Four members of the Redbirds projected season-opening relief corps, all with closing experience, were ranked among The Cardinal Nation's top 40 prospects – Eduardo Sanchez (#4), Adam Reifer (#13), Fernando Salas (#14) and Francisco Samuel (#35).
The Redbirds' considerable relief depth evaporated within a few days in mid-April. As Cardinals' Bryan Augenstein and Brian Tallet went down on the same day, Salas and Sanchez were called up to St. Louis. That same weekend, Reifer slipped on the wet mound in Des Moines and blew out his knee, ending his season. Samuel was almost continually injured from spring training on. None of the four top prospect closers would save even one game for the 2011 Redbirds.
Suddenly short on relievers with no strong candidates to bring up from Springfield, the club purchased Marte from Kansas City and before long, anointed him the new closer.
The 6-foot-2, 255 pound native of the Dominican Republic had traveled a long road prior to joining the Cardinals organization. He was first signed by Kansas City in 2000. Marte pitched in the Dominican Summer League in 2000-01 before being placed on MLB's Disqualified List, where he remained until 2009.
After apparently having been out of action for four years, or at least off the map, Marte pitched for Hiroshima in Japan from 2006-08, where his ERA was 6.06. He later picked up 30 games of MLB experience with the 2009-10 Royals. During that time, his ERA was a hefty 9.30, though his ERA as a Royals minor leaguer prior to this season was 2.95. Marte was removed from Kansas City's 40-man roster in November 2010.
Following the trade, it did not take long for Marte to become comfortable with his new team and his new coaches to build confidence in him.
"He fit in good," recalled Redbirds pitching coach Blaise Ilsley. "As the season went on, he did a whale of a job for us as our closer."
The coaches didn't know much about Marte initially.
"We had seen him the year before in Omaha and we knew that he had a good arm," Ilsley said. "He is a veteran guy and he had the stuff. His stuff was good enough to close games for us. So he worked himself into that role and never lost it."
On the season, Marte finished 2-4 with a 1.44 ERA. He fanned 52 and walked 20 in 62 1/3 innings of work. He led the bullpen with 31 saves in 38 opportunities. As Memphis continued to try to catch his former Storm Chasers squad in the PCL American North, Marte seemed to get stronger as the season progressed. He allowed only two earned runs over his last 19 outings (20 innings pitched).
Pacific Coast League hitters batted just .210 against him this season. Marte was equally effective against left-handers and right-handers, with .216 and .205 batting averages against them, respectively. Despite the PCL having some very challenging hitters' parks, Marte's opponent batting average on the road was a stellar .181.
Marte's 31 saves not only led the PCL, it also shattered the Memphis club's single-season record of 26 set by Gene Stechschulte in 2000. Across the Cardinals' system this season, the next closest save total to Marte was just 17.
Heading into the off-season, Marte scored a spot on the 12-man PCL post-season all-star squad, the only Memphis honoree on the team.
Cory Rauschenberger is a great story. The now 27-year-old right-hander retired from baseball after his 2008 season with the Double-A Springfield Cardinals. Returning to action last year, Rauschenberger then began 2011 with Springfield, where he pitched in three games, allowing one run on three hits for a 1.69 ERA in 5 1/3 innings of work.
He received the call to join Memphis on April 12, the other corresponding move when Marte also arrived to replace Sanchez and Salas. Rauschenberger didn't fan many, 32 in 75 1/3 innings, but generally kept the ball down (1.48 ground out to air out ratio). He was consistent all season long, with an ERA between 1.80 and 3.86 each month and a season mark of 2.89.
Right-hander Chuckie Fick was reliable throughout the season, and finished especially strongly. The 25-year-old allowed just one earned run in his last 11 appearances (12 2/3 innings pitched).
Fick fanned 61 and walked 37 in 70 1/3 innings. He held opposing batters to a collective .180 average and collected over three ground ball outs to every fly out. His season's ERA was 2.30. Fick's season highlight may have been on June 7, when he struck out a season-high six batters while tossing two perfect innings.
Fick was honored with a fall invitation to Team USA, for whom he is currently pitching in the IBAF World Cup, with the Pan Am Games coming later this month.
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.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Look for his weekly minor league column on Thursdays at FOXSportsMidwest.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.
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