It was a difficult task picking just one relief pitcher to take home The Cardinal Nation’s top honor for the 2016 Johnson City Cardinals. Several pitchers held their own, and most if not all of them at some point this season had flashes of being a valuable member of any bullpen. Finally, however, I arrived at the selection of Estarlin Arias as the pick for the Reliever of the Year for Johnson City.
Arias, who was the team’s main closer later in the season, was a very dependable late inning option for manager Chris Swauger. Arias notched bullpen bests with a 4-0 record and a 2.15 ERA in 29 1/3 innings pitched. The 22-year old right hander led the team with six saves in eight opportunities.
I arrived at Arias for my selection mainly due to his consistency, especially when the team needed some key outs. Early in the season, Arias fluctuated from being a late inning reliever to an option to throw multiple innings at a time if the starter had a short outing. It is because of these two factors that the 2012 free agent signee from the Dominican Republic is my pick.
As I mentioned before, there were several good candidates to choose from. Among the players I considered were 2016 first-year professionals Leland Tilley (32nd round), Noel Gonzalez (29th) and Levi MaVorhis (free agent). All posted ERAs of 3.09 or lower. If I was to pick one out of those three, I would go with MaVorhis because he was stingy in allowing base runners. MaVorhis ranked second only to Ross Vance in WHIP (1.06).
Speaking of Vance, the 24-year old was of the most dominant options out of Johnson City’s bullpen when in that role. Vance, who made three important late season starts, was 1-0 with 33 strikeouts in 22 innings as a reliever. It was because of this strikeout rate that he was moved to the rotation to close out the season and into the playoffs.
Although all of these players I have mentioned seem to have bright futures in the Cardinals’ organization, based on my observation, Estarlin Arias was the best reliever with Johnson City this season. He would also be my pick for someone to watch closely as he progresses through the minor leagues.
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 Johnson City Cardinals Starting Pitcher and Player of the Year.
Brian Walton also contributed to this article.
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