The bottom line is, presuming the team goes with twelve pitchers and thus a regular seven-man relief corps, there is likely only one spot open for competition in spring training. Brad Ziegler will close, with Clippard and Daniel Hudson the set-up men. Converted starters Josh Collmenter, Randall Delgado and Andrew Chafin also appear to have all their tickets punched to the Opening Day roster, so that's six spots. Let's go through all the other relievers (thus, not Archie Bradley, Zack Godley, Tyler Wagner, etc.) on the 40-man roster, and see who might have the edge for the final spot.
Age: 24. Major-league experience: nil. Our 3rd-round pick in the 2012 draft, Barrett split time last season between AAA Reno and AA Mobile, posting a 4.50 ERA overall; the Aces' numbers were a good but less impressive, with a 5.09 ERA there, and a K:BB ratio of 21:12 over 23 innings. This will be his third spring training, and he comes into this camp in much the same spot that he was last year: hoping to impress, but apparently back in the pack of potential candidates.
Age: 23. Major-league experience: 13 games. A meteoric rise through the system in 2015, which saw Bracho begin the season at High-A Visalia, and end it with a series of solid performances in the major-league, allowing two earned runs (both coming on solo home-runs against the Cubs) over 12.1 innings. Oh, and he fanned 17 hitters, sustaining the amazing K-rate he had in the minors. Arguably the "best" pitcher, but the easy availability of minor-league options will be a consideration.
Age: 25. Major-league experience: 30 games. Another MLB debutant, he got the call in late April, and made an immediate impression, fanning 25 over his first dozen games and 13.2 innings. However, hitters appeared to adjust to Burgos, and over the remaining 13.1 innings, he struck out 14, and showed some control issues, allowing seven walks. He finished the year with a 4.67 ERA, though wasn't helped by a .385 BABIP - a very high line-drive rate (34%!) certainly played into that.
Age: 28. Major-league experience: 7 games. Hall was acquired from the Giants last month, for a player to be named later or cash. He was a September call-up last year, mostly in very low-leverage situations, and had a 6.48 ERA over 8.1 innings. San Francisco DFA'd the reliever to make room for Denard Span, and Arizona worked out a deal for Hall. Let's hope he doesn't turn out to be a sleeper agent, sent over by the Giants to sabotage our division hopes with failure in key circumstances.
Age: 26. Major-league experience: 18 games. Being a left-hander gives him an edge, since he, Reynolds and Chafin are now the only left-handed relievers on the 40-man roster, Will Locante having been DFA'd to make way for Clippard. But it'll be hard to forget a first nine games for Hessler, which included two blown saves and a loss, as well as a 16.88 ERA. He did only give up one run the rest of the way, but he'll need to do better than four HR allowed in 53 AB for his name to stop generating waves of nausea.
Age 25. Major-league experience: nil. Not sure if he should be classified as a starter or reliever, but most of his 2015 appearances were out of the 'pen, even if his sole game after coming from the Mets in the Addison Reed trade was a start for Mobile. And very impressive it was too: 7.1 shutout innings of two-hit ball. I suspect the team will continue down that road, seeing what he can do as a starter first, and only move him back to the bullpen if a rotation role proves to be unfeasible.
Age 24. Major-league experience: 70 games. Reliever volatility, thy name is Leone. During 2014, Leone pitched 57 times for the Mariners and had a 2.17 ERA. In 40 games across AA, AAA and the majors last season, Leone's ERA was 5.88 - and the higher the level, the worse his numbers. He walked as many as he struck out between the D-backs and Mariners (he was part of the Mark Trumbo trade) and although W-L record for a reliever isn't a reliable metric, going 0-5 in just 15 innings is never a good sign.
Age 25. Major-league experience: 70 games. After an excellent 2014 campaign, last year was one Marshall will be keen to forget. He made the Opening Day roster, but an ERA above six led to him being sent down to Reno. His struggles continued there (6.40 ERA over 31 innings), but pale beside what happened on August 4. He took a line drive to the right of his head, fracturing his skull: Evan nearly died, spending two weeks in hospital. Can Marshall return to his 2014 form? We can only hope.
Age: 31. Major-league experience: 213 games. The veteran in this bunch, both in age and MLB experience, he's also the only one with a guaranteed contract, having settled in his second year of arbitration at $675K. Reynolds missed the entire 2014 season, a victim of the great Tommy John epidemic, and only returned to the majors in late August, having spent most of the year in Reno. The results were mixed: a 5.58 ERA with the Aces, and 4.61 with the D-backs, though the TJ process likely was a factor.
Ranking the above
There is, of course, also the possibility of a non-roster arm making a surprise run. However, there's no particularly obvious candidate for that, and I've already covered all the NRI's elsewhere. So here's how I'd order the nine potential bullpen members listed above for the final spot. This is at the moment, and also largely instinctive: the team, for example, knows much more about Marshall's health and mental state than I do, so would be much better able to make an informed decision. Things will change from here, as spring training unfolds; I'll likely revisit this once we have had a chance to see all the candidates in action.
- Silvino Bracho - best stuff, impressed in debut stint
- Matt Reynolds - additional left-handed option, most experience
- Enrique Burgos - good strikeout numbers, but must cut the walks
- Evan Marshall - struggled last year, but pulling for him to return
- Cody Hall - we acquired him for a reason. Presumably.
- Jake Barrett - still waiting in the wings. May have grown roots there.
- Keith Hessler - you can't spell "Hessler" without HR...
- Dominic Leone - reclamation prospect, reclaimed very little here.
- Matt Koch - should be given chance to develop as a starter first
Still, it's not a bad problem to have, if you are only wondering who's going to take the last spot in the bullpen.