Sam Tuivailala (Jeff Curry/USA TODAY Sports Images)

The hard-throwing relief pitcher slips down in the rankings for second straight year.

The Cardinal Nation’s top 50 prospect countdown for 2017 continues at #37 with a reliever trying for the third season to stick with St. Louis. Details for TCN members.

http://www.scout.com/player/145217-sam-tuivailala?s=321

2016 rank Pos. DOB Signed Round
11 RHR 10 19 92 2010 3rd

Selected 2016 stats

Tm W L ERA FIP G GS SV IP H ER HR BB SO AVG G/AO BABIP
Mem 3 2 5.21 2.95 42 0 17 46.2 47 27 3 22 72 0.254 1.00 0.393
                                 
StL 0 0 6.00 4.26 12 0 0 9 12 6 0 6 7 0.308 0.82 0.375

Staff comments (individual rankings in parentheses)

Message board community (38): After receiving support as early as #3 in last years’ community vote and winding up as their 6th highest-rated prospect, Sam Tuivailala’s support nosedived after a rough 2016 campaign. Tuivailala collected votes as early as #26 from desmetlax12 and SoonerinNC, but wasn’t voted into the prospect list until #38.

During the vote, SoonerinNC said that Tuivailala has the upside to become a lights out closer, which is just as valuable to the team as a top starter. Last year, desmetlax12 was high on him noting that he is hesitant to rank relievers too high, especially hard throwers that are working on their control, but the way relievers are used today makes that type of player pretty valuable. – Jeremy Byrd

 

Derek Shore (41): Tuivailala’s ranking has been on the decline from TCN's #8 prospect in 2014 before falling to #11 last winter and placing at #38 following tumultuous results this past season.

Entering the 2016 campaign, Tuivailala, an up-and-down reliever for the Cardinals the previous two seasons, didn't make his season debut at the big-league level until July 3, when he was battered around by the Brewers for three earned runs on two hits and failing to record an out.

For Triple-A Memphis, the high-octane arm compiled a 3-2 overall record, posting his highest ERA mark (5.21) since his first full season as a reliever with Low-A Peoria in 2013. Though a bit misleading, Tuivailala notched 72 strikeouts while walking only 22 over 46 2/3 innings pitched (47 hits), collecting 17 saves in 23 chances as the team's closer.

Reports on his stuff haven't changed much. The right-hander has a double-plus four-seam fastball velocity, averaging 96 mph on his heater. He also incorporates a hard cutter to combat lefty bats which averages 89 mph along with a sharp breaking bender with good depth, averaging 81.

According to BrooksBaseball.Net, Tuivailala's cutter is basically never swung at and missed compared to other pitchers' as it possesses less than extended movement and is a flyball producing offering. Meanwhile, his curve generates more whiffs/swing compared to others because it results in more fly balls thanks to a slightly harder than usual glove-side movement.

In 2016, the 6-foot-3, 225-pounder, threw his four-seamer 64.8 percent of the time to both lefties and righties. He utilizes his cutter 25.7 percent of the time while flashing his curveball 9.5 percent of the time.

The outlook on his future hasn't changed - which depends entirely on his command. Physically he projects as a power-armed high-leverage reliever, who will appear in short stints and has a chance to close down the road. His ceiling hinges on his ability to throw consistent quality strikes and combat lefties more consistently with the cutter.

For 2017, I expect Tuivailala will open the year with Memphis and be an emergency reliever if need be at the highest level.

 

Brian Walton (36): “Down the road” is an appropriate term to introduce this player.

For years, we have looked down that road for the signs of future success by Tuivailala. Will he be a difference-making reliever? Will he step up and accelerate that “future closer” label into the present? We have been lenient with the twists and bumps in his learning. After all, his mound experience has been limited since he converted to pitching in 2012.

Let me be clear. I am not being critical of others, as I have been part of that optimism – until now.

I can see the end of the road not too far ahead for Tuivailala – one way for another. 2017 will mark his fifth year as a pitcher. More importantly, it will be his third minor league option season. If the 24-year-old cannot overcome his final hurdle this coming year, he may be about out of chances – at least with St. Louis.

By my count, over the last two-plus seasons, Tuivailala has been called up to St. Louis from Triple-A 10 separate times, but unable over and over to stick. I don’t know what the record is, but this has to be close.

At what point does the learning curve flatten to the point there is nothing new to show?

One could argue that Tuivailala’s 2016 downturn might indicate a new career trend. But even if not, and you give him a mulligan for the entire season and write it all off to bad luck, how much does it matter? After all, the 2015 version of Tuivailala was optioned to Memphis five times.

Without a rash of off-season trades or an epidemic of spring training injuries, Tuivailala seems destined to open 2017 back at Memphis once again, working to be ready when the 11th call comes. While some of the pieces are there, he just has not been able to put it together as of yet.

TCN Scouting Grade: 4.5, Risk: Medium (click here to review scales)

 

Our 2017 top 50 series continues

To see the entire list of top Cardinals prospects and remaining article schedule, click here. This includes the top 50 countdown and nine in-depth, follow-up articles. Most of them are exclusively for members of The Cardinal Nation. Thank you for being a member!

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