What a group of starting pitchers to choose from in selecting The Cardinal Nation’s best on the 2016 Palm Beach Cardinals, a club that was led by pitching but hampered by a weak offense.
First of all, the team sported a top five prospect in the system and a pitcher ranked in the top 100 across MLB by several entities, right-hander Jack Flaherty.
Coming at batters from the left side was none other than the reigning co-Pitcher of the Year for the organization from 2015, Austin Gomber.
During the season, four headliners were promoted from the Peoria rotation into Palm Beach. They include 2016 Midwest League All-Stars Derian Gonzalez and Brennan Leitao plus two more top-15 prospects in the Cardinals system in hard-throwers Sandy Alcantara and Junior Fernandez.
Yet, none of these six – nor the four others to start for the Beach Birds this season – is The Cardinal Nation’s Palm Beach Starting Pitcher of the Year.
Unheralded Matt Pearce topped them all!
Though like Gomber, Pearce earned a late-season promotion to Springfield and even made a pair of starts for Memphis, the 22-year-old anchored Palm Beach’s rotation for five months.
During that time, the Cardinals’ 13th-round pick in 2014 from Polk State University made 20 starts, totaling 126 2/3 innings. In other words, he averaged over six innings per start and appropriately, his four complete games led the league. Pearce almost won the FSL ERA title with his 2.37 mark second among all qualifiers, behind only the league’s Pitcher of the Year.
Pearce did lead the FSL in WHIP with a top reliever-like mark of 0.94. The reason why is his count of just 15 free passes issued over those 20 starts. Despite a low strikeout rate, Pearce still topped the Beach Birds rotation with his 5.4-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Individual honors include the FSL Player of the Month award and the Cardinals organization's Pitcher of the Month honors for July. During that time, Pearce posted a 1.93 ERA over six starts, in four of which he pitched at least eight innings, including two complete games. In a microcosm of the Beach Birds' frustrating season, Pearce took the July 13 loss despite yielding no earned runs over eight innings.
Though Gomber was the only Palm Beach hurler to secure a spot in the Florida State League mid-season All-Star Game, it was Pearce who was named to the FSL post-season All-Star Team, a more exclusive honor.
Congratulations to Matt Pearce, The Cardinal Nation Palm Beach Cardinals Starting Pitcher of the Year for 2016.
In any other year, Gomber would have been a worthy winner, but in 2016, he is the Beach Birds’ starting pitching bridesmaid.
The physically imposing lefty was the only qualifying starter other than Pearce to post an ERA under 3.00. His WHIP was a stellar 1.07, again only second to Pearce. Gomber’s excellent 8.4 strikeouts per nine innings was second among our qualifiers and his 4.2-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio again trailed only our honoree.
The man who topped the rotation in strikeouts and strikeout rate is Flaherty, still the top prospect among our contenders. Despite an up and down season, it is important to remember that the right-hander pitched the entire season at the age of 20 in a league in which the average player is 22.7 years old.
Flaherty’s ERA of 3.56 placed him 10th in FSL ERA race. His 126 strikeouts were third-most in the league.
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 Palm Beach Cardinals Player of the Year.
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