TCN 2013 Cards Minors Rookie Reliever of Year

Johnson City right-hander Zach Loraine is The Cardinal Nation's top first-year relief pitcher in the St. Louis Cardinals minor league system.

As we move into our annual top cross-system awards for rookie reliever, starting pitcher and position player – plus the same three honors for returning players - some explanation of the ground rules chosen is warranted.

For award consideration, a player resides in only one population. Either a pitcher is in the starter or reliever group (based on a simple majority of appearances as one or the other).

A player is designated as either a rookie or a returnee based on whether or not 2013 was his first season pitching professionally. The Dominican Summer League is considered the same as any other.

A pitcher must have thrown at least 20 innings and a hitter must have 100 at-bats combined across all minor league levels of play to be included.

Among the pitching stats I evaluated are ERA, WHIP, walks per nine innings, strikeouts per nine innings and strikeout to walk ratio.

Stats I did not consider strongly for pitchers include age, level, wins/losses and saves. Remember, this is not about selecting the top prospects. It is about 2013 results at the levels to which the players were assigned by the organization.

Why single out relievers?

Now that I have that out of the way, let's talk about why we have The Cardinal Nation Rookie Reliever of the Year.

First of all, I understand that the organization often has its best pitching prospects starting in the minors, whether they are projected as major league starters or relievers. Player development does this to ensure the pitchers get consistent innings and time to work on all their pitches.

That does not mean, however, that minor league relievers should be ignored. For example, currently-injured Cardinals closer Jason Motte has never started a professional game as a pitcher.

To that end, we have the two top bullpen awards each year to recognize and appreciate those competing across the Cardinals minor league system in a very specialized role, that of the relief pitcher. Today, we start with the rookies.

The candidates

There are 15 first-year relievers in our population. All but one pitched the full summer in short-season ball. Here are the leaders in five statistical categories.

Strikeouts per nine innings Team Rate
Nick Lomascolo JC 12.5
Michael Holback JC 12.0
Yeison Medina DSL 11.0
Zach Loraine JC 10.7
Kyle Grana GCL-JC 10.4
Dylan Hawkins GCL 9.9
Walks per nine innings Team Rate
Chase Brookshire SC 1.2
Kyle Webb SC 1.4
Juan Caballero GCL 2.1
Brandon Lee JC 2.4
Kyle Grana GCL-JC 2.5
Zach Loraine JC 2.5
Strikeout to walk ratio Team Rate
Chase Brookshire SC 6.3/1
Kyle Webb SC 5.0/1
Zach Loraine JC 4.3/1
Kyle Grana GCL-JC 4.1/1
Dylan Hawkins GCL 3.8/1
Juan Caballero GCL 3.5/1
Earned run average Team Rate
Mitch Harris SC 0.81
Yeison Medina DSL 1.26
Chase Brookshire SC 1.59
Brady Adamek SC-Peo 1.70
Kyle Grana GCL-JC 1.88
Andy De La Cruz DSL 2.01
Zach Loraine JC 2.04
Walks+hits per inning Team Rate
Dylan Hawkins GCL 1.00
Zach Loraine JC 1.02
Chase Brookshire SC 1.04
Kyle Grana GCL-JC 1.06
Virgilio Encarnacion DSL 1.09
Mitch Harris SC 1.12

There were some very fine individual performances in different areas. For example, Nick Lomascolo had the best strikeout rate while his Johnson City teammate Chase Brookshire was stingiest - issuing walks least often. Navy vet Mitch Harris logged the only sub-1.00 ERA among this group while pitching for State College. The Gulf Coast League's Dylan Hawkins allowed just one baserunner per inning on average.

Yet, there are only two names that appeared time and time again – on each of the five tables. The pitchers who demonstrated this impressive balance of high strikeouts, low walks and few runs allowed are Johnson City teammates Zach Loraine and Kyle Grana.

Grana, a 6-foot-4, 240-pounder from Wildwood, Mo. and Bellarmine College, signed as a non-drafted free agent. The 22-year-old began his professional career in the Gulf Coast League and was promoted to the Appalachian League on August 10.

In the GCL, Grana dominated his younger opposition, logging a 1.69 ERA in 21 1/3 innings over 15 outings. The right-hander's numbers continued to look good after he moved up to Johnson City, though his ERA was higher at 2.45.

Loraine is also an area product, hailing from Lake St. Louis and Coker College. The 23-year-old was the Cardinals organization's 21st-round draft pick and spent the entire summer at Johnson City. 2013 marked his first full year as a pitcher after catching most of his high school and college career.

In the Appy League, Loraine got out of the gates very quickly. The right-hander allowed just two runs over his first 22 professional innings covering June and July. Often pitching multiple innings for manager Joe Kruzel and pitching coach Paul Davis, the 6-foot-3, 205-pounder ended his professional debut season with a 2.04 ERA while holding league batters to a collective .200 average. Loraine fanned 47, walked 11 and served up just one home run ball in his 39 2/3 inning debut over 24 contests.

Finishing with slightly better results at the same level breaks the deadlock, with Zach Loraine named The Cardinal Nation Minor League Rookie Relief Pitcher of the Year for 2013.

Note: For more information on all The Cardinal Nation minor league award winners for 2013, subscribers should click on this link. You will be taken to an index page with links to all articles about previous winners across the system club by club, schedule for upcoming award announcements as well as 2013 team recaps.

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Brian Walton can be reached via email at Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Follow Brian on Twitter.

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