In winning their first league championship in 21 years (1966-76, 2007-2016), and fourth division crown in five years, the Gulf Coast League Cardinals seemed to employ synergy, in which the final result was greater than the sum of the parts.
Unlike the past few seasons, this squad did not have a league MVP, a batting champion or even an All-Star, and the team ranked in the middle of the league in most of the important statistical categories.
One of the things the Cardinals did particularly well this season was to demonstrate great perseverance. They played their best when a game was on the line, as evidenced by their 20-8 record in games decided by two runs or less.
A key part of that was the performance from the relief corps.
Eight different pitchers earned saves this season, but Jonathon Mulford received the call from manager Steve Turco to finish games the most often, 12 times. The 2016 34th-round pick from Adelphi University in Long Island, New York, converted six of eight save opportunities. The right-hander allowed 13 hits, none of them homers, and five walks in 19-2/3 innings while fanning 19.
Two other right-handers also proved reliable out of the bullpen – Robbie Gordon, this year’s 36th-round pick from Maryville University in St. Louis, and Will Changarotty, a 20-year-old from Chiquinquira, Venezuela.
All three right-handers had ERAs between 2.29 and 2.45, averaged more than a strikeout per inning and were rather stingy with walks. Each made 16 appearances, though Changarotty had longer stints, including one start.
Then there was Colton Thomson, the lefty from the University of New Mexico who was signed as a non-drafted free agent. Thomson, who turned 24 midway through the season, blew his first and his last save opportunities of the regular season, both on bases-loaded walks, but converted the five in between. The Cardinal Nation named Thomson our system-wide August Reliever of the Month.
His teammates started calling Thomson “Stones” because he was fearless, mowing down hitters with an assortment of pitches than included a fastball that didn’t touch 90 mph until the season’s final week.
Including the postseason, Thomson threw 31-2/3 innings in 18 appearances, posting a 0.85 ERA, a 0.85 WHIP and hitters managed only a .162 average.
Thomson also earned the biggest save of the season, allowing only one hit over 3-2/3 innings closing out the decisive final game of the GCL championship series. That was an inning longer than any other appearance he made this season, but he was pitching so well that pitching coach Gio Carrara would not let Turco take him out. For his efforts, Thomson was named Series MVP.
As the regular season stats below indicate, Thomson led those Cardinals relievers with at least 10 innings pitched in ERA and was narrowly second to Mulford in WHIP, walks plus hits per innings pitched. Changarotty and Mulford were stingiest with walks, which led to the best strikeout to walk ratios in the bullpen.
Congratulations to The Cardinal Nation Gulf Coast League Cardinals Reliever of the Year for 2016, Colton Thomson.
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 GCL Cardinals Starting Pitcher and Player of the Year.
Brian Walton also contributed to this article.
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