The St. Louis Cardinals have made a habit of developing young pitching talent. Of the eight pitchers to make a start for the big-league Cardinals in 2016, only one (Mike Leake) did not make his Major League debut for with the Birds on the Bat across his chest. Of the remaining seven pitchers, only two (Adam Wainwright and Jaime Garcia) were signed before 2010, and none of the other five made their big league debuts before 2013.
While the starting rotation disappointed this season overall, the Cardinals have a wealth of options for their 2017 starting pitchers. As turnover occurs, the organization has a fresh, new class of arms stocking the farm system. Here, our focus is on the top newcomer in the starting ranks in 2016.
2016 The Cardinal Nation Rookie Starting Pitcher of the Year: John Kilichowski
The most impressive rookie starting pitcher in the Cardinals’ organization is the former Vanderbilt left-hander. Kilichowski was St. Louis’ fifth pitcher taken in this June’s draft, but the 11th rounder received seventh-round money to sign ($200,000).
Kilichowski’s season actually began by recovering from an injury. When he made his season debut for Vandy, he appeared mainly in a relief role for the Commodores. After 10 appearances which included two starts, the 22-year-old had compiled a 5.04 ERA and 1.42 WHIP over 26 2/3 innings. After signing him, the Cardinals assigned Kilichowski to the State College Spikes of the New York-Penn League.
With the Spikes, Kilichowski made four starts and one relief appearance going 1-1. He struck out 20 batters in his 19 2/3 innings while walking 11 hitters leading to an impressive 0.97 ERA to go along with a 1.32 WHIP. With that fantastic ERA and promotions of other pitchers to Palm Beach, Kilichowski was moved up to the Peoria Chiefs’ rotation.
In the Midwest League, Kilichowski made five starts before ending his season with a five-inning relief outing. With the Chiefs, Kilichowski put together a 3.74 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP over 33 2/3 innings. He struck out 31 batters and cut his walks, allowing only four free passes.
Kilichowski relies on a low-90s fastball and swing-and-miss changeup. He also employs a curveball in his repertoire. Unfortunately, Kilichowski’s most memorable moment of the year came in the instructional league in late September when he surrendered a home run to Tim Tebow on the first professional pitch the former quarterback saw.
Based on his success during the 2016 season, Kilichowski should have a solid opportunity to open 2017 with Palm Beach.
Second Place: Alvaro Seijas
Taking the silver in TCN’s Rookie Starting Pitcher of the Year race is the Cardinals organization’s biggest name from 2015’s international class. Seijas signed on July 2, 2015 out of Venezuela as a 16-year-old. Armed with a fastball that touches 94 mph, an impressive curveball, and an advanced feel for pitching, Seijas signed with the Cardinals for $762,500 last summer.
This year, Seijas made his professional debut in the Dominican Summer League and dominated in four starts for 19 1/3 innings and a 2-0 record. He struck out 22 batters and walked just six. He had an unrepresentative 4.19 ERA as he finished his time in the DSL with a 1.77 FIP and 1.34 WHIP. His ERA was inflated from a .357 batting average on balls in play.
His work in the DSL led to a stateside promotion to the Gulf Coast League once it opened. There, Seijas notched a 3-2 record and watched his strikeout rate sink like a lead ball while maintaining his command. His strikeout rate dropped from 26.2% in the DSL to 15.6% in the GCL. But, his walk rate (from 7.1% to 6.2%) and WHIP (1.34 to 1.22) both improved in the move to Florida.
Seijas should land back in short-season ball in 2017 to continue to gain valuable experience.
Third Place: Johan Oviedo
Oviedo is the Cardinals’ biggest arm signed to date in this year’s international signing period. After receiving a $1.9 million signing bonus, the Cuban right-hander went 0-1 while tossing 21 2/3 innings over seven starts for the DSL club. He struck out 29 (33.0% K rate) and walked six (6.8% BB rate) to go along with a 1.66 ERA, 1.26 FIP, and 1.15 WHIP.
Oviedo should be coming stateside for the 2017 season after having joined Kilichowski and Seijas in fall instructional league camp.
Honorable mentions go to each of the Cardinals’ first three pitchers taken in the 2016 draft. They did not put up a large enough sample size to be considered for the top three spots, but pitched solidly in limited duty, and their respective ceilings allows them a brief shout out here. The stats listed for each pitcher are from their highest level of regular season competition.
Dakota Hudson (Florida State League) - 1-1, 9.1 IP, 0.96 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 25.0 % K%, 17.5% BB%
Zac Gallen (GCL) - 0-0, 9.2 IP, 1.86 ERA, 0.72 WHIP, 41.7% K%, 0.0% BB%
Connor Jones (FSL) - 0-0, 10.2 IP, 4.22 ERA, 1.59 WHIP, 21.4% K%, 7.1% BB%
(St. Louis’ fourth pitcher taken in June, eighth-rounder Sam Tewes, missed the season due to injury.)
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 rookie Player of the Year.
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