While the Memphis Redbirds sputtered on offense seemingly as often as not in the 2015 Pacific Coast League season (the club placed third to last in average and slugging and fifth-worst in OPS), the bullpen helped the team finish second in the American Southern Division (73-71), five games behind division champ Round Rock.
The Redbirds pitching staff came in seventh in ERA (4.10) and sixth in holds (52) in the 16-team league, with one reliever standing above the rest: Sam Tuivailala. The right-hander’s 17 saves were fourth in the entire PCL and he did not blow a single opportunity all season long.
The 22-year-old, who was drafted in the third round of the 2010 MLB draft by the St. Louis Cardinals, played outfield, shortstop and third base during his first two seasons before being switched to pitching early in 2012. Tuivailala excelled in the Cardinals’ system, earning a promotion to Memphis in August of 2014 and making his St. Louis debut shortly after, followed with a stint in the Arizona Fall League.
During the 2015 season with Memphis, Tuivailala went 3-1 with a 1.60 ERA, while finishing 37 games, third-most in the league. He held opposing PCL batters to a .117 average overall and a .176 average in late-inning situations while hurling a blistering 99 MPH fastball routinely. In 45 Triple-A innings, he fanned 43, but also issued 26 free passes.
The flamethrower received a mid-season Pacific Coast League All-Star nod but could not compete in the event due to a promotion to St. Louis on July 11. In fact, in 2015, Tuivailala received five total call-ups to the majors, where he currently is rostered as one of St. Louis’ expanded final-month options in relief.
Tuivailala is a highly-rated pitching prospect for St. Louis. In The Cardinal Nation’s monthly Cardinals prospect rankings for August 2015, Tuivailala was the Cardinals’ sixth-best prospect, fifth-best pitcher and top reliever by a considerable margin.
Kiekhefer (2-1 2.41), who represented the Redbirds in the 2015 Triple-A All-Star Game in Omaha in place of the promoted Tuivailala and Tim Cooney, was very consistent during 2015. The lefty, who led all Redbirds’ relievers with 59 2/3 innings pitched, was also Memphis’ most frequently called-upon bullpenner with 50 appearances.
Kiekhefer’s most impressive statistic is his strikeout-to-walk ratio. The 26-year-old struck out 37, good; but allowed only seven walks all season long, which is phenomenal. After the season, Kiekhefer was invited to participate in the Arizona Fall League, his second such honor.
Wyatt (3-0, 2.17) pitched 10 innings less than Kiekhefer and appeared in 17 fewer games, but was still excellent all season for the Redbirds. The 27-year-old was at his best in the first half as he peaked at a 0.77 ERA on July 19. The right-hander also had the third-best WHIP on the team (1.01).
Although Wyatt tailed off towards the end of the season (a season-high 4.58 ERA for August), he was still Memphis’ second most frequently used relief pitcher behind Kiekhefer.
While Kiekhefer and Wyatt each had exceptional seasons in relief for the Memphis Redbirds, it was Tuivailala who was most dominant all season long.
Congratulations to The Cardinal Nation’s 2015 Memphis Redbirds Reliever of the Year, Sam Tuivailala.
Link to master article with all 2015 award winners, team recaps and article schedules for the remainder of this series. Of course, that includes our selections as the Memphis Redbirds Starting Pitcher and Player of the Year.
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