For about a week now, Brandon League hasn’t been the Mariners closer. He has been given time off from the role for bad behavior ( just bad pitching). In his three appearances since his blown save on May 25, League has given up one earned run in 3.2 innings of work. He also gave up four hits, struck out two, and walked none.
I believe the writing was on the wall for this move a long time ago. I preached a month ago about the possibility of Brandon League being traded before the deadline. The Mariners aren’t going anywhere this year and with relief pitchers, especially closers being in demand and at a premium, League will and should be gone by the trade deadline, if not earlier. The Mariners hope that League will get back to form, not only for their own team, but so they can showcase him in time to make a trade. League is an extremely talented closer with lights out stuff. His problem is control and consistency. He throws a hard slider and needs to be able to hit it for strikes now and then. When his mechanics are off, he can’t hit the strike zone at all. In his last blown save, League walked a pair and gave up a couple of hits. It’s about control for him. When he is on, there is no one that can hit him, but it’s the 20% or so times that he is off that has us all worried, including potential suitors.
So who will the Mariners goto in place of Brandon League?
Right now, nobody has been assigned the closer role, but Hisashi Iwakuma has claimed a couple of saves. Still, he is not a long-term answer. THen there are:
Lucas Luetge - Another prospect for the Mariners, Luetge was acquired from the Brewers and has been outstanding for the Mariners so far this season. He has yet to allow an earned run in 13.1 innings and has struck out 13. He is a fastball/slider/curveball guy, who’s fastball tops out at 91 MPH. In my eyes, Luetge is noting more than a lefty specialist and you should not expect him to take over the closer role.
Shawn Kelley - Kelly is more the closer type. While he has closed for the Mariners in the minors, he has been overlooked for the role with the current personnel in place. Kelly has a fastball that tops out at 94 MPH and compliments it nicely with a slider that is nearly 10 MPH slower. His K/9 this season stands at exactly 9.00 and his ERA looks great at 2.77 . His biggest hurdle to overcome is the five walks in 13 innings. To close, walks are a nono. Still, Shawn Kelly looks like a great fill-in till Pryor is ready to take over.
The future lies with Stephen Pryor.
The Mariners called closer prospect Stephen Pryor and in two appearances he has already impressed his coaches. His fastball tops out at 100 MPH and he has already struck out four of the nine batters he has faced in the majors. His only blemish is a solo home run to hot hitting Dayan Viciedo. Pryor brings a 100+ MPH fastball and a very sneaky cutter that will give hitters all kinds of problems when he is on. He has 24 career saves in the minors and in limited work so far this season has been groomed for the closers role. I believe he will get the first long time shot at closer once Brandon League is traded or benched.
The writing is on the wall for Brandon League. He will not be a closer much longer with the direction the Mariners are going in. It would be smart of them to trade League and move forward with one of their young arms like Pryor. If you own League, get Pryor NOW! If you don’t, and have an open roster spot, take a flier on Pryor. You may just get yourself a stud closer in the making.