2012 Preseason Position Rankings: Relief Pitchers

See also: RHP Position Rankings
See also: LHP Position Rankings

Ranking players is one of the bedrocks of what we do here at Baseball America. With the Top 100 Prospects list now in the books, we're not putting the offseason rankings away just yet. Over the next couple of weeks, we're ranking prospects by position, continuing today with relief pitchers.

Ranking relief pitchers is somewhat like trying to nab gnats with chopsticks. It's quite hard to snag a moving target.

Only four of the 11 big league closers with 20 or more saves last year saved more than 10 games in the minors. Mariano Rivera, the best closer in the history of the game, didn't finish a game until he hit the big leagues. Jordan Walden, who saved 32 games as a rookie, stepped into the big league closer role without ever serving an apprenticeship in the minors.

Admittedly, some of the names among our top righthanders and lefthanders are going to end up joining these pitchers in a major league bullpen. And in many cases, they'll end up taking on key roles. But here's a look at the pitchers who can already reasonably be counted on to spend their careers pitching in the late innings.

It is worth nothing that relievers can move fast. Addison Reed, Kelvin Herrera and Heath Hembree are all on express elevators to the big leagues. Of the three, Reed is the most likely to have a key big league role in 2012.

"He's a future closer. He throws 95-99 mph with plus movement and a plus slider and a chance to have an average changeup. He could be dominating. He's dominated everywhere he's gone," an AL pro scout said. "Is he the best closer prospect in baseball? He has ridiculous stuff. He'll probably be an impact guy (in 2012) in the big leagues.

2012 Impact Rookie: Addison Reed, White Sox. Stuff, opportunity and a track record of success add up to a player who could make a quick impact.

2012 Breakout Prospect: Matt West, Rangers. Still learning some of the nuances of pitching after a move to the mound. West didn't make it out of Class A in four years as a hitter. He could make from short-season to the majors in less than two years as a reliever.

1. Arodys Vizcaino, Braves: Has the stuff to make it as a starter, but Braves' pitching depth means he's working in pen.

2. Addison Reed, White Sox: Competing for White Sox's closer job as a rookie. The trade of Sergio Santos clears a path for him to be working key innings quickly.

3. Lance Lynn, Cardinals: May be only a set-up man, but he has already handled that role in the World Series.

4. Kelvin Herrera, Royals: Move to the bullpen allowed the oft-injured righthander's career to take off.

5. Heath Hembree, Giants: Could be setting up Brian Wilson this year, and could replace him eventually.

6. Eduardo Sanchez, Cardinals: Already has had a cameo role as a big league closer in a successful 30-inning stint.

7. Chance Ruffin, Mariners: Fellow Longhorn has evoked Hutson Street comparisons after his quick path to the big leagues.

8. Philippe Aumont, Phillies: His career took off after the Phillies moved him back to the bullpen.

9. Rafael Dolis, Cubs: For a pitcher with a 100 mph fastball, he doesn't miss many bats (6.8 career K/9 IP).

10. Josh Lindblom, Dodgers: Moves to the rotation have seen his stuff drop off, and he seems much more suited to relieving.

11. Tom Wilhelmsen, Mariners: After five years away from the game, Wilhelmsen's 95 mph fastball brought him back quickly.

12. Stetson Allie, Pirates: Has a bigger upside than almost anyone on this list, but also carries biggest risk.

13. Jenrry Mejia, Mets: Working back from May 2011 Tommy John surgery, his high-effort delivery dictates a future in relief.

14. Tanner Scheppers, Rangers: Wasn't far from the big leagues when he was drafted. Injuries mean he is in about the same place three years later.

15. Jeremy Jeffress, Royals: You're heard this before—hard-throwing righthander whose success will depend on throwing more and better strikes.

16. Nick Hagadone, Indians

17. Chris Carpenter, Red Sox

18. Shawn Tolleson, Dodgers

19. Matt Bush, Rays

20. Matt West, Rangers

21. Chen Lee, Indians

22. Justin DeFratus, Phillies

23. Brad Boxberger, Padres

24. Kevin Chapman, Royals

25. Tony Zych, Cubs