The Cardinal Nation’s choice as top reliever at the High-A level is strikeout machine Dixon Llorens.
Closer by committee.
Though some of it was timing-based, the committee approach is what it felt like the 2014 Palm Beach Cardinals deployed, as they did not have a pitcher with more than 10 saves on the season.
Even though they did not feature a dominant closer at the back end of the bullpen, Palm Beach had three talented pieces to turn to in Iden Nazario, Corey Baker and Dixon Llorens.
Nazario was the salty veteran. The Miami, FL native pitched for the Cardinals High-A affiliate for the fourth straight season. In 2014, he made 39 appearances, going 5-1 with a 2.72 ERA and four saves. Nazario led the team in games pitched and was third in saves and ERA among qualifying relievers. The lefty finished fifth in the Florida State League in batting average against, holding opponents to a .207 (46-for-203) mark.
In the first half, Nazario posted a dominant 3-0 record with a 1.99 ERA and converted both his save opportunities. His strong pitching earned him a promotion to Springfield on July 4, but he was returned to Palm Beach on July 20.
His numbers were solid, but at 25 years of age, three years older than the median age of those he opposed all season, we expect those kind of numbers out of Nazario.
His age wasn’t the only factor, as his numbers were not strong enough to take the crown from Baker or Llorens.
Baker, in his second season with Palm Beach, served as both a reliever and starter. He made 30 appearances, including four starts, going 5-2 with a 2.33 ERA with two saves. The New Yorker struck out 57 and walked 14 batters in 77 1/3 innings, while finishing second on the team in ERA among relievers and tied for first in reliever wins.
The 24-year-old finished third in the FSL in batting average against, limiting opponents to a .210 (45-for-214) batting average while leading the league in fewest walks per nine innings (1.85) and fewest base runners per nine innings ratio. Baker was one the best pitchers on the team, but he was even better as a starter than a reliever. In four starts, the right-hander went 1-0 with a 1.42 ERA while going 4-2 with 2.62 ERA as reliever.
Baker’s numbers were great, but Llorens was special on the mound. The submarining right-hander was 0-1 with a 2.06 ERA in 33 games. Llorens led the team in ERA for relievers and in saves with nine. He pitched 43 2/3 innings and struck out 74 batters. The 21-year-old finished third on the team in strikeouts despite tossing half as many innings as the other two pitchers. Llorens held hitters to a .150 (22-for-147) batting average against.
Llorens would have led the league in strikeouts per nine innings pitched, batting average against and would have been one of the top ERA relievers if he had tossed 12 more innings.
The closest thing the Cardinals had to a closer, Llorens converted nine of 11 save opportunities and had the stuff to get out of jams with a strikeout. Based on the numbers alone, the Palm Springs, FL native is The Cardinal Nation’s Palm Beach Cardinals Reliever of the Year.
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 Palm Beach Cardinals Starting Pitcher and Player of the Year.
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2014 Palm Beach Cardinals Team Review
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