Batavia Muckdogs 2012 Reliever of the Year

The choice was a clear one, with Lee Stoppelman standing out from his New York-Penn League peers, but other Muckdogs also pitched well out of the pen.

The choice as our Batavia Muckdogs' Relief Pitcher of the Year was unanimous… and that's not just because I am the only one voting. Lee Stoppelman stomped his way through the New York-Penn League in 2012 to the tune of a 0.79 earned-run average in 22 appearances.

Stoppelman had been dominant at the University of Central Missouri (10-0, 1.47 ERA, 89 strikeouts in 79 2/3 innings) and was quickly able to adjust to professional baseball in the NYPL. The lefty had exceptional command of his 89-92 mile-per-hour fastball – something that is hard to teach. He throws with a three-quarter arm slot with a lot of movement and from which it is very hard to pick up the ball. He mixes in a good changeup with an average "show me" breaking ball, meaning it's not an out pitch, but merely an accessory.

Stoppelman was a significant contributor to the Muckdogs' torrent of wins to close the season, a period in which the team won 19 of 21 games. In his final 15.0 innings, he posted a 29-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. The 2012 24th-rounder allowed just three earned runs in 34.0 innings the whole season, but not before getting the biggest stop of the Muckdogs' season.

In the September 2nd 8-7 win against Auburn in a must-win situation, Stoppelman struck out Estarlin Martinez - a fellow 2012 NYPL All-Star and .320 hitter at the time – with a runner on second base and two outs. It was Stoppelman's last appearance of the season, but it was an impressive example of his ability to bear down in a big situation.

Yunier Castillo – in his first full season as a pitcher at age 23 – is the runner-up to Stoppelman. Scouts had been speaking very highly of the Dominican Republic native all season. Castillo looked much more confident and polished than in 2011, when he first started his transition to the mound (9.0 innings pitched in 2011). The right-hander also developed what one scout called "a wicked slider." In 26.0 innings with the Muckdogs this year, he had a 29-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio and 2.08 earned-run average.

Castillo owned a 0.75 ERA through 12.0 innings to start the year. As far as his repertoire, Castillo sat between 92-94 miles per hour, pounding the outside corner of the plate - which was especially effective against right-handed hitters, who were batting just .188 against him to begin the season.

Castillo has put in the time to become a quality reliever and the Cardinals thought enough of his progress to promote him to Quad Cities. This season was his third year in the NYPL – normally a big red flag – but his adjustment to pitching, and specifically as a late-innings reliever, has been going well.

If there was an award for most underrated player on the Muckdogs, Corey Baker would be the recipient. A starter at the end of 2011, the right-hander had a 2.89 ERA in 19 games (four starts); but the University of Pittsburgh alumnus didn't move up for 2012 – which didn't develop into discouragement.

All season long, Baker came in to pitch with the Muckdogs down, and he often threw multiple innings to keep his team in the game. No matter his role - starter, middle relief, set-up man, or closer - Baker came out with great numbers.

While his velocity is lacking with a mid-80s fastball, he is a command/control pitcher with a sweeping curveball and underutilized change-up.

Baker has only walked 16 batters in two years – nearly 110.0 innings. At Dwyer Stadium in 2012, he was 2-1 with a 0.74 ERA inv24 innings. Last season, pitching coach Ace Adams called Baker a "battler," according to Muckdogs' play-by-play broadcaster Matthew Coller. He's right. And it's fun to watch.

Relieving was one the Muckdogs' strengths this season and these three were a major reason why. Stoppleman was dominant in the NYPL, so it is safe to say he will not be in State College next year.



Link to master article with all 2012 award winners, team recaps and article schedules for the remainder of this series.

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