One might think it would be easy to choose the top hitter for the Gulf Coast League Cardinals, but the club led the 16-team rookie-level league in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging average, so there were many strong candidates.
In reality, however, you really don’t have to look any further than GCL Most Valuable Player Magneuris Sierra (mahg-NAIR-ees), also the league’s batting champion. Perhaps there is no more telling statistic than this: The Cardinals were 3-5 when Sierra did not play, and 34-18 when he did.
Sierra had 78 hits, a remarkable 20 percent more than the next highest batter in the league. For comparison, when Ichiro Suzuki collected 262 hits in a 162-game season in 2004 to break George Sisler’s 84-year-old record of 257 hits in a season, which Sisler accomplished in 154 games, Ichiro had about 19 percent more hits than runner-up Juan Pierre. And in 1920, Sisler exceeded runner-up Eddie Collins’s hit total by less than 15 percent.
Extrapolating Sierra’s season into playing in 140 games of a 162-game major-leader season, that’s 211 hits. Sierra had 23 multi-hit games and at least three hits 10 times, while failing to get a hit in only 12 contests.
The 18-year-old from the Dominican Republic also led the GCL in total bases (102), runs scored (42) and, with 16 walks, on-base percentage (.434). Sierra was also second in OPS (.939) and fourth in slugging percentage (.505). He even had the most steals on the team with 13 and played a solid centerfield.
Sierra, who hit .269 in 63 games last season in the Dominican Summer League, started his first season on U.S. soil somewhat slowly, with a .297 average in eight games in June.
In July, though, Sierra terrorized GCL pitching for a .438 average, with a .489 on-base percentage while slugging .598. That month, he was named the GCL Player of the Month as well as the top player in the entire Cardinals system by both the Cardinals organization and The Cardinal Nation.
A left-handed hitter, Sierra did not give an inch to lefty hurlers. He actually hit .400 against them with a .936 OPS, compared with .380 against right-handers, though his OPS was .940 because he had a better walk rate against righties. His favorite feast was Nationals pitching, which he solved at a .433 clip and a 1.060 OPS. The Mets, conversely, contained him to a .299 average and .751 OPS.
Manager Steve Turco describes Sierra as “a potential five-tool player who will develop easy power,” Sierra “plays much bigger” than his 5-feet-11, 160 pounds, Turco said. “He has a good swing, a good approach; it’s going to be hard to stop him from hitting, especially at the lower levels, but I think he will hit at all levels.”
Sierra started the season batting second behind shortstop Edmundo Sosa in Turco’s lineup. In the two-hole, Sierra did just fine, hitting .364. In early August, when Sosa started to struggle a bit at the plate, Turco switched Sierra into the leadoff spot. As a leadoff man, Sierra he hit .393, though with fewer walks, extra-base hits and steals.
Though mostly a speedy singles and gap hitter, Sierra did his best work in the clutch. He hit .571 in close and late situations, .556 with runners on first and second, and .538 with a runner on third. He was 26-for-57 (.456) with runners in scoring position and 20-for-46 (.435) with two outs.
To punctuate his MVP summer, Sierra went 5-for-5 with a walk in the Cardinals’ 19-1 rain-shortened win on the last day of the regular schedule. After the Cards were eliminated in the first playoff game, Sierra was promoted to Johnson City, where he stepped into their lineup for the Appalachian League post-season.
In the future, we will be hearing more from Magneuris Sierra, The Cardinal Nation Gulf Coast League Cardinals Player of the Year.
Link to master article with all 2014 award winners, team recaps and article schedules for the remainder of this series. That will include our upcoming selections of rookie Starting Pitcher, Reliever and Player of the Year.
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