2014 Fantasy Baseball Sleeper: Nate Jones
The Chicago White Sox won just 63 games in 2013, but they still had a fantasy-relevant closer with Addison Reed saving 40 games (in 48 opportunities). But Reed was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks in December, and the White Sox have not made a move this offseason to replace him. Is someone currently in their bullpen ready to step in?
Nathan Jones started very slowly last season, with a 6.58 ERA over 21 appearances (26 innings) through the end of May. But he turned things around from June 1 on, with a 2.94 ERA, a 69:14 K/BB ratio and 14 holds in 52 innings (49 appearances) over that span. Even with that strong finish his numbers still didn’t look great last year (4-5, 4.15 ERA, 1.22 WHIP), but his K/9 (10.3), BB/9 (3.0) and ground ball rate (50.5 percent) were all improvements over 2012 (8.2 K/9, 4.0 BB/9 and a 45.5 percent ground ball rate) when his surface results were better (8-0 with a 2.39 ERA).
Whoever has served as the White Sox closer has been fantasy-relevant in recent years, from Bobby Jenks (167 saves from 2006-2010) to Sergio Santos in 2011 (30 saves) and Reed over the last two seasons (69 saves). Even more appealing to fantasy owners is the fact one guy has gotten the majority of the team’s save opportunities, which creates less risk in using a draft pick on whoever looks like the favorite for the job.
Jones is currently considered the front runner to close games for the White Sox, though Matt Lindstrom, Daniel Webb and others may also compete for the job during spring training. Lindstrom has 45 career saves (zero over the last two seasons) and Webb only has nine major league appearances under his belt, so it makes sense for Jones to get every chance to win the role and keep it all season.
Since the White Sox are not expected to contend in 2014, a lot of fantasy baseball owners may overlook Jones on draft day. But I think that would be a mistake, since his upside is 30-40 saves with excellent supporting numbers if he wins the closer role. Simply put, not many players regardless of position will offer that kind of potential where Jones is likely to go off the board in mixed league drafts.