The 2015 Springfield Cardinals fell a game short of a Texas League playoff berth to the Arkansas Travelers, in a race to decide the second half champion that went down to the last day of the regular season. Thus, the Double-A Cardinals reaching the playoffs for the first time since the squad won their only league title in franchise history in 2012 was out of question.
An anchor of many successful teams is its pitching, with coaching and leadership also playing an important role.
The Springfield club’s first-year pitching coach is a former St. Louis Cardinal, Jason Simontacchi, who began his coaching career with the Cardinals Class-A affiliate Peoria Chiefs (2013-2014). His two years of experience with the Chiefs gave him an advantage of having established familiarity with the Springfield Cardinals pitching staff that included a number of his prior pupils.
Simontacchi has a good feel for his pitchers’ mechanics and what works in certain situations, but in an exclusive interview with him in early July, the pitching coach acknowledged that there is more dealing with the mental aspect of the game, pre-game preparation, and having a plan of attack than the lower levels of the minors.
The Springfield bullpen had a more impactful season in comparison to the starters, with the relievers carrying a significant innings load because of a young rotation that had to adapt on the fly and seemed at times to be disrupted by roster turnover from injury or ineffectiveness.
Two starters seen as potential anchors, Mike Mayers and Nick Petree, experienced major setbacks. Mayers was limited to just 10 starts because of a lingering elbow injury and Petree hit the disabled list after suffering a back injury which eventually landed him back down at Palm Beach.
Pitchers who qualified with at least 10 or more starts and a minimum of 60 innings pitched fit this year's criteria to be eligible. Among them, Arturo Reyes was the most effective and consistent over the course of the summer months and as such is The Cardinal Nation Springfield Cardinals Starting Pitcher of the Year in 2015.
“It’s been a pretty fun ride,” said Reyes, who finished out the season in Triple-A Memphis. “It will definitely be one I’ll remember just from the different movements, starting at Palm Beach, but it comes to show you need to go out executing. You are going to have tough starts.
“My Double-A debut was not what I wanted to start. I went back to who I was in executing and playing the game. Things ended up working out.”
”…I went back to who I was in executing and playing the game. Things ended up working out.” – Arturo ReyesReyes was born in Warden, Washington in 1992, having turned 23 in April. He was slightly younger than the average age of a Texas League player as well as the second youngest starter on the staff, after Andrew Morales who was born nine months later. Later, they were joined by a 20-year-old at the time, when Alex Reyes made his Double-A debut on July 25th.
The Cardinals’ 40th round draft selection in 2013 from Gonzaga University, Arturo Reyes was the Cardinals Pitcher of the Month for June and became the first winner to have been drafted in the 40th round or higher since current left-handed set-up man Kevin Siegrist hauled in that honor in May 2013. Reyes was also named Texas League Pitcher of the Week for the June 8 – 14 period.
A 2014 Midwest League All-Star with the Peoria Chiefs, Reyes opened 2015 with the Palm Beach Cardinals (2.45 ERA but a 1.75 WHIP on 19 hits and six walks in 14 2/3 innings) before his promotion to Double-A on May 1st and debuted three days later. Without much High-A experience, Reyes struggled initially but recovered through his next 16 starts. In 12 of them, he allowed no more than two earned runs through at least five innings.
"I’d say having a different approach the more times you face them (Texas League opponents)," said Reyes on the best way to adjust to one of minor league baseball's smallest leagues (seven other teams). "In this league, you see these teams quite a bit throughout the season, and if you do the same thing over and over, they’ll obviously make the adjustment.
“Just learning how to pitch to each batter in different ways, change the sequence up, and remember what they did and little things like that where you again come the mental game to learn the game a little more. I feel like that was the biggest adjustment,” Reyes said.
At the time of his promotion on August 14th, the right-hander led all Springfield hurlers in innings pitched (99 innings), though that was later eclipsed by Morales (129 2/3 innings), Thomas Lee (102 2/3 innings) and Kyle Hald (102 innings). Most noteworthy, Reyes's 2.64 ERA was the league's second-best mark.
Through 17 total starts for Springfield, Reyes accumulated seven wins, seven losses, and three no-decisions. His deep, diverse arsenal - a mid-90s fastball, curve, slider, and changeup - tallied 80 strikeouts against 28 walks (2.9 K-BB ratio). Reyes earned Texas League mid-season and post-season All-Star berths to cap off his breakout campaign.
