Luke Weaver (© Butch Dill / USA TODAY Sports Images)

The St. Louis Cardinals named Carson Kelly minor league Player of the Year and Luke Weaver Pitcher of the Year for 2016.

The St. Louis Cardinals named Carson Kelly minor league Player of the Year and Luke Weaver Pitcher of the Year for 2016.

St. Louis Cardinals press release

The St. Louis Cardinals announced Thursday their 2016 Minor League Player and Pitcher of the Year selections, honoring catcher Carson Kelly and right-handed pitcher Luke Weaver for their accomplishments on the field.  Both Kelly and Weaver made their Major League debuts in 2016.

Kelly, 22, batted .289 with six home runs and 32 RBI in 96 games played between Springfield (AA) and Memphis (AAA).  His contract was purchased by St. Louis on September 4 and he made his Major League debut the following day in Pittsburgh by smacking a double in his first at-bat.

The right-handed hitting Kelly was the youngest Cardinals catcher to make his Major League debut since Yadier Molina did so at 21 years and 326 days in 2004.  During the 2016 season, Kelly was a Texas League All-Star and was named to the USA Team for the Futures Game during All-Star Week in San Diego.  The 2015 Rawlings Gold Glove recipient at catcher for all of Minor League Baseball threw out 21-of-63 base stealers in Springfield and 6-of-24 in Memphis.

Kelly played for the Glendale Desert Dogs in the Arizona Fall League this off-season and made the Rising Stars Game, leading all league catchers with a .286 batting average while adding three home runs and 18 RBI over 21 games.  His 18 RBI ranked second in the AFL and he posted a .387 on-base percentage with a 13-to-4 walk-to-strikeout ratio, the highest ratio in the league.  The Cardinals second round draft selection in 2012 hit left-handed pitchers in the prospect-rich AFL at a .474 clip (9-19, 2 HR) and he batted .321 (9-28) with runners in scoring position.

“After being promoted from Springfield to Memphis in July, Carson earned a Major League call-up in September,” said Gary LaRocque, Cardinals Director of Player Development.  “His productive season was also highlighted by his selection to the Futures Game and being named to the Arizona Fall League Top Prospects Team.”  

Weaver, 23, was 7-3 with a 1.30 ERA over 13 total starts in the minor leagues between Springfield and Memphis.  He posted an 0.92 WHIP, leading all Cardinals minor league full-season pitchers and struck out 92 in 83.0 innings.  He made one start in Memphis, firing six scoreless innings of two-hit ball, before being purchased by St. Louis on August 13 when he made his Major League debut that day at Wrigley Field.  Weaver was 1-4 with 45 strikeouts in nine appearances, including eight starts, for St. Louis.

Weaver, who was the Cardinals first round draft choice in 2014, joined Alan Benes (1995) and Stu Miller (1952) as only the third Cardinals pitcher to record 10 strikeouts in one of his first four career starts when he reached the double-digit mark at Milwaukee on August 31 in his fourth career start.   The Cardinals Minor League Pitcher of the Month for June was also named a Texas League post-season All-Star.

“Luke’s impressive work in June earned him our Pitcher of the Month honors while in Springfield,” commented LaRocque.  “Following his August promotion to Memphis, he soon-after made his Major League debut for the Cardinals.’

Both players will be presented with their awards at the 2017 St. Louis Baseball Writers of America Dinner on January 15.


Brian Walton’s take

First of all, congratulations to both players, Kelly and Weaver. They had fine 2016’s.

Having said that, while The Cardinal Nation earlier named Weaver our Starting Pitcher of the Year, we did not recognize Kelly. Our choice for Player of the Year instead was Peoria's Eliezer Alvarez. At their respective levels of play, the second baseman outperformed Kelly by a considerable margin offensively.

2016 Level PA BA OBP SLG OPS wRC+  
Alvarez A 499 0.323 0.404 0.476 0.879 159  
Kelly AA-AAA 362 0.289 0.343 0.395 0.738 115/98  
2016 Level R 2B HR RBI SB BB rate K rate
Alvarez A 70 36 6 59 36 10.6% 19.2%
Kelly AA-AAA 43 17 6 32 0 6.9% 17.4%

It seems the Cards are more inclined to tout the system’s top prospects closest to the majors while our choices are based on the best performer that season, blind to the level of play. In my opinion, Kelly is the better prospect, but Alvarez had the better season. This distinction is why we do top prospect lists separately from annual awards. The Cardinals do not have that option, as of course, they do not rank their prospects, at least for external consumption.

In fact, this is the second year in a row we have respectfully disagreed with the Cardinals’ Player of the Year selection. In 2015, Stephen Piscotty received the organization’s honors despite having been promoted to St. Louis for good in July and playing 63 games with the big club. He batted .272 for Memphis before being called up.

Our 2015 Player of the Year choice was again a higher-performing player at a lower level. That was the Gulf Coast League’s batting champion (at .342) and league MVP, shortstop Allen Cordoba. Again, better prospect at cusp of majors versus better performer lower in the system.

Details on all of TCN’s award choices at the team and system level for the last decade-plus can be found here.

Footnote: Interestingly, MLB Pipeline agreed with everyone else in naming Weaver their Minor League Pitcher of the Year, but their choice as Player of the Year was neither Alvarez nor Kelly - it was Harrison Bader. As in the Kelly comparison, the outfielder played at higher levels than did Alvarez, but his offensive stats were less impressive overall. His wRC+ of 143 at Springfield stood out but it dropped all the way down to 74 at Memphis before rebounding part way to 116 in the Arizona Fall League. I am a broken record, but