Quad Cities Bandits 2011 Reliever of the Year

Dean Kiekhefer is our pick as the top relief pitcher on the Midwest League champion River Bandits.

Every fall, it becomes my duty and my honor to name the Quad Cities River Bandits' outstanding players. Every fall, I repeat that this process is like trying to choose my favorite son - I never want to choose just one. This year, my choice as The Cardinal Nation/Scout.com Quad Cities Bullpen Pitcher of the Year is Dean Kiekhefer.

I was disappointed all year with several of the relievers. The team had a very talented crew that spent most of the summer disappointing people who expected them to succeed. A few others performed more consistently at the level of play that is expected at Class-A. Some of the relievers met and surpassed those expectations, some didn't. Those who met those standards were narrowed down for this selection to come up with a list to consider.

In order to be considered for this recognition, pitchers had to play primarily from the bullpen, obviously. Each also had to pitch a minimum of 30 games. I was going to include a minimum number of innings as one of the criteria but that could have eliminated some closers who may have only pitched an inning a game. I also looked at ERA, wins vs. losses, saves, hits allowed, strikeouts and walks

I considered Dean Kiekhefer, Aidan Lucas, Angel DeJesus, Hector Corpas, and Cale Johnson solely on the number of games in which they appeared. The 30-game minimum took Iden Nazario, Justin Wright, Justin Edwards, Seth Maness, and Drew Benes out of consideration. Some of them were promoted and spent more games in higher leagues; some joined the team late in the season and thus didn't log enough innings for consideration for this honor. Corpas and DeJesus were eliminated on ERA - both were well over 6.00.

Dean Kiekhefer became the designated closer as the season came together. He ended with a 4-1 record with eight saves. He pitched 57.0 innings and appeared in 34 games. His final ERA was 1.26 - that's impressive no matter how you look at it. He allowed less than two hits per three innings pitched (35/57) and only eight runs (all earned) in those 57 innings. He also gave up only one home run all summer. Dean is destined to be a closer - I hope it's for the Cardinals.

Aidan Lucas was the Bandits' other closer this summer. He logged 39.1 innings in 33 games. He had 11 saves, and an ERA of 2.75. He logged more than one K per inning. His most impressive stats are in the hits he allowed (28) runs (16) and earned runs (12). Those numbers are hard to ignore in over 39 innings.

Cale Johnson also put up some impressive numbers this summer. He appeared in 30 games, 52 innings. His ERA was 4.33 - the only rough spot on his stat line. He had 39 K's and 22 BB's. It's hard to project relievers since the need of the moment is the biggest factor in determining their long-term success, but I see Cale as a solid bullpen pitcher for the Cardinals or for trade.

It's easy sometimes to overlook the bullpen pitchers. It's easy to remember blown games and bad innings. It's easier to remember the closer when you think back on the season. With the strong starting staff and solid closers, the coaches really didn't go to the mid-relievers very often. I think it would be especially difficult to go to work day after day and not know if you were going to be asked to work at all. You have to respect these guys for their mental preparation every day.

The bullpen did not receive a lot of recognition this year when they probably should have. Without them, the team never would have approached the post season. Congratulations to Dean and the rest of the staff for a great summer and another championship ring!

Note: Link to article with links to all articles about previous award winners across the system club by club, schedule for upcoming announcements as well as 2011 team recaps, much of it exclusively for The Cardinal Nation subscribers.

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