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Fantasy Baseball Preview: Relief Pitcher

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ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 04: Craig Kimbrel #46 of the Atlanta Braves pitches in the ninth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers during Game Two of the National League Division Series at Turner Field on October 4, 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia.

Craig Kimbrel (Photo Credit: Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

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By Tony Meale

In our Fantasy Baseball Preview, CBS Local Sports breaks down the top players at each position for your fantasy baseball draft.

1B | 2B | SS | 3B | OF | SP | C | RP | Sleepers/Busts

Position Overview

There are many fantasy players who subscribe to the “don’t pay for saves” philosophy. They won’t take a closer in the first 15 rounds of their draft. In fact, some won’t draft any closers at all.

Well, I’m not one of those players.

I understand that closer is a volatile position. Guys are promoted and demoted all the time. But I don’t want to rely on injuries, ineffectiveness and waiver-wire dominance just to ensure that I won’t finish last in a category.

In my starting pitcher rankings, I suggested drafting two staff anchors within the first seven or eight rounds of your draft. In that same vein, I recommend drafting two closers within the first, say, 12 rounds. Ideally, these guys will have an established track record of 30+ saves. If not, they should be in pretty darn good closer situations.

And hey, if you follow this advice, your first 12 picks will be spent on two top-notch starters, two top-notch closers and eight offensive starters. Then you can use the rest of your draft to build your bench and add pitching depth.

Here’s a list of my top 12 closers for 2014 – in the order in which I would draft them.

The Top 12

1) Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves

Kimbrel, with great peripheral numbers, has recorded 42+ saves in each of the last three seasons, including 50 a year ago. This is as no-brainer as it gets.

Projection: 46 saves, 4 wins, 1.44 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, 113 strikeouts

2) Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds

Chapman has saved 38 games in back-to-back seasons and is a strikeout machine (234 over the last two years).

Projection: 40 saves, 5 wins, 2.30 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 122 strikeouts

PITTSBURGH, PA - AUGUST 13:  Kenley Jansen #74 of the Los Angeles Dodgers closes out the ninth inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the game on August 13, 2012 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Kenley Jansen (Photo Credit: Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

3) Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers

Jansen is like a poor man’s Kimbrel or Chapman – only he’s still pretty darn rich. He’s posted a sub-0.90 WHIP each of the last two seasons, during which he has 53 saves. If the Dodgers perform as expected in 2014, Jansen could finish with 40+ saves.

Projection: 41 saves, 4 wins, 2.31 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 117 strikeouts

4) Trevor Rosenthal, St. Louis Cardinals

Rosenthal, who had 108 strikeouts in 75.1 innings last year, throws absolute gas. Like Jansen, he’s going to make a run at 40 saves.

Projection: 40 saves, 3 wins, 2.42 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 101 strikeouts

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5) Joe Nathan, Detroit Tigers

Noticing a trend yet? All of the closers on this list pitch for playoff-caliber teams, and Nathan is no exception. The Tigers have won three consecutive division titles.

Projection: 38 saves, 5 wins, 2.68 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 83 strikeouts

6) Greg Holland, Kansas City Royals

Since becoming Kansas City’s closer in August 2012, Holland has recorded 63 saves – second-most in baseball – and ranks among the top 10 relievers in ERA, WHIP and strikeout rate.

Projection: 37 saves, 2 wins, 2.45 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 97 strikeouts

ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 27:  Koji Uehara #19 of the Boston Red Sox looks on in the ninth inning against St. Louis Cardinals during Game Four of the 2013 World Series at Busch Stadium on October 27, 2013 in St Louis, Missouri.

Koji Uehara (Photo Credit: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

7) Koji Uehara, Boston Red Sox

Uehara would be ranked higher if not for his injury history; he’s been on the DL each of his first four major league seasons. Still, he could miss a month and finish with 30+ saves.

Projection: 35 saves, 3 wins, 2.21 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 85 strikeouts

8) Jim Johnson, Oakland Athletics

Johnson’s ERA, WHIP and strikeout numbers aren’t overwhelming, but he’s saved 50+ games in back-to-back seasons. The only other major leaguer to ever do that? Eric Gagne, in 2002-03. Johnson won’t save 50 games in Oakland, but 40? Oh yeah.

Projection: 41 saves, 4 wins, 2.89 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 61 strikeouts

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9) Sergio Romo, San Francisco Giants

Romo’s strikeouts are going down and his walks are going up, but he’s still a solid second-tier closer. He saved 38 games last year; he could do the same this year.

Projection: 36 saves, 3 wins, 2.43 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 72 strikeouts

10) David Robertson, New York Yankees

Robertson will be closing games for the Yankees, who will be much improved this year. What else do you need to know?

Projection: 39 saves, 5 wins, 2.61 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 78 strikeouts

NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 26:  Pitcher Jonathan Papelbon #58 of the Philadelphia Phillies delivers a pitch against the New York Mets on August 26, 2013 at Citi Field in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. The Phillies defeated the Mets 2-1.

Jonathan Papelbon (Photo Credit: Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

11) Jonathan Papelbon, Philadelphia Phillies

Track record. Papelbon’s got it. Last year wasn’t jaw-dropping – 29 saves, a 2.92 ERA and 57 strikeouts in 61.2 innings – but Papelbon had saved 30+ games in his previous seven seasons. Here’s betting he makes it eight of nine.

Projection: 33 saves, 4 wins, 2.87 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 73 strikeouts

12) Addison Reed, Arizona Diamondbacks

Reed struck out just over one batter per inning and saved 40 games in the American League last year. Now in the NL West, Reed should deliver yet another solid season.

Projection: 34 saves, 3 wins, 2.98 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 70 strikeouts

Bottom Line

Draft two of the guys on this list. You’ll thank me later.

Next up: Sleepers and Busts

Check out “30 Players 30 Days,” profiling one young player from each Major League Baseball team.

Tony Meale is the author of The Chosen Ones: The Team That Beat LeBron. He lives in Chicago and won’t be mad if you follow him on Twitter @TonyMeale.

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