In phase two of our annual recaps of the just-completed season across the St. Louis Cardinals minor league system, we move into our second review of relief pitchers, covering the lowest level of play in the US, the Gulf Coast League.
The GCL Cardinals had a great 2014 season that culminated in a divisional title. The pitching was a bright spot for the rookie-level club, as the staff came in second in the 16-team league with an ERA of 3.01. The Cardinals were just ninth in strikeouts, but issued the fewest walks by a considerable margin over the next-best team.
The Cardinal Nation’s GCL Cardinals reporter Paul Ivice watched the club all season long and weighed in with TCN’s winner of the GCL Relief Pitcher of the Year. For fun, Brian Walton decided in parallel to take a stats-based look as was done for the DSL bullpenners. We will lead off with the latter view.
Manager Steve Turco had no clear closer as the GCL team co-leaders collected just three of the 15 team saves. A team-record eight different pitchers had saves and at least a dozen hurlers closed out at least one game.
Seven Cardinals who were primarily relievers pitched at least 20 innings. Their stats follow, listed in ascending ERA order.
|GCL Cards relievers||W||L||ERA||G||SV||IP||H||R||ER||HR||BB||SO||HLD||GF|
|Steven De La Cruz||0||0||3.75||15||0||24.0||25||12||10||1||5||21||2||4|
A quick look at the data suggests that Jery Then is the leading candidate with Yeison Medina and Kevin Alexander as the primary contenders based on them having the only bullpen ERAs under 3.00 and 2.00, for that matter.
Let’s also look at strikeouts, walks and baserunners allowed, with WHIP, walks and hits per innings pitched, as the surrogate for the latter.
|GCL Cards relievers||ERA||WHIP||K/9||BB/9||K/BB|
|Steven De La Cruz||3.75||1.25||7.9||1.9||4.2|
The above table is sorted by the right column, strikeout to walk ratio.
From our contenders, Then, age 19, had the best strikeout rate as the only reliever with better than a K per inning. Alexander, 23, was stingiest with free passes, closely followed by Andrew Reidt, who logged the highest ERA in the bullpen. Reidt also had the second-lowest WHIP after Then. Go figure.
Alexander’s minuscule walk count, just two in 24 1/3 innings, is impressive, but it does not trump Then’s dominating ERA, WHIP, strikeout advantage and relative youth, in my view.
Ironically, both were free agent signees this summer. Following the GCL season, Alexander was promoted to State College with Then joining Johnson City. Then was also TCN’s August Reliever of the Month.
Now, let’s get Paul’s observations and opinion.
Among the collection of non-drafted free agents that populated the GCL Cardinals bullpen, no one threw harder or more effectively than Jery Then.
The 19-year-old Dominican right-hander, who had pitched briefly at Western Oklahoma State College, did not make his pro debut until July 24, about midway through the GCL season. The 6-foot-2, 195-pound right-hander has an unconventional delivery that “gives him a lot of deception and a lot of life on his fastball,” Turco said.
Then’s fastball touched 97 mph this season, though it normally sits at 93-95 mph. “This guy will throw harder,” Turco said, noting that Trevor Rosenthal had a low-90s fastball in the GCL in 2009. Then also throws a slider and a changeup.
After allowing a two-run home run in his one-inning pro debut, Then threw up goose eggs for his next 10 relief appearances. In those 16-2/3 innings, Then allowed five hits and five walks while whiffing 17. He struck out six more while allowing three hits and no walks in a three-inning spot start.
Then’s two saves were among three the Cardinals needed during their eight-game win streak to end the regular season and clinch not only the division title but home advantage in the playoff semifinal.
So there you have it. Two different affirmations of The Cardinal Nation Gulf Coast League Cardinals Reliever of the Year for 2014, Jery Then.
Link to master article with all 2014 award winners, team recaps and article schedules for the remainder of this series. Of course, that will include our selections as the GCL Cardinals Starting Pitcher and Player of the Year.
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