The Memphis Redbirds (65-77) struggled with injuries and lack of consistency throughout the 2016 season. The team’s offense and pitching staff placed below the middle of the Pacific Coast League in many statistical categories.
As with every Triple-A team, some inconsistency can be related to actions of the major league parent. However, it seemed throughout the season that the Redbirds could never get their offense and pitching staff to work at the same level.
Memphis started off the season on the right foot, going 8-8 through April 24, but dropped the last four games and ended the month without a series win. The Redbirds split two series with the defending league-leaders Oklahoma City Dodgers, including an 8-1 drubbing on April 13 and a 7-2 win on April 20. However, the club’s performances were poor against division rivals (combined 2-6 against Round Rock and New Orleans).
1B Jonathan Rodriguez, who was shipped down to Double-A Springfield at the end of May, was the star of Memphis’ offense in April (16-for-67 with two HR and 13 RBI). On the mound, recently-signed free agent Deck McGuire was red-hot, sporting a 1.76 ERA after three starts.
The Redbirds had another below-.500 month in May, as the club ended the first two months still looking for their first series win. Memphis grabbed four wins in their last seven games and finished the month with a 3-2 record against division rivals, including a series split against eventual league-winner Nashville.
David Washington made his Triple-A debut on May 5 vs. Omaha and made an instant impact. The outfielder/infielder blasted nine homers and plated 21 RBI in his first 24 games and slashed .306/.378/694. (The slugger had slashed .276/.402/.553 with five HR and 15 RBI in 22 games for Springfield prior to his promotion).
Current major leaguer Alex Reyes debuted for Memphis May 22 vs. Fresno, fanning eight in four innings, and finished the month with 15 strikeouts, five walks and one earned on five hits in nine innings (two starts).
St. Louis’ Triple-A affiliate responded with their first above-.500 month of the season in June, picked up their first series win of the season (June 9-12 vs. Colorado Springs) and followed with two more consecutive series wins at Nashville and vs. Iowa. The club also finished with its best division record this season (7-4 against New Orleans and Nashville).
Jose Martinez, who was acquired by St. Louis from Kansas City and added to Memphis’ offense in May, was one of the better options during the month of June, going 29-for-103 with three HR and 16 RBI, including a 3-for-4, 3 RBI game June 23 at Colorado Springs.
Mike Mayers, who debuted for Memphis May 16 vs. Sacramento before returning to Springfield, came back to the Redbirds’ rotation with Arturo Reyes and Jeremy Hefner out injured. The starter from Ole Miss went 2-1 with a 2.41 ERA in 35 2/3 innings.
The Redbirds kicked off the month of July with their first series sweep (July 7-10 vs. Round Rock) and a 7-3 record before the All-Star break. However, the club dropped six straight games following the break and slowly started to lose grip on a potential playoff appearance (8 GB division leader Nashville).
Efren Navarro, an in-season pickup, had an instant impact for the Redbirds (24-for-70 with two HR and four RBI). Anthony Garcia, who spent a majority of the months of May and June in Springfield after starting the season in Memphis, came back to the Redbirds and exploded at the end of the month (12-for-27 with four HR and six RBI in eight games).
On the mound, Arturo Reyes returned from his rehab assignment and picked up two wins in two starts. The right-hander combined for eight strikeouts and two earned on four hits in 10 innings.
August and September (14-21)
The Redbirds were affected by St. Louis’ playoff pursuit, losing several key players to Major League promotion (including Alex Reyes and Luke Weaver). The club’s longest win streak was a four games from August 4-7 before they ended the season with 10 losses in their last 14 games. However, Memphis finished the season on a somewhat positive note with two wins over division rival Round Rock.
By the end of the season, Breyvic Valera was Memphis’ most polished offensive player. The infielder, who took over the leadoff role from traded prospect Charlie Tilson, failed to reach base in just eight games over the last 34 and added eight doubles and 15 RBI.
McGuire, who was sent down to Springfield to regain his confidence at the beginning of the month, completed his season with 28 strikeouts, four walks and four earned runs on 14 hits in 23 1/3 innings (four starts).
The Redbirds sat below the middle of the 16-team league in several key offensive categories, finishing with a .264 AVG (11th), 90 stolen bases (9th), 641 runs (13th) and 605 RBI (13th).
Breyvic Valera was a major surprise at the plate, leading the team in AVG (.341) and OBP (.417), and with an impressive 31 walks to 22 strikeouts. David Washington, another one of Memphis’ midseason promotions who exploded on the scene, was an offensive juggernaut for the Redbirds, posting 25 HR, 62 RBI and a .528 SLG (all team-leading).
As with the team’s offense, Memphis’ pitching staff was not their usual selves and finished mid-league at best in most statistical categories. The staff was 11th in ERA (4.79), 9th in strikeouts (1,052), tied-for-9th in saves (33) and 8th in hits allowed (1,281).
Several of Memphis’ pitchers had some struggles during the season, whether injuries (Arturo Reyes and Jeremy Hefner) or confidence issues (Deck McGuire). Mike Mayers led all starters in ERA (3.73), Dean Kiekhefer led relievers in ERA (2.08) and Sam Tuivailala once again had a team-high 17 saves (fifth in the league).
Tuivailala had to miss his second consecutive PCL All-Star Game due to promotion. In response, the league chose lefty reliever Ryan Sherriff to take Tuivailala’s place. Although Sherriff only pitched briefly during the event, the lefty sat his lone batter down, inducing a ground out to third.
TCN’s top-ranked prospect, Alex Reyes, started and pitched 1 2/3 innings for the World team in the 2016 MLB All-Star Futures Game. In the nationally televised contest in July, the right-hander touched triple digits on the radar with his fastball several times and struck out four of baseball’s best prospects, including 2015 No. 1 overall pick Dansby Swanson.
Memphis had no selections on the PCL post-season All-Star Team for the third consecutive year.
The Big Picture
After two consecutive winning seasons, the 2016 Redbirds (65-77) finished below-.500, failing to record the franchise’s 11th winning record in 18 years. Memphis ended the campaign 18 games behind division-winner Nashville.
Since it is all about player development, it is important to close with the fact that 13 different Redbirds players spent time in St. Louis during the 2016 season, not including major leaguers on rehab assignments.
Link to master article with all 2016 award winners, team recaps and article schedules for the remainder of this series. Of course, that will include our selections as the Memphis Redbirds Reliever, Starting Pitcher and Player of the Year, the details of which will be exclusively for members of The Cardinal Nation.
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