The Diamondbacks have made more moves to add more competition for the bullpen this Spring, signing relievers Fernando Salas and Michael Blazek. Both signings have been reported by MLB Daily Dish’s Chris Cotillo. The Diamondbacks were able to build a decent bullpen out of minor league signings J.J. Hoover and Jorge De La Rosa last season, so they’re going into that well.
Salas has been in the league since 2010 and over his career has been mostly an average reliever. Looking at his career numbers, 2016 and 2017 could either be outliers or a sign of things to come. His fastball velocity on Fangraphs has stayed relatively constant at 91 MPH, although Brooks baseball tracked declining velocity late in the season with all three of his main pitches (fastball, curveball, change). That’s definitely a red flag, although in his short stint with the Angels late in the season his numbers improved.
Blazek is a flyer signing for the Diamondbacks, more so than Salas. Blazek had success in 2015 with the Brewers but failed to repeat it afterwards. In 2017, he spent most of the year with the Brewers’ AAA affiliate. His fastball sits 93 with inconsistent secondary pitches. Unlike Salas, I see Blazek fighting an uphill battle for a roster spot. If Blazek can rediscover his 2015 form, he does have the versatility to get Lovullo more than 3 outs if needed.
A day later, the Diamondbacks continued to make moves to improve the competition this Spring by signing lefty Antonio Bastardo and righty Kris Medlen. Bob Nightengale from USA Today reported both signings. Medlen and Bastardo both have success in the majors, Medlen as both a starter and reliever. Even though both players are minor league signings, Medlen ($1.1M) and Bastardo ($1.5M) are both slated to make over $1M should they end up in the majors so the Diamondbacks certainly think they have a good shot.
Medlen has always been a talented player with a litany of health issues with his throwing arm. He’s overcome 2 Tommy John surgeries and various shoulder issues in his career, coming back from the former in 2015 as a member of the World Series champion Kansas City Royals. When healthy, Medlen is a nasty pitcher to face for any hitter, but health issues will likely keep him in the bullpen so the team can monitor his innings better. Given that the 2017 team suffered from the lack of a reliable middle reliever once Randall Delgado went down, a weakness that was exposed in the postseason, if Medlen can provide that role the bullpen is significantly better. His repertoire is a sinker, cutter, slider, and change-up although the first three pitches are his best.
Bastardo should provide some competition with T.J. McFarland and prospect Jared Miller for a left-handed relief role. McFarland is likely a lock to make the bullpen this Spring, so it’s possible that Miller and Bastardo are competing for one spot although if both players do well in Spring they should make room for them. He had a lot of success with the Phillies from 2009-2013. His fastball velocity severely declined and the numbers cratered so I’m wondering if the left quad injury he suffered played a role in that. Given his age and possible declining fastball velocity before the injury, it may make more sense to utilize Bastardo as more of a match-up type guy. along with a 92 MPH heater, Bastardo uses a slider and change-up fairly well, although the slider has been his put-away pitch.
As I see it, the locks for the bullpen are Yoshihisa Hirano, Archie Bradley, Brad Boxberger, T.J. McFarland, and Randall Delgado (if the elbow is healthy). If the team is carrying 7 relievers, that means only two spots are open. Based on possible MLB salaries, I would think Medlen and Bastardo are the favorites to land that spot although I wouldn’t count out Jimmie Sherfy or Jared Miller to make this an easy competition either since both players have earned a shot at earning a spot in the bullpen this year. This bullpen competition should be one of the major storylines for 2018 Spring Training and here’s to hoping the best players succeed.