TCN 2013 Cards Minors Rookie Starter of Year

In what might be considered a mild upset, State College right-hander Andrew Pierce is The Cardinal Nation's top first-year starting pitcher in the St. Louis Cardinals minor league system.

As we name our annual cross-system award for the top rookie starting pitcher in the St. Louis Cardinals system, a reminder of the ground rules is warranted.

For award consideration, a pitcher resides in only one population. Either he 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 combined across all minor league levels of play to be included. He did not have to be his team's Pitcher of the Year as named by The Cardinal Nation.

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, round drafted, 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.

The candidates

There are 19 rookie starters in our population. 16 finished in short-season ball. Here are the leaders in five statistical categories.

Strikeouts per nine innings Team Rate
Rob Kaminsky GCL 11.5
Alex Reyes JC 10.5
David Oca DSL 10.3
Julio Mateo DSL 10.0
Marco Gonzales GCL-PB 8.9
Derian Gonzalez DSL 8.8
Walks per nine innings Team Rate
Blake McKnight JC 1.2
Will Anderson JC 1.3
Kevin Herget SC 1.4
Andrew Pierce SC 1.5
Jimmy Reed SC 2.1
Steven Farinaro GCL 2.2
Strikeout to walk ratio Team Rate
Blake McKnight JC 5.8
Andrew Pierce SC 5.1
Will Anderson JC 4.7
Kevin Herget SC 4.3
Steven Farinaro GCL 3.5
Will Changarotty DSL 3.3
Earned run average Team Rate
Ian McKinney GCL 0.89
Nick Petree SC 1.62
Jimmy Reed SC 2.05
Arturo Reyes SC 2.08
Andrew Pierce SC 2.11
Will Changarotty DSL 2.36
Walks+hits per inning Team Rate
Will Changarotty DSL 1.03
Blake McKnight JC 1.10
Julio Mateo DSL 1.11
Nick Petree SC 1.12
Marco Gonzales GCL-PB 1.13
Andrew Pierce SC 1.16
Ian McKinney GCL  1.16

The top six in strikeout rate are made up of two distinct groups. One is the top three pitchers the organization added this year in free agent Alex Reyes and first-rounders Rob Kaminsky (the category leader) and Marco Gonzales. The other subset is three youngsters who opened in the Dominican Summer League.

The starters stingiest with walks and best strikeout to walk ratio are a separate group entirely from the strikeout artists. All six were 2013 draftees. Blake McKnight topped both lists due to his superbly-low 1.2 walks per nine innings, followed by Johnson City teammate Will Anderson.

Yet other rookies lead the ERA list and are also prominently placed among those with the lowest WHIP, paced by Ian McKinney and Nick Petree.

Several names appeared on more than half the lists. The DSL's Will Changarotty drew three mentions. Interestingly, the 17-year-old right-hander cracked the top strikeout to walk group despite him not being among the top arms in either strikeouts or walks.

Like a number of these pitchers, whether tandem starters or because of changing roles, Changarotty made part of his appearances in relief. His ERA as a starter only was a less-impressive 2.79. If he keeps it up, his time will come.

Also making three lists is McKnight. His WHIP is among the leaders driven by his very low walk rate. However, his strikeout rate of 6.9 per nine innings is uninspiring and his ERA of 2.69, while very respectable, isn't among the best of this class.

The only name to appear on four of the five lists is State College's Andrew Pierce. Though he is not first on any of the four, the 22-year-old right-hander placed among the rookie starting leaders in ERA, WHIP, strikeout to walk (second only to McKnight) and walks. His strikeout rate of 7.6 per nine innings was decent.

The Cardinal Nation's local State College reporter Robert Davidson had this to say about Pierce, reporting on one of his outings against Lowell.

"The 6'3" righty primarily threw first-pitch fastballs the first time through Lowell's lineup, then began starting batters off with first pitch off-speed stuff, primarily his slurve, and kept the Spinners off balance all night.

"The Southern Miss product's fastball, which sat in the upper 80s and low 90s, had some good arm run which he used to "back into" the zone all night long. Pierce says he throws a slider, but claims the coaching staff keeps telling him ‘it's a slurve', as his primary breaking pitch. Regardless of its name, the pitch did a number on the Spinners offense. Pierce's breaking ball, generally, isn't very tight, but can sweep a good distance around 77-79 mph," Davidson reported.

Pierce missed 2 ½ weeks in early August, but upon his return finished strongly, with just one earned run allowed in his final 18 regular-season innings. Though post-season numbers were not included in the comparison totals, it is worth noting that Pierce started and won the deciding Game 3 of the New York-Penn League semifinals. That night, he allowed no runs over seven innings on just four hits while fanning seven.

St. Louis' eighth-round selection in this June's First-Year Player Draft was not The Cardinal Nation's selection as State College Starting Pitcher of the Year, however. Though Petree absorbed a pair of post-season losses, he was a deserving recipient of that honor.

Still, for the reasons mentioned above, I am naming Andrew Pierce as The Cardinal Nation Minor League Rookie Starting 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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