It’s the scenario many little kids who love baseball envision themselves in when they picture themselves on the mound. Two outs. Bottom of the ninth. Game seven of the World Series. The best hitter in the league is standing in the batters’ box. You’ve run him to a 3-2 count as your team leads by three. The rival team has the bases loaded, and you deliver the pitch.
The first step in getting to that scenario starts with our first-year relievers’ first opportunities in the St. Louis Cardinals organization.
2016 The Cardinal Nation Rookie Relief Pitcher of the Year: Eric Carter
The Cardinals took Carter from the University of Louisiana-Lafayette with their 26th-round selection in this year’s draft. The right-hander stands 5-foot-11 and dominated for the Ragin’ Cajuns with a 69-to-12 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 52 innings of work in college. Carter’s calling cards as a reliever are a fastball that consistently hits 94 mph and has a little room for more as well as an excellent yet inconsistent curveball.
Carter was placed on the State College Spikes’ roster in the New York-Penn League after inking his professional contract. With the Spikes, Carter continued his dominance of hitters in 17 appearances. He compiled a 2-0 record as well as nine saves over 22 2/3 innings. His 2.38 ERA isn’t quite as flashy as one of his teammates (whom we’ll get to shortly), but he absolutely sparkled with his peripheral stats.
Carter struck out 26 batters for a 28.6% strikeout rate against a 4.4% walk rate from his four free passes. His frugality of walks helped contribute to his 0.97 WHIP. All that led to a dominant 6.50 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Carter’s fastball/curveball combination served him well for the Spikes. Earlier, the 24-year old also earned TCN’s State College Relief Pitcher of the Year award. Given his success, Carter should open 2017 in the back of Peoria’s bullpen.
Second Place: Spencer Trayner
Trayner was selected by the Cardinals from the University of North Carolina and after signing, was teamed with Carter in the Spikes’ bullpen. Trayner was used in multi-inning role for State College and excelled there thanks to impeccable control. While Carter dominated with strikeouts, Trayner dominated with command.
Trayner appeared in 18 games with one of those appearances being a start. He put up a 1-0 record along with four saves over 34 1/3 innings. For the season, Trayner put up a dental-floss thin 0.52 ERA and 0.82 WHIP. What elevated Carter above Trayner, however, was the strikeouts. Trayner issued precious few walks like Carter, walking only five for a 4.0% walk rate. But, Trayner punched out only 21 batters for a 16.7% strikeout rate, which contributed to a 3.63 FIP against Carter’s 2.35 FIP.
Third Place: Mike O'Reilly
O’Reilly came from Flagler College in Florida in the 27th round this June and was assigned to the bullpen of the Gulf Coast League Cardinals.
Among the relievers in contention, O’Reilly posted the best strikeout-to-walk ratio. He threw 40 innings in the GCL and struck out 38 batters (24.1% K) and walked only five (3.2% BB) for a 7.6 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He put up a 3-1 record along with a 2.48 ERA and 1.00 WHIP.
Jonathon Mulford (Gulf Coast League) - 1-2, 19.2 IP, 2.29 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 24.4% K, 6.4% BB
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 rookie Starting Pitcher and Player of the Year, coming Saturday and Sunday, respectively.
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