The Braves have not had a steady closer since Craig Kimbrel was sent to Sand Diego. Jason Grilli served as a serviceable replacement until he tore his achilles and was eventually sent Toronto. Currently, Jim Johnson has proven to be a terrific option to close ballgames, but like Kimbrel and Grilli, it’s likely he could be playing elsewhere before the end of the season. The great news is Atlanta has stockpiled arms over the course of this rebuild, and not all of them are going to be starting pitchers. The Braves have a loaded bullpen filled with young, live arms, which consist of several guys who could be potential long-term closers.
An obvious choice to return to the closer role is Arodys Vizcaino. Vizcaino began the season as the Braves closer and was spectacular for the most part. Atlanta did not have many save opportunites, but Vizcaino converted 10 out of 13. He features a high 90’s fastball with tremendous strikeout capability. In just 36 innings, Vizcaino had 47 strikeouts. However, Vizcaino began struggling with his control before suffering an oblique injury that he has yet to return from. Even with some questions about his control, it is likely he returns to the closing role when he returns from injury, but there is no guarantee that even happens this year. The Braves are in no rush with Vizcaino, and with Johnson boosting his trade value of late, Atlanta may need to find a more immediate option.
That option has to be Mauricio Cabrera. Cabrera came straight to Atlanta out of AA Mississippi, where he threw 33.2 innings with a 3.21 ERA and 35 strikeouts. However, he did walk 22 batters. That number was quite worrisome, but he finally seemed to fix that issue. Once he made the right adjustments, his unbelievable arm made him a target to be called up with the number of players being traded.
Since being called up, Cabrera has been electric. He has the highest average fastball velocity in the major leagues. Yes, that includes Aroldis Chapman. Unlike Chapman however, Cabrera has shown fantastic control in his short stint in the big leagues. In 22.1 innings pitched, he has only allowed 6 walks and 7 earned runs, while striking out 20 and recording a 0.97 WHIP.
Cabrera has to continue to work on his secondary pitches if he wants to have a long-term big league career. His changeup has proven to be his most reliable pitch outside of his fastball. It is also in the low 90s, but there is a significant speed difference between his fastball and his changeup, causing hitters to be out on their front foot. As long as he can keep hitters somewhat honest with his offspeed pitches, his fastball will continue to thrive.
Its rare to see a player who can dominate with just one pitch, but Mauricio Cabrera is one of them. His fastball control has clearly gotten better over the course of this year, and when you throw 103 mph, that is enough to shut opposing teams down for one inning. In all likelihood, the Braves are going to find a suitor for Jim Johnson, which will allow for Cabrera to audition for the closer’s role. If he suceeds, Vizcaino may be the set up man for him heading into opening day in 2017, or perhaps on another roster.