“Reyes' future is bright if he stays within himself and doesn't go outside his abilities and try to do too much,” said Colin Young, who covers the Texas League for Baseball Prospectus and wrote a glowing review on Reyes. “He settled down in the PCL (Pacific Coast League) and had a strong last start of the year.
“Every level, Reyes has been consistent and I have no reason to doubt that he can't do it in Memphis as well. The tools and pitchability are there.....now it's figuring out AAA hitters and adjusting to the small parks in the PCL. Look for Reyes to be same that he's proven to be over the course of his career,” Young said.
Five other starters were in contention for this year's honor. Andrew Morales was Springfield's innings eater in the rotation despite facing the most adversity (5-8 W-L, 5.00 ERA in 26 starts). However, Morales found his footing and finished strong with two straight seven-inning gems down the stretch.
"I feel as though I grew and developed a lot this year as a ball player both on and off the field," said Morales on his first full season. "I had my ups and downs, more downs than I initially anticipated.
"One of the major things I took away from this season is to not try and be so fine. I came to realize is that it is not a sprint, but a marathon. I was faced with a ton of challenges, but I held my own and am ready to prepare this offseason and come back to give it my all next season."
The former UC Irvine product had 12 1/3 professional innings prior to his first full season and was immediately challenged with Double-A. In 129 2/3 innings, Morales struck out 85 and walked 46 batters.
"It's an ongoing process to find what works and am still continuing to work to find that consistent release and pound the zone like I know how," said Morales.
‘Consistency’ was his keyword throughout 2015.
"One of the mental adjustments I learned this year was to not be so fine; meaning basically not to nibble at the corners and be timid but pitch with confidence and attack the strike zone with my best stuff.
"One thing Simo (Jason Simontacchi) always discussed is that we as starters will have (three) types of starts, the starts where you have everything going for you, the starts where you may have nothing going your way, but it's the other third determines what kind of pitcher you are, where you won't have your stuff but will battle to get outs.
"I got the opportunity to learn from everyone not just Simo but from each other as pitchers, and also the abundance of pitching knowledge that comes down with guys like Izzy (Jason Isringhausen), (Ryan) Franklin, and Cal (Eldred). Listening to them, learning, and making sure to always be taking strides in the right direction is what it's all about."
Thomas Lee, Kyle Hald, Corey Baker, and Jimmy Reed are the other honorable mentions. Lee topped the team in wins (eight), WHIP (1.24), and tied for first with one complete game on his resume. Hald had several abbreviated starts but also went six or more innings eight times and made four starts for Triple-A Memphis, with his final two in September. Baker was a versatile weapon for the pitching staff. 50 2/3 innings came while starting and accounted for more than half of his total innings (97 IP).
Reed pitched across three levels (Palm Beach, Springfield, and Memphis). The lefty made 16 of his 26 starts for the Double-A Cardinals and had a 5.14 ERA over 82 1/3 innings during that span.
"I really enjoyed my time in Springfield this year," said Reed of his development in Double-A. "I felt like I learned quite a bit about myself as a pitcher and as a competitor. I had some strong starts and I had some bad ones too.
"I've always been a consistent performer, so when I struggled to find consistent success in my second half I had to learn how to deal with it. Going forward, I know that experience will make me a better pitcher."
Reed, the Cardinals 2013 sixth-rounder from Maryland, deploys a traditional crafty approach on the mound coupled with good command of his pitches. The lefty struck out 59 and walked under two batters per nine innings. He spoke of the adjustments he made.
“Pitching inside is something that Simo (Jason Simontacchi) and I talked about quite a bit," said Reed on the adjustments in a smaller league and against better offenses. "Because I don't light up the radar gun, it is even more important for me to be able to pitch inside for strikes and for the effect to keep hitters from diving over the plate.
"When I executed that plan, I usually had success. Everyone in the league knows that our park plays smaller, so as pitchers it's important for us to take some of the aggressiveness out of the hitter by pitching inside."
Perhaps the marquee name on the roster was Cardinals top overall prospect Alex Reyes. Reyes didn’t arrive until the end of July and was two starts and 14 1/3 innings shy of qualifying for consideration here.
To wrap up, congratulations to Arturo Reyes, The Cardinal Nation Springfield Starter of the Year in his first full season of 2015. For him, it was a good development year which hopefully leads to improved results going forward.
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 Springfield Cardinals Relief Pitcher and Player of the Year.
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