The 2016 season began with much promise for the rotation of the Class-A Peoria Chiefs, though the plan seemed extraordinary. The parent St. Louis Cardinals did not promote even one starter from the 2015 rotation of the short-season Class-A State College Spikes, the club one level down. Instead, they chose their starting six, all with less experience, but great potential in Jake Woodford, Sandy Alcantara, Junior Fernandez and Derian Gonzalez from the Gulf Coast League plus Brennan Leitao and Ryan Helsley from Johnson City.
Through two and a half months, things were looking great. The Chiefs won their division in the first half of the season, and four members of this talented rotation were named Midwest League mid-season All-Stars.
Less than a week into the second half, however, the third all-star member of that starting six went on the disabled list. (The only one currently active is Brennan Leitao.)
On Thursday, Helsley was the latest blow, joining Peoria’s DL due to what is being called right bicep tendinitis. The move is retroactive to June 28.
The 21-year-old joins Woodford, who went out on June 25 retroactive to June 23 with a right elbow sprain and Gonzalez, who started the trend when he left the Midwest League club’s June 15 contest with a shoulder injury. His DL move was effective the next day.
Before their injuries, Gonzalez made 11 starts for 58 2/3 innings and a 2.91 ERA, Woodford took the ball 12 times for 70 2/3 frames, logging a 2.93 ERA and Helsley started 13 contests, throwing 76 1/3 innings for a 1.89 mark that is third-best among qualifiers in the entire MWL.
Plans B and C
In May, pitcher Juan Perez was promoted from extended spring training and added to Peoria’s bullpen. However, I was told that the right-hander was continuing to be considered a starter and would likely make fill-in starts when the big six needed extra rest.
Instead, when Gonzalez went down, Perez was plugged right into the rotation and will make his fourth start Sunday vs. Clinton. With Helsley’s injury, even going down to a five-man starting crew means another arm is now needed. At least to open Thursday’s game at Beloit, reliever Harley Holt is being given the ball.
It remains to be seen if another starter is added to the roster before the next turn, but my guess is yes.
Corresponding move is Gallardo
The Chiefs have been down one player on their 25-man roster ever since Woodford went down. However, they did get one pitcher back on Thursday in return for the loss of Helsley in reliever Steven Gallardo.
Coming back from three consecutive years lost due to injuries, including Tommy John last year, Gallardo only lasted until April 22 before being placed on Peoria’s DL, where he remained until Thursday. The 2012 19th-rounder had allowed just one run with 11 strikeouts against just one free pass in 8 2/3 innings.
Now, let’s take a look at other news from around the system.
Sam the Star
Memphis Redbirds relief pitcher Sam Tuivailala has been selected to represent the club in the 2016 Triple-A All-Star Game. In the 29th annual game, the best of the Pacific Coast League will face the stars of the International League.
The game will be held Wednesday, July 13 at BB&T Ballpark in Charlotte, North Carolina, home of the IL’s Charlotte Knights, and will be televised live on MLB Network at 6:00 p.m. (CT). Redbirds manager Mike Shildt, a Charlotte native, will be a coach for the PCL All-Stars.
Tuivailala is tied for fourth in the PCL with 12 saves, and his 13.6 K/9 IP ratio is second in the league. In 28 appearances covering 31 innings, the right-hander has struck out 47 and walked 15, and he is limiting opponents to a .231 batting average.
Tuivailala was also named a PCL All-Star in 2015, but he did not appear in the game due to a promotion to St. Louis. Tim Cooney was in the same boat, with Dean Kiekhefer added to last summer's All-Star roster as a replacement.
On Thursday, the Palm Beach Cardinals placed left-handed pitcher Jacob Evans on the seven-day disabled list. The move is retroactive to June 28.
The 22-year-old’s last outing was his best in over a month. Last Saturday night, Evans allowed just one run in eight innings on three hits, two walks and three strikeouts, posting his first win since April 22. For the season, the former Oklahoma star is 3-7 with a 3.84 ERA to go with 40 strikeouts and 13 walks in 77 1/3 innings. On the down side, Evans’ 12 home runs allowed is two more than any other Florida State League pitcher.
At this point, neither Evans’ roster nor rotation replacement has been named. As noted above, at Peoria, one level down, starting pitching is also at a premium.
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