As the San Francisco Giants closed out their season Sunday, they got one more look at a player who could be a huge difference maker next year, righthanded reliever Heath Hembree. Things have gone swimmingly for the pitcher, who most people believed several years ago would inherit Brian Wilson‘s closer position. Though he had some struggles in the minors this year, he Giants called him up just to take a look at him during September, and they certainly aren’t regretting it now.
Hembree’s appearance culimanated a month of absolute dominance from the 24 year old. Hembree finished with a miniscule .148 batters against average, giving up just four hits while walking two, striking out 12, and giving up no earned runs over 7.2 innings spanning nine appearances.
For a guy who the team didn’t seem to have an exceptional amount of confidence in entering the month, Hembree could not have made any better impression, and at this point, it’s difficult to envision a scenario where he would not be a part of the Giants’ bullpen to start next season. In fact, Hembree may have even increased his big-league upside, by developing his slider into a legitimate out pitch. By adding an element of deceptiveness to his repertoire, Hembree no longer has to rely on his velocity to get outs, and he can vary his fastball speeds to throw hitters off even more.
With all due respect to Sergio Romo, who was fantastic in his first full season as a closer and picked up 38 saves, Hembree could very well end up being the Giants’ best reliever next year. It’s clear that he’s still improving, and his power pitching style gives him an edge over Romo, who has to rely exclusively on deceptiveness to get hitters out.