.386 is a number that I cannot get out of my head.
At the major league level, only four hitters have exceeded that mark over a single season in the last 70 years – Ted Williams, Rod Carew, George Brett and Tony Gwynn – Hall of Famers, all.
Granted, the .386 on my mind was compiled light years in competition away from the big leagues – in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League. Further, it is a short-season circuit of just 2 ½ months duration in which most of the pitchers are not yet legal age.
The young man who accomplished this hitting feat is Magneuris Sierra (mahg-NAIR-ees), of the Gulf Coast League Cardinals. The outfielder is a slightly-built (5-foot-11, 160 pounds) Dominican native in his first season playing in the USA and second year as a professional athlete.
His 2014 seemed to come out of nowhere – but there were signals. In his age 17 season in the Dominican Summer League in 2013, the left-handed hitter had batted a respectable .269 on a club which hit just .223 in aggregate. Sierra’s standout stat was 15 stolen bases in 63 games. He had been signed as a 16-year-old for a reported $105,000 in July 2012.
His 2014 was other-worldly. Sierra was named the GCL’s Most Valuable player after posting a line of .386/.434/.505/.939 in 223 plate appearances over 52 contests. He not only led his league in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging and OPS, he topped the entire Cardinals system in the first two measures and was second in the others.
(Read more about Sierra’s standout season here. Earlier, we named him our GCL Cardinals Player of the Year.)
At any level, .386 is as unusual as it is amazing.
To help put this into perspective, only one Cardinals minor leaguer in the last 59 years has done better – and Sierra was very close. In the season he made his major league debut, 1973, Jim Dwyer batted .387 at Triple-A Tulsa. (Sierra tied Oscar Taveras' batting mark at Quad Cities in 2011.)
Even going back further, taking into account the all-time single-season leaders in the system, only two hitters at any level posted a higher average during the decade of the 1940s, just one during the 1950s and none during the 1960s.
Sierra was named the July Player of the Month by both the Cardinals organization and The Cardinal Nation. He was also recognized as the Gulf Coast League Player of the Month in July, and after the season was of course a GCL All-Star as a prerequisite for his league MVP award.
Whether Sierra led off or batted second for GCL manager Steve Turco, the centerfielder produced. It did not matter if the pitcher threw from the left side (.400) or the right (.380). Sierra handled them all.
In my years knowing Turco, a former scout, I have found him to be very level-headed in all areas, including talent evaluation. Against that backdrop, consider this remark he made only one month into the 2014 season.
Sierra ”is a potential five-tool player who will develop easy power.” – GCL Cards manager Steve Turco
Sierra “is a potential five-tool player who will develop easy power,” 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.”
Only time will tell the extent to which Sierra can continue his success as he moves up in competition, but for 2014, the choice is clear. The Cardinal Nation Player of the Year is Magneuris Sierra.
I noted above that one player in the organization topped Sierra in slugging percentage (at .608) and OPS (.991) this season. That is outfielder Rowan Wick, probably the most intriguing power bat in the system.
The 21-year-old set the State College Spikes team record for home runs with 14 and became the New York-Penn League slugging champion despite being promoted to Peoria with five weeks still remaining in the season. With the Chiefs, the left-handed hitter needed adjustment time, however, batting just .220 with a whopping 60 strikeouts in 141 Midwest League at-bats.
Still, Wick’s 20 home runs and 60 RBI tied for third- and fifth-best, respectively, in the entire Cardinals system this season – most impressive counting stat totals from essentially a short-season player.
Memphis outfielder Tommy Pham earned his long-awaited major league debut by placing in the top seven in the organization in all four slash line categories at .324/.395/.491/.886.
His Redbirds teammate Xavier Scruggs also paved his way to St. Louis with 29 doubles and 21 long balls, both second-best in the system, and 87 RBI, 16 more than any other Cardinal farmhand.
Quite a few other hitters had strong 2014 seasons, as well. You can read about their exploits in our now-completed 38-article team recaps and Pitchers and Players of the Year series, written by our local reporters who covered these players all summer long, and free here at The Cardinal Nation.
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 Manager of the Year and St. Louis Pitchers and Player of the Year, coming this week.
Not yet a member?
Join The Cardinal Nation for the most comprehensive coverage of the St. Louis Cardinals from the majors through the entire minor league system. Take advantage of our seven-day free trial.
© 2014 stlcardinals.scout.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.