There is a very sticky question to resolve up front before making the choice of The Cardinal Nation’s Position Player of the Year across the entire St. Louis Cardinals organization.
What to do about Brian Sanchez?
Passed over for a promotion to play in the US this season, the outfielder repeated the Dominican Summer League in his age 20 season, competing against teenagers as much as four years younger.
To his credit, Sanchez absolutely dominated the entry rookie-level league of 42 teams, winning the DSL Player of the Year after finishing first in the circuit in home runs, RBI, slugging percentage and OPS. Further, three of his four slash line stats led the Cardinals system, with only Allen Cordoba’s batting average higher.
On the other hand, Sanchez was clearly at the wrong level of competition - a man among boys. We did recognize Sanchez as our Player of the Year for the DSL Cardinals, but I just do not feel right about giving him our top award for the entire system.
That is going to Eliezer Alvarez, instead. Peoria’s second baseman is The Cardinal Nation’s system-wide Player of the Year for 2016.
Mind you, it is not that I am prejudiced against short-season players. In fact, both our 2014 and 2015 Players of the Year competed there. Last year’s winner, Cordoba, is a repeat finalist in 2016 after winning his second batting title in two years.
Further, to come up with the best, most representative finalists, I ensure I set the plate appearances bar low enough for fair short-season representation. This year, the minimum number of PAs is 225 and minimum OPS is .825.
That gives us nine finalists, of which six come from short-season ball – Sanchez plus three Johnson City Cardinals and two members of the State College Spikes.
Among those who fell short, with an OPS under .800, were Springfield teammates Harrison Bader and Paul DeJong, currently competing in the Arizona Fall League. The former was named MLB Pipeline’s organizational Hitting Prospect of the Year. In this analysis, however, which is 2016 performance-based, not prospect-focused, the outfielder rates an honorable mention.
But rather than discuss non-winners, let’s get to the finalists and how our honoree was chosen.
|Name||Age||Tm||BA||OBP||SLG||OPS||BB %||K %||wRC+|
Again, a tough process question is staring us in the face. How do we weigh the performances of two full-season sluggers, older than their competitors by four or five years?
David Washington and Luke Voit, both 25, batted under .300, but Washington led all finalists not named Sanchez in slugging. Surprisingly, Voit’s slugging mark was lower than three other finalists and almost identical to our overall winner, second baseman Alvarez.
Only the two sluggers and Johnson City’s Matt Fiedler registered on-base percentages under .400, with State College’s Tommy Edman right on the line. After Sanchez, leading the way in reaching base were Fiedler’s teammates Cordoba and Andrew Knizner.
Strikeouts and walks
Washington’s strikeout rate of 34.3 percent was as much as any other two finalists combined. On the flip side, four finalists fanned less than 10 percent of the time, led by State College catcher Jeremy Martinez at just 6.8 percent.
Martinez was joined by Edman and Cordoba by walking less than striking out, but Martinez’ walk rate was double that of his whiff rate. Impressive! In his defense, Washington’s rate of drawing free passes was the same as Martinez’ (but of course, the strikeouts were not!).
Weighted runs created plus is the measure I finally used to finalize my choice for the winner. Again, putting Sanchez aside and focusing on the body of Washington’s play at Memphis, Alvarez came out on top at 159, though three other finalists were very close. That includes Cordoba, who was within an eyelash of being our first repeat Player of the Year since Colby Rasmus in 2007. (A wRC+ of 100 is a league-average position player and every point above 100 is a percentage point above league average.)
Just above are the counting stats for the finalists. They are not as valuable to compare since the three full-season players went to the plate twice as often as the other six.
However, I have to admit that performing over a five-month season, including cold and wet early season weather in the upper Midwest was a factor in Alvarez’ favor. Further, he was working at a higher level of play in the Class-A Midwest League than all of the other early 20’s-aged finalists.
While Alvarez is not a home run hitter, note his doubles total is almost twice that of either Washington or Voit. Further, Alvarez’ 36 stolen bases not only led the finalists, it was the most of any player in the entire system in 2016. Though his triples total of six seems fairly modest, it was tied for second in the organization, after outfielder Charlie Tilson, who had eight before his trade to the White Sox.
What I see from Alvarez is a very balanced offensive performance, including hitting for average, getting on base, showing line drive power and stealing bases. The Midwest League mid-season All-Star has been receiving good marks for improved defense as well.
As a result, our Peoria Chiefs Player of the Year is also our system-wide top player for 2016. Congratulations to 21-year-old Eliezer Alvarez.
Prior years’ winners
Our honorees over the last decade-plus follow. Interestingly, Alvarez is our first Midwest League selection since Rasmus in 2006.
Also note that every one of our Players of the Year from 2005 through 2013 have reached the Major Leagues with most prospering once there.
|TCN Player of the Year|
|2015||Allen Cordoba||Gulf Coast||rookie|
|2014||Magneuris Sierra||Gulf Coast||rookie|
|2006||Colby Rasmus||PB/Quad Cities||A+/A|
|2005||Nick Stavinoha||Quad Cities||A|
Link to master article with all 2016 award winners, team recaps and article schedules for the remainder of this series. That will include our selection as the Manager of the Year.
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