The 2016 Peoria Chiefs rotation was without a doubt the most formidable in all of the Midwest League. Each starter flashed fastballs that touched 94 mph or better and four of the six starters were named to the Western Division mid-season All-Star Team. The best of the bunch was Ryan Helsley, The Cardinal Nation’s Peoria Chiefs Starting Pitcher of the Year.
Helsley missed a nearly a month due to a shoulder injury after the All-Star break, but the Oklahoma native was absolutely brilliant when healthy. The righty had a team-best record of 10-2 with a staggering 1.61 ERA, almost a full run better than the Chiefs’ next best starter.
The 22-year-old’s first full season provided plenty of excitement, which was highlighted by his dominant second half. After his DL stint, Helsley rattled off a three-start stretch in which he did not allow any runs on only six hits, two walks and 23 strikeouts. His best start of the year came during that stretch when he tossed 6 2/3 innings when he did not allow a run of walk with only one hit and 13 strikeouts.
Though his only postseason start put a damper on the conclusion of his 2016 campaign (four runs in 5 2/3 innings as Peoria was eliminated in the first round), Helsley provided the lone bit of hope for a team that was decimated by second-half call-ups.
Helsley was not only the best pitcher on the team, but also one of the best in the league. Since he fell just five innings short of the qualifying level of 100 innings, Helsley did not qualify for the league leads in ERA or WHIP. However, compared to the league leaders, the righty was almost a half run better in ERA and .05 points better in WHIP.
Helsley’s dominance is rooted in his electric fastball and devastating curveball. The righty’s delivery from a three-quarter arm slot allows for effective tail on his mid-90’s fastball while he routinely froze hitters with his sharp curveball. All year, Helsley established that he was a force to be reckoned with on the bump, and the league recognized his dominance as he was selected to the mid-season Western Division All-Star Team.
Helsley’s performance as our Chiefs Starting Pitcher of the Year provides a lot of hope for his future in the Cardinals organization.
To be fair, every other starting pitcher who began the year on Peoria’s roster deserved to be considered for this designation.
Among the headliners who moved up during the season ere Junior Fernandez, Sandy Alcantara and Brennan Leitao. The latter was an MWL All-Star and the other two are top Cardinals prospects.
Gonzalez, like Helsley, was sidelined for a period of time mid-summer with an injury. Also like Helsley, Gonzalez was dominant when healthy. The Venezuelan has an electric fastball that provides late life along with a quality slider. The righty finished his Peoria season with a 5-0 record in 75 1/3 innings pitched with a 2.39 ERA and 1.30 WHIP. That helped earn the 21-year-old a mid-August promotion to Palm Beach.
While Woodford’s results declined over the latter part of the season (5.68 ERA after August 1), his first few months were spectacular (2.15 ERA in April and May). It is tough to expect a 19-year-old to be dominant throughout his first full season as a professional, so he receives a pass for the lackluster finish to his 2016 campaign.
Woodford paired great fastball command with a filthy curveball and decent changeup to throw 108 2/3 innings with a 3.31 ERA and 1.30 WHIP.
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 selection as the Peoria Chiefs Player of the Year.
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