Sconnie Sports Talk

Brewers Spring Training: Who will close games this season and beyond?

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One of the more interesting position battles heading into Spring Training for the Milwaukee Brewers will be the battle for closer.

It’s one of the first seasons since the early 2000’s and the days of Eric Gagne and David Riske that the Brewers don’t have a solidified arm to close games—see Trevor Hoffman, John Axford and Francisco Rodriguez.

Early favorites are last year’s top bullpen arms, Jeremy Jeffress and Will Smith. Both would be viable options moving forward, but that also means they’d make good trade candidates and GM David Stearns is never one to shy away from trades. But, for the time being, it appears to be a two man race, which could actually end up as a tie.

“We have to take advantage of the fact that Will’s left-handed and J.J.’s right-handed and we will continue to take advantage of that,” manager Craig Counsell said to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “I think that’s the right thing to do, because it helps us win games.”

Although it may be best to start with a platoon at the closer position to being with, it only seems logical that one player would emerge as the consistent arm that gets the call in the ninth inning.

Jeremy Jeffress, the older of the two, made appearances in 72 games holding an ERA at 2.65. Jeffress’ best pitch is his fastball which scorches towards home plate at around 98 mph. Using his scorching fastball, the right-hander was able to strike out 67 but also showed control, allowing only 22 walks. Last season, Jeffress also showed a great ability to keep the baseball in play, giving up only 5 home runs.  

Will Smith, a left-hander, has arguably been one of the top MLB bullpen arms for the past two seasons. Averaging 77 games, a 3.20 ERA, 88 strikeouts and about 28 walks over the past two seasons, Smith’s consistency jumps out at you. And while that may make him the most favorable candidate as a closer, it also makes him one of the Brewers’ hottest trade commodities.

A theoretical Smith trade may open up an opportunity for a younger prospect, whom few have gotten to know yet, Damien Magnifico. The 24-year old, right-handed pitcher had 20 saves last year in AA ball, while holding his ERA at 1.17.

Magnifico also struck out 38 in 53 innings of work last season in the minors. And the name, Magnifico, is just the quintessential name for a closer; you can almost hear the voice of baseball, Bob Uecker. “And Magnifico stuck him out swinging.”

Perhaps most intriguing about the 24-year old, is the fact he has showed steady improvement, doing better every year he has been in the minor league system. In 2014 he pitched 120 innings and struck out 76, showing he had the durability to pitch at a consistent level.

The Brewers, for the past seven years, have had a reliable arm they ensured the ninth inning too, and that trend looks to continue as Smith and Jeffress battle it out for the closer role. Both were a part of the only reliable part of the Brewers team this past season; the bullpen. Despite all the trades, the bullpen has remained relatively untouched, so there is no reason to think the bullpen will be a liability this coming season, it’s really just a matter of who pitches in what inning.

If trades start to take away the Brewers bullpen depth, Magnifico, how is currently on the 40-man roster, could break his way into the 25-man active roster. And whether it is because he has the most fitting name for a closer or because he has closer stuff, he could get the call come the ninth inning.


Photo courtesy of USA Today.

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