With the trading of former Rangers closer Joakim Soria, right now is a good time to look at some current minor league pitchers who might be filling that role in the next few years to come. Though some will say that the ninth inning is the same as any other, even if self-inflicted, the pressure of saving a game takes a special type to handle.
Farthest away from a major league closing job is Myrtle Beach's Jose Leclerc, he of the fantastic curveball and a fastball that's no slouch either. Leclerc, a shortish righthander, has tightened up both of his main offerings this season, throwing the fastball anywhere from 93 to 97 mph, and pairing it with a mid-70s curve that shows incredible break and regularly garners foolish swings from opponents, along with an occasional changeup in the 80-86 mph range that most likely remains a change-of-pace pitch. The 20-year-old reportedly has an active demeanor on the mound, and an aggressive style of pitching, going after batters (and the zone) and not giving an inch. In his last 12.1 innings, Leclerc has given up a total of three runs, and he currently has 12 saves for the Pelicans, who have been using him as their closer. Like most minor league pitchers, he'll need to make the transition to pitching on back-to-back (and potentially back-to-back-to-back) nights, something that didn't go very well for him recently, but if he can figure out a way to make that happen, the electric arm and impressive stuff could put him on a fast track towards a major league bullpen.
Frisco closer Keone Kela has seemed to find another gear in the last few weeks, and has the results (except for one game) to show for it. The Rangers 2012 12th-rounder came into 2014 with a reputation for 100 mph fastballs, and though so far in Double A he reportedly hasn't quite found the triple-digits, the right-hander has been sitting at 98 in his last few home appearances. His breaking ball, like LeClerc's, has a curve shape, though until this season it was much more inconsistent. Across this year, though, Kela's been able to throw the pitch much more reliably, showing what was possibly the best example all season in a ninth-inning appearance against the Midland Rockhounds. Kela may or may not be working on including a changeup into his repertoire, which could give him a weapon to throw batters' timing off for the fastball, but he's only thrown one of the pitch all year. Everything about the way that Kela pitches shouts 'closer,' from the mound-tending routine pre-appearance to the body language on it. Like Leclerc, Kela will need to be able to pitch on back-to-back nights, and could spend the rest of this season preparing for a big-league bullpen competition next spring, though he could also get a little more minor league work with Triple-A Round Rock.
Currently boasting an impressive nil ERA in Round Rock, Phil Klein probably possesses the least exciting pure stuff of the three pitchers discussed here, but the big righthander has the numbers and experience to potentially challenge for a spot in the Rangers pen next season. At 6'7', Klein is one of the tallest pitchers in the system, and though that doesn't translate into jaw-dropping velocity, the downward plane he can get on the ball makes his 92-95 seem just a little bit faster. Unlike the previous two, Klein's main secondary is a slider that sits a good 10 mph slower than the fastball, usually in the 82-84 range, as well as a cutter in the mid- to upper-80s. These pitches have translated into the aforementioned 0.00 ERA in Triple A and no extra base hits allowed in 2014. Klein will likely be in the Rangers' bullpen in September as part of the expanded roster moves, and could begin 2015 there as well. A former 30th-round-pick, Klein's success is an accolade for both himself and the Rangers' player development system.