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Arizona Diamondbacks spring training questions, #4: The bullpen

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There are quite a few questions to be considered with regard to the relief corps for Arizona in 2016.

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Ziegler to close?

Brad Ziegler took over as closer in mid-May, after one too many re-runs of the Addison Reed Experience, and was excellent in the role  Despite never having more than 13 saves in any previous year, he more than doubled that to 30 in 2015, pretty much proving that good relievers make good closers.He ended the season with an ongoing streak of 28 consecutive saves in 28 save opportunities, tying the franchise mark set by J.J. Putz, in the final game of the 2015 campaign. However, the team often said they would prefer to have him in a more flexible spot, and were linked with Aroldis Chapman, both at the trade deadline and earlier this winter, and also the Yankees' Andrew Miller.

Nothing came of those, and GM Dave Stewart appeared to dampen the team's public interest, stating in November, "With Ziegler doing the job that he has, I am looking to better ourselves more than likely in the front end versus the back end (of the bullpen)... I’ve made it pretty clear that I’m just not in the mood to give up three or four players for one guy at the back end of my bullpen." Unlike some pronouncements out of Stewart's mouth, this one appears to have been backed, thus far, by a lack of action, and unless something very startling happens over the next month, it looks, right now, like Ziegler will be our Opening Day closer for the first time.

That's not to say that the team does not have internal options, however...

Who else might close?

At the back end of the bullpen, perhaps working to set up Ziegler, or closing on the nights when he needs a day off, are Daniel Hudson and Silvino Bracho. Hudson showed no apparent lasting ill-effects from his Tommy John surgery, tossing some of the fastest pitches ever recorded by a Diamondback, topping out at a maximum velocity of 99.6 mph. [His fastest pitch prior to the procedure was 96.2 mph] Hudson has expressed an interest in returning to the rotation, but the arrival of Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller may well have closed the door on that possibility, leaving only one starting pitcher slot open, and no shortage of candidates for it.

Meanwhile, Bracho burst on the scene with an impressive 17 strikeouts in 12.1 innings; yes, a small sample size, yet the results were in line with his 2015 minor-league rate of 13 K's per nine innings. While encouraging, it does still likely need to be confirmed that the 23-year-old Bracho is ready to hold down a full-time job, let alone one involving high-leverage situations. As one of the more unproven commodities in the bullpen, I wouldn't be surprised to see Chip Hale look to use Bracho in those spots during spring training, and test his mettle.

The left-handed gun

With Oliver Perez now out of the picture, the only southpaw apparently guaranteed a spot is Andrew Chafin, who handled the conversion from starting to relief with aplomb, giving us one of the best seasons by any left-handed reliever in team history. Beyond that, things get flaky pretty quickly. The other three potential LHP out of the bullpen, currently on the 40-man roster, are Matt Reynolds, Keith Hessler and Wil Locante. Locante posted a 5.79 ERA over 44 games for the BayBears last year; Hessler was very similar with Reno (5.68 ERA) and considerably more awful at the major league level, where he had an ERA over eight in his 18 appearances.

That would leave Reynolds as the other contender. He was excellent in 2013, but missed the entire 2014 season due to Tommy John surgery, and the results last year were unimpressive. Reynolds had a 4.61 ERA, and was lucky to have that, allowing six home-runs in only 13.2 innings of work. Again, a small sample size; however, both lefties and righties posted an OPS above .900 against Reynolds, so he needs to prove he can at least get the former out, if he is to establish Hale's confidence in him as a potential LOOGY.

Filling the back-end

With Randall Delgado and Josh Collmenter likely to repeat the long-relief roles they carried out in 2015, that would appear to give the team at least five locked-in spots, alongside Ziegler, Hudson and Chafin. If Bracho makes the grade, he'd be the sixth man, leaving one spot left to fill, and that may go to Reynolds or another left-hander. However, if Hale decides that one left-handed pitcher is enough, there are plenty of potential options for the final spot. It's not impossible we could see another converted starter move down; Rubby De La Rosa would perhaps seem the most obvious candidate, if he doesn't win the fifth spot in the rotation.

There are a couple of new names on the roster. Cody Hall was picked up from the San Francisco Giants; though his major-league debut wasn't very good, he had a solid 3.46 ERA in the Pacific Coast League last year, with a K:BB ratio of 55:26. Matt Koch, received from the Mets for Addison Reed, had a 3.20 ERA in Double-A between New York and Arizona farm systems - though he was a starter in Mobile, so the team may try to continue that in 2016, rather than use him as a reliever, as the Mets mostly did last year. There's also a possible return by Evan Marshall, whose season was cut so unfortunately short by a very scary head injury. I'll just be happy to see him back at all.

Minor-league possibilities

If you've been following our series on non-roster invitees, you'll already be aware of some of the names outside the 40-man that you can expect to see showing off their stuff in the Cactus League. Kaleb Fleck has been impressing people in the organization, and Adam Miller's fastball, clocked as high as 101 mph, largely speaks for itself. Among the left-handed prospects, Daniel Gibson could force his way into the conversation, given the dearth of credible alternatives, with a good spring. And let's not forget Jake Barrett, who is on the 40-man roster already, though the ASU graduate had his share of struggles in 2015.