Ryan Sherriff (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

Evaluating the Triple-A Pacific Coast Cardinals relief pitchers to select the top performer this season.

A former 28th round draft pick beat out two current major leaguers for this year’s The Cardinal Nation top relief pitcher nod for the 2016 Memphis Redbirds.

In a tough 2016 campaign, the Memphis Redbirds’ (65-77) bullpen helped the team post a 4.78 club ERA while finishing tied-for-4th in the league in holds (52). This season, there was a three-man race for The Cardinal Nation’s Reliever of the Year.

Sam Tuivailala, last year’s TCN Memphis Reliever of the Year, was the club’s primary closer for a second year running.

http://www.scout.com/player/145217-sam-tuivailala?s=321

The right-hander finished the season with a team-leading 17 saves, fifth-most in the Pacific Coast League. The reliever was especially hot in the month of June, with eight saves out of 10 chances despite a 5.40 ERA.

However, the reliever tailed off towards the end of the year (5.52 ERA post All-Star break), his season-long 5.21 ERA was quite high and his 73.9 percent save conversion rate was much lower that his 100 percent success in 2015.

Dean Kiekhefer was a Triple-A All-Star in 2015 and was one of Memphis’ most heavily-used relievers when on the roster this season (34 2/3 innings pitched in 29 games).

http://www.scout.com/player/92131-dean-kiekhefer?s=321

Kiekhefer allowed a team-low eight walks (15 game minimum), led all Memphis pitchers in ERA (2.08) and his 1.15 WHIP was second of all Redbirds relievers (behind Miguel Socolovich’s 1.12). What is especially impressive about the lefty are his stats after the month of June (5-0, 2.12 ERA in 17 innings of relief duty).

Those statistics alone would be enough for him to be handed the Reliever of the Year award; however, Kiekhefer spent over a month with the St. Louis Cardinals and pitched half the amount of innings as his peers.

Therefore, this year’s TCN Memphis Redbirds Reliever of the Year award goes to Ryan Sherriff.

http://www.scout.com/player/158032-ryan-sherriff?s=321

The 26-year-old, who was drafted from West Los Angeles Community College in the 28th round of the 2011 MLB Draft by St. Louis, began his career as a starting pitcher for the Johnson City Cardinals in 2011. After spending three seasons in that role across the lower levels of the system, including earning our Palm Beach Starting Pitcher of the Year honors in both 2012 and 2013, the lefty switched to the bullpen and became a deadly weapon for Springfield and Memphis.

This year, Sherriff got off to a torrid start (2-0, 1.73 ERA in 26 innings during April and May), finished with the Memphis reliever lead in wins (seven) and innings pitched (66 2/3), and second in the bullpen in ERA (2.84). When Tuivailala was in St. Louis, it was Sherriff who was often called upon in save situations (three saves out of six opportunities). What is most impressive is that Sherriff has been doing this while flying under the radar; he has yet to receive a spot in top prospect rankings.

When Tuivailala had to miss his second consecutive Triple-A All-Star game due to major league promotion, it was Sherriff who was invited in 2016. The lefty pitched 1/3 inning and retired the lone batter he faced. Sherriff also received an invitation to join Israel’s 50-man roster for the World Baseball Classic qualifier, where he helped pitch his club into the March field. Next up will be a stint in the prestigious Arizona Fall League prospect showcase.

Congratulations to The Cardinal Nation’s 2016 Memphis Redbirds Reliever of the Year, Ryan Sherriff.

 

For more

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 Starting Pitcher and Player of the Year.

Follow Thomas Simpson on Twitter @jthomasSimpson.

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