Four players – including the St. Louis Cardinals’ top two draft picks in June -- performed at a level worthy of consideration as our 2016 Player of the Year at the organization’s entry level of play in the US, the Gulf Coast League.
Perez, the early favorite based on his 23rd overall selection and $2.2-plus million signing bonus, hit the ground running in his professional debut.
The Puerto Rican shortstop knocked out three hits in the season opener, including a triple in his second at-bat. About halfway through the season, Perez was hitting .340 with an .850 OPS in his first 100 plate appearances. He had at least one hit in 19 of his first 23 games.
Along the way, Perez twice helped the Cardinals win 10-inning games with outstanding performances at the plate. On July 8, he had five hits before drawing a bases-loaded walk in the 10th. On July 20, the right-handed hitter drove in six runs as each of his three hits scored a pair.
And Perez hadn’t been charged with an error in a week. Though he had made 10 in his first 18 games, most were on low throws that a more experienced first baseman might have handled.
At that point, Perez looked like a strong candidate for the Cardinals’ third consecutive GCL batting champion and MVP, following Allen Cordoba in 2015 and Magneuris Sierra in 2014.
Whether it was fatigue, a sore hamstring or both, Perez went only 4-for-24 in the next week before Turco held him out for eight games, of which the Cardinals won seven.
When Perez returned to the lineup, he hit .267 in his final 14 games. Still, he ended the season as the team leader in hits (48), triples (4) and stolen bases (12, caught only once).
Though Perez had only one single and a walk in 16 postseason plate appearances, Turco said he was “spot on (defensively) in the playoffs, made no mistakes, had no lapses.”
Carlson’s season was like Perez’, only in reverse. The switch-hitter from Elk Grove, California, had only 12 hits, including three doubles, in his first 71 at-bats over 20 games, and a paltry three RBI. While he had drawn 11 walks, Carlson struck out 22 times, for a rate of 31 percent.
Inserted as a defensive replacement in that July 20 game against the Mets in which Perez had six RBI, Carlson singled during the 10th-inning rally. With a double and two singles the next game, Carlson was off and running.
Carlson became more aggressive early in the count and started raking. His walks dropped, but so did his strikeout rate. Going 34-for-112 (.304) in his final 30 games, Carlson had 10 multi-hit games. His 10 doubles, three triples and three home runs during that stretch put him among the league leaders for the season in doubles and extra base hits. While Carlson led the team in total bases (74), runs scored (30) and walks (16), he also had the most strikeouts (52).
Carlson collected 19 RBI in his last 30 games, compared with only three in his first 20 games. The total of 22 tied him with Trosclair for second on the team, one behind Starlin Balbuena.
If Carlson is to continue switch-hitting, he will have to improve against lefties. His slash line in only 21 at-bats as a right-handed hitter was .238/.304/.286. Facing right-handed pitchers, he slashed a much more respectable .253/.315/.420. In his last 30 games from both sides of the plate, however, it was a more impressive .304/.339/.616.
Defensively, Carlson was more steady than spectacular in center field, making only one error and catching everything he reached.
Older than their teammates, Ortega and Trosclair were the clubhouse leaders among position players.
“Ortega was more vocal; Trosclair is more of a quiet leader by example,” Turco said.
At 22 and drafted in the 20th round from the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, Trosclair ended the season as the elder statesman among the position players.
Trosclair did not start in the season opener, but batting eighth as the starting second baseman in the Cardinals’ second game, Trosclair homered on the second pitch he saw in a professional game. He was on his way to leading the team in home runs with six, the last serving as the exclamation point in the Cardinals’ semifinal win over the Red Sox.
Trosclair played three games at second and a handful at third base, all errorless, when Turco tried to pack his lineup with extra offense, but 31 of his 40 games were at first base, where his only error was on a missed pop foul.
Trosclair was another hitter who seemed to gain confidence as the season wore on, posting a .310/.397/.517 slash with a .961 OPS in 19 August games after a .246/.333/.328 with a .661 OPS in 18 July contests.
Yet, only one player performed at consistently high level throughout the season, Dennis Ortega.
Ortega did not display much long ball power, but he hit .372 with a .912 OPS in 16 July games and followed that with a .367 average and .883 OPS in 17 August outings.
In the 31 games in which Ortega had at least two at-bats, he failed to get a hit in only three.
He was 13 plate appearances shy of qualifying for the GCL batting race, though his .357 final average would have put him second behind league MVP Juan Soto of the Nationals.
That lack of 13 plate appearances may also have cost Ortega the opportunity to be named to the GCL’s postseason All-Star Team, since Ortega outplayed All-Star catcher Carlos Sanchez of the Mets in almost every important statistical category. Sanchez, who actually caught in only 16 games, qualified for the postseason honor because he also played 18 games at first base as well as once each at second and third.
Ortega was second on the Cardinals to Perez in steals with seven and second to Carlson in walks, but he was the only player who appeared in at least 12 games who had more walks than strikeouts (15/13).
Perhaps equally important, Ortega provided strong defense behind the dish, making only two errors and throwing out 12 of 29 (41 percent) of runners trying to steal. His fellow catchers, Irving Wilson and Tyler Lancaster, also are strong defenders, combining to give the Cardinals a league-leading 46 percent throw-out rate of base stealers and a league-low five passed balls.
Ortega, a 19-year-old Venezuelan native, first signed with St. Louis in August 2013 and competed in the Dominican Summer League during his first two professional seasons, 2014 and 2015.
Congratulations to Dennis Ortega, The Cardinal Nation Gulf Coast League Cardinals Player of the Year for 2016.
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 system-wide Rookies and Players of the Year, coming after the Players of the Year at the other six levels of play in the US.
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