The Cardinal Nation June Reliever of Month

State College's Kyle Grana is our choice as the top relief pitcher across the St. Louis Cardinals minor league system last month.

Back in April, I announced a new award for The Cardinal Nation, the Relief Pitcher of the Month. The intent was to offer a spotlight on those hurlers whose work would otherwise be obscured by more flashy numbers put up by starters.

It started well enough, with Springfield's Justin Wright the initial winner. Then along came May, when Chris Perry's numbers were so good that they bested every starter in the system, too. As a result, there was no Reliever of the Month. In hindsight, I guess I should have recognized a starter.

Anyway, after Peoria's Rob Kaminsky took home the June Starter of the Month award for both The Cardinal Nation and the Cardinals organization, it is time to select the corresponding top reliever.

Let's start with the numbers. I narrowed down the long list of relief pitchers across the entire system to those who pitched at least 10 innings and logged an ERA under 2.00. Just seven candidates remain, which coincidentally is the same number as in April. Five levels are represented, from the highest, Memphis, to the lowest, the Dominican Summer League.

Jhonny Polanco PEO 11.2 0.77 1.16 1 1 7 0
Eric Fornataro MEM 10.1 0.87 1.19 3 1 7 0
Kyle Grana SC 10 0.90 0.90 2 1 7 0
Iden Nazario PB 13.1 1.35 0.84 2 2 7 1
Jeff Rauh SC 11.1 1.59 1.08 2 2 8 0
Jose Lara DSL 10.2 1.69 1.47 3 2 10 0
Corey Baker PB 14.2 1.84 0.92 3 3 11 1

Any of the three with ERAs under 1.00, Jhonny Polanco of Peoria, Eric Fornataro of Memphis and Kyle Grana of State College, would be a strong winner. Palm Beach's Iden Nazario also had a solid month. Moving to the second table, however, creates a separation.

Reliever Tm K BB SV HD BS W L
Jhonny Polanco PEO 10 6 0 2 0 2 0
Eric Fornataro MEM 2 5 0 0 0 0 0
Kyle Grana SC 14 2 1 0 0 2 0
Iden Nazario PB 18 4 3 2 0 3 0
Jeff Rauh SC 9 4 1 0 0 0 0
Jose Lara DSL 8 5 5 0 1 0 1
Corey Baker PB 10 2 0 1 1 3 1

Polanco and Fornataro had walk counts a bit higher than the others. Grana, on the other hand, not only walked just two, but fanned 14. Further, he converted his only save opportunity and won both his decisions, as well.

So, we have our winner. Grana is hereby named The Cardinal Nation Reliever of the Month for June. The former Lafayette High product played for Bellarmine College before signing with the Cardinals as a non-drafted free agent last June. The 23-year-old right-hander is imposing on the mound at 6-foot-4, 245 pounds.

Other honorable mentions

Reliever Tm IP K/9 ERA BB/9
Sam Tuivailala PB 12.2 19.2 3.55 4.3
Lee Stoppelman SPR 11 13.1 3.27 1.6
Kyle Grana SC 10 12.6 0.90 1.8
Franyel Casadilla DSL 13 12.5 4.85 3.5
Iden Nazario PB 13.1 12.1 1.35 2.7

As the above table indicates, only five relievers with at least 10 innings pitched had 10 or more strikeouts per nine innings last month. ERAs and walk rates are listed to help provide context.

Sam Tuivailala has actually increased his strikeout rate to an amazing level, but his walk rate remains far too high, contributing to a higher ERA than one would expect. A partial bounceback from Lee Stoppelman is encouraging. Grana shows his selection was not a fluke.

Reliever Tm IP BB/9 ERA K/9
Dean Kiekhefer MEM 18.1 0.0 3.44 7.9
Thomas Lee PB 18 0.5 5.50 3.5
Julio Mateo GCL 12 0.8 3.75 8.3
Nick Greenwood MEM 11 0.8 2.45 9.0
Corey Baker PB 14.2 1.2 1.84 6.1

Five relievers had at least 10 innings pitched and less than 1.5 walks per nine innings. The group was led by Dean Kiekhefer, who did not issue a free pass all month long. ERAs of the three with the lowest walk rates were not overwhelming, however.

Baker again appears among the system leaders. His reward is to be given a start for Palm Beach on Friday, his first of the season. Of course, Nick Greenwood is now with St. Louis, the ultimate goal of all of these young men.

Last month's winner

Peoria's Chris Perry threw just 9 1/3 innings in June with a solid ERA of 2.89. Perry's strikeout rate of 15.4 per nine innings would have been second only to Tuivailala had he qualified.

2014 monthly award winners

  Pitcher of Month Pitcher of Month Starter of Month Reliever of Month  
2014 The Cardinal Nation Cards organization The Cardinal Nation The Cardinal Nation 2014
April    Tim Cooney Nick Petree Justin Wright April 
May Chris Perry Chris Perry (none) (Perry) May
June   Rob Kaminsky Rob Kaminsky Kyle Grana June
July         July
Aug         Aug
  Player of Month        
2014 The Cardinal Nation Cards organization     2014
April  James Ramsey Jonathan Rodriguez     April 
May Randal Grichuk Randal Grichuk     May
June Rowan Wick Rowan Wick     June
July         July
Aug         Aug

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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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