Coming into 2015, Dean Kiekhefer was another relief prospect in the St. Louis Cardinals system, trying to make his impression big enough to get a chance in the major leagues.
The Cardinals’ 36th-round draft pick from the University of Louisville back in 2010 had already defied the odds. He made it to Triple-A Memphis in 2014 after pitching in the Arizona Fall League in 2013, but the clock was ticking for the now 26-year-old.
The non-roster invitee to major league camp was not considered to be a contender for a 25-man roster spot this spring after having been left exposed in the 2014 Rule 5 Draft and not being taken. True to form, he pitched in just two games for St. Louis, posting 1 1/3 innings of perfect work, before quickly being returned to minor league camp.
Back with Memphis for what would be the entire 2015 season, Kiekhefer honed his reputation as a non-situational left-hander, meaning he can pitch multiple innings, and as a strike thrower.
While his season, which included a Pacific Coast League all-star berth, was solid, Kiekhefer’s 2015 was actually not as strong statistically as was his Triple-A debut the year before. His out-of-this-world strikeout to walk ratio of 10.4 dropped to 5.3. Still, he walked just seven batters in 59 2/3 innings and posted a 2.41 ERA.
That led to a second invitation to the Arizona Fall League, where Kiekhefer continued doing what he does best, spin his three-quarters deliveries and collect outs. He finished his AFL time with just one walk in 15 1/3 innings against 14 strikeouts and a 2.93 ERA.
When Kiekhefer spoke with me - before the Cardinals announced his addition to the 40-man roster, which occurred on Thursday, the final day of the AFL regular season - the pitcher knew what was at stake, but was prepared for either outcome.
With the departure of veteran Randy Choate for 2016, it now appears that Kiekhefer will receive a longer look and a much better chance to make the St. Louis roster in the spring.
From the AFL, Kiekhefer spoke about all of the above and more.
Next for members of The Cardinal Nation: Exclusive interviews with the other Cardinals prospects competing in the AFL, including a talk with Alex Reyes just before his suspension.
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