Unlike each of the last three years, when The Cardinal Nation’s Rookie Relief Pitcher of the Year was a member of the St. Louis Cardinals organization’s class from that June’s First-Year Player Draft, our selection for 2014 was a much more low-key addition.
The fact that Jery Then was signed in mid-July as a non-drafted free agent takes nothing away from his accomplishments that followed, however. They were at least as impressive as those of Zach Loraine, Lee Stoppelman and Danny Miranda the prior three seasons, respectively.
Instead, Then’s impressive rookie results should serve as a reminder that some very promising players can be located off the conventional radar screens.
Here is how it unfolded.
As a collegian
In 2013, feeling the competition for attention as an amateur in the Dominican Republic was becoming too difficult, the now-19-year-old made an unconventional decision - to leave his homeland behind and pursue his baseball dreams in the United States.
That led the graduate of Colombina Canario High School in Salcedo, DR to play college ball in an out-of-the-way location - Oklahoma. Then earned a scholarship to Western Oklahoma State College in Altus, Oklahoma, population 19,800.
Then’s numbers on the mound as a freshman for the Pioneers this spring were nothing to draw unusual attention. The right-hander appeared in eight games, starting three, but only threw 14 2/3 innings. He fanned 16 but issued almost as many walks, 13, and yielded 11 earned runs for a 6.75 ERA.
2014 turned out to be much worse for the WOSC baseball program. In May, the junior college determined that six of its athletes were in violation of a NJCAA article that requires completion of three years of high school in the United States. The baseball club forfeited all 54 games played, withdrew from the regional tournament and incurred a suspension as a result.
The Franklin encounter
Following that experience at WOSC, Then suited up this summer as a member of the American Legion Southwest Shockers in Oklahoma. That is where his path crossed with Ryan Franklin, a move that turned out to be life-changing.
An Oklahoman and special assistant to the general manager of the Cardinals, Franklin was on his own time – as one of the coaches of his son’s Legion team in an early July tournament. Coincidentally, they were matched up against starting pitcher Then and the Shockers.
“Just from seeing him warm up, I could tell he had a pretty good arm,” Franklin recalls. “He went on to throw seven innings… Threw a great game and beat us… He was in the low-to-mid 90s with a pretty good slider and change-up. The talent you could definitely tell was there.” According to Then himself, he struck out 14 that day.
It was more than just the pitcher’s arm that impressed the former St. Louis closer. Though Franklin was clearly intrigued, he did not let on. Given he was trying to help his team win, he reached into his bag of tricks in an attempt to knock Then off his game.
”I was barking at him in Spanish, trying to get him fired up – to see if I could get in his head… It didn’t do anything but make him better, which is another thing that I liked.” – Ryan Franklin
“Jery has some swag, flair, style, whatever you might call it,” Franklin noted. “He was kind of taunting us out there. I was barking at him in Spanish, trying to get him fired up – to see if I could get in his head… It didn’t do anything but make him better, which is another thing that I liked.”
Watching Then throw this fall in Florida, I noticed a herky-jerky action in the 6-foot-2, 195-pounder’s release. Franklin sees it as a positive.
“There is nothing wrong with that,” he replied. “A little deception – anything to get hitters off (balance), I am for it.”
Following the Legion game, Franklin introduced himself and got to know Then a bit. They discussed the pitcher’s aspirations and the scout especially liked what he heard when he probed Then’s willingness to work on mechanics.
“The kid was ready to go,” Franklin said. “I wanted to get him out of there and get him signed. His ultimate goal was to play professional baseball and start making his way to the major leagues.”
The Cardinals organization was supportive and moved quickly.
“I called our scouting director, Dan Kantrovitz, and said, ‘We’ve got to sign this kid if we can.’ And two or three days later, Jery was a Cardinal,” Franklin concluded.
That was it. A chance encounter that allowed Franklin to learn everything he needed to know about a young man who was previously unscouted led to a professional contract offer that was immediately accepted.
As a professional
Joining the rookie-level Gulf Coast League Cardinals with just six weeks remaining in the season, Then made a quick impression on the player development staff. The two runs he allowed in his first professional outing were the only ones he would yield this summer for the GCL Cards while logging a 0.87 ERA.
In 20 2/3 GCL frames, including one emergency start of three innings, Then struck out 23 and walked just five, holding opposing hitters to a collective .157 average and logging a 1.77 ground ball out to fly ball out ratio.
At the end of the GCL campaign, Then was rewarded with a promotion to Johnson City, where he appeared in three games as the Cardinals marched on to the Appalachian League title.
Then was previously recognized as The Cardinal Nation’s August Relief Pitcher of the Month and our GCL Cardinals Reliever of the Year. Following the season, he was among 38 hand-picked prospects invited to the organization’s fall instructional league camp.
Now, Then is also TCN’s Rookie Relief Pitcher of the Year for the entire Cardinals system in 2014.
Exclusively for The Cardinal Nation members
During instructs, Then spoke about his interesting journey to date, his pitches and more. The young man knew what he wanted and what he hopes to accomplish ahead – with some very specific targets for the future – in baseball and life.
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Link to master article with all 2014 award winners, team recaps and article schedules for the remainder of this series. That will include our selections as the system-wide rookie Starting Pitcher and rookie Player of the Year, coming this weekend.
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