gets by on cunning rather than pure stuff. Japanese relievers seem to have a longer shelf life than their north american counterparts as evidenced by Uehara and Takashi Saito. He isn't a safe bet but could pay off big.

Chris Sale - The tall lefty is destined for the bullpen now meaning there is one less question mark surrounding him. Ozzie Guillen has said he is the front runner to be the White Sox closer but he could have competition from Matt Thronton. The vote of confidence from the manager is nice but you gotta believe they would rather go with the established dominator in Thornton. If given the role he will rack up plenty of saves to go with high strikeout totals and bunches of groundballs. With only 33.2 pro innings under his belt he could have some bumps along the way but the future looks bright for Sale.

Jason Motte - Motte is simply waiting for opportunity to present itself with Ryan Franklin holding the closer duties in St. Louis. Motte has a more prototypical closers arsenal compared to Franklin and could be dominant if Franklin falters. A strikeout monster in the minors, he has good control for a pitcher with his stuff. With only an aging veteran in his way he will just have to bide his time before becoming a household name in fantasy.

Joel Hanrahan - He has the Ks, he has the control and he even has some of the groundballs. What he doesn't have is the job. Evan Meek will fight him for the Pirates closer role in spring training. If he wins the job he will earn a lot of points for some savvy owners. His K/9 has risen from 9.92 to 10.13 to 12.92 the past 3 years. It's safe to assume he will give you 10+ K/9 and if he can keep the 3.36 BB/9 he posted last year he could be elite. He will likely issue more free passes this year but even if he does it shouldn't hurt his numbers too much.

Kenley Jansen - Jansen is as big a mystery as Sasquatch and just as wild. The former catcher turned fireballer reliever has made an astonishing transition taking only 56.2 minor league innings to reach the majors. Jansen doesn't stop amazing you there. After posting 15.4 K/9 in his short minor league trial he was summond to the bigs and walked over hitters to the tune of a 0.67 ERA and 13.7 K/9 in 27 IP. The Dodgers already have a couple of closers ahead of him on the depth chart but neither are sure things to get saves in 2011. Jonathan Broxton was an elite closer before imploding in the second half last year and Hong-Chih Kuo may be better suited as a lefty specialist. The Dodgers will probably want to see more from Jansen before handing him the job but it's worth watching how the Dodgers bullpen pans out.