Springfield Cards Reliever of the Year: 2010

In a close competition with teammate Adam Reifer, Eduardo Sanchez is named our top Double-A reliever in the Cardinals system for the second consecutive year.

The decision on the Springfield Reliever of the Year is as difficult a determination as I have had to make since joining this staff. The Springfield Cardinals were blessed with two excellent relievers in Eduardo Sanchez and Adam Reifer. An aside here - It should be pointed out that Sanchez pitched one more inning at Memphis than he did at Springfield which gives Brian Walton ‘proprietary rights' to him for inclusion with the Triple-A relievers. Instead, at my request, and with Brian's gracious consent, Sanchez is being considered at this level for the second consecutive season.

Eduardo Sanchez (pictured) was signed out of Venezuela in late December 2005 and has climbed through the Cardinals' ranks from the Venezuelan Summer League in 2006 to finishing this season in Memphis. He has received three in-season promotions: from the GCL Cardinals to Johnson City in 2007, Palm Beach to Springfield in 2009 and Springfield to Memphis in 2010.

Adam Reifer was an 11th round selection in June 2007 out of UC-Riverside and began his professional career in 2008 at Batavia. He jumped to Palm Beach in 2009 and made his Double-A debut in 2010.

Both pitchers were on Springfield's roster at the season's start. Reifer (DOB 6/3/86) was just two weeks older than the roster's average age of 23 years, 9 months, 17 days and Springfield had the youngest roster in the North Division on Opening Day. Sanchez (DOB 2/16/89) was over two and one-half years younger than the roster average.

Sanchez was Springfield's closer until his promotion to Memphis on June 24th. Reifer finished as Springfield's closer before his late season promotion to Memphis on September 6th. Both were named to the Texas League North Division All-Star team; Reifer as Sanchez' replacement. Sanchez was selected for the 2010 All-Star Futures Game on the World roster.

So far, the factors are tilting towards Sanchez. But as was quite accurately pointed out to me, the Reliever of the Year is not about the top prospect but about the best pitcher of the year. So let us look at how they did on the mound for Springfield:

Reifer (pictured) compiled a 3.00 ERA and 2.81 FIP over 54 innings in 51 appearances. Sanchez had a 3.12 ERA and 3.28 FIP in 26 innings and 24 appearances. Sanchez had a 1.15 WHIP and held opposing batters to a .232 average (.263 BABIP). Reifer's WHIP was 1.26 and the opposition hit .252 against him (.291 BABIP). Reifer walked an average of 2.5 batters per game while Sanchez averaged 2.8 walks. Sanchez struck out 9.4 batters every nine innings, on average and Reifer K'd an average of 8.7 hitters. This resulted in a K/BB ratio of 3.5:1 for Reifer and 3.4:1 for Sanchez.

Reifer holds an edge, albeit slight, in six of those nine categories: FIP, ERA, IP, BABIP (used solely to assess the sustainability of the BAA), BB/9 IP and K/BB ratio. Sanchez' advantage in the other three categories – WHIP, BAA and K/9 IP, is equally as slight. Reifer was the only Springfield reliever, other than current Memphis Redbird Chuckie Fick, with a sub-3.00 FIP for the year.

In the end, however, the decision came down to the fact that Eduardo Sanchez did what he did and did it when he was almost three years younger than Reifer. That is an enormous age gap developmentally. While a very good argument can be made for choosing Reifer, those stats in which he was superior were not so much better than Sanchez to overcome the age difference.

So, congratulations to Eduardo Sanchez, The Cardinal Nation/Scout.com Springfield Reliever of the Year for 2010.

Honorable Mention

Jason Buursma's season at Double-A also merits attention. Buursma began the season on Palm Beach's disabled list with right ankle problems. He was activated on April 22nd and promoted to Springfield on May 13th.

Buursma went on to toss 57 2/3 innings in 37 appearances for Springfield, giving up 39 hits and 10 walks for a 0.85 WHIP. He allowed 16 runs, earned, which translates to a 2.50 ERA. Buursma is not a strikeout pitcher, K'ing only 26 which impacted his FIP (3.95). He had a GO/AO ratio of 1.98:1 and displayed excellent control with an average of 1.56 BB/9 IP. Buursma was drafted in the 25th round in June 2008 and turned 25 on September 9th.

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