By this spring, the full-time closer’s job essentially was his to lose.
But in reality, Storen’s road would not be as easy as it appeared. Nor should anyone have expected it to be.
Historically, teams usually don’t get the luxury of identifying future closers so early in the development process; the great ones almost uniformly take longer, more winding paths to the job. And indeed, Storen hit a roadblock this spring, when a series of poor performances left him in a more tenuous position with the Nationals — at best, part of a closer-by-committee that will share ninth-inning duties.
With only 532
3 minor league innings under his belt, Storen, should he eventually ascend to the closer’s job and have a successful career, would be among only a handful of closers in recent history to hold that job with so little professional training.
“I think I’m a little more polished,” Storen said earlier this spring. “Even though I don’t have experience closing in the big leagues, I’ve experienced closing for a whole season [at Stanford]. And a lot of that routine, and learning how to listen to your body, I’m a step ahead of guys who hadn’t done it.
“When you get to the big leagues it’s a whole different story, but I feel like I had a little bit of a head start. My college time was my minor league time.”
Across the majors, we are in an era of transition in the hierarchy of closers. This offseason, two of the most prolific closers in history, Trevor Hoffman and Billy Wagner — who rank No. 1 and No. 5 all-time in career saves, respectively — retired.
And while Mariano Rivera of the New York Yankees — indisputably the greatest closer of all time — remains one of the most effective ninth-inning men in the game, he is 41 years old and has not committed to pitching beyond this season.
Rivera, with 559 career saves, has a chance to pass Hoffman (601) for the all-time record this season. But it will be a long time until anyone else threatens that mark: Among active closers, only one — Cincinnati’s Francisco Cordero (290) — owns even half as many saves as Rivera.
“I’m the last old man doing this,” Rivera said with a laugh this spring. “Now they’re getting [closers] so young.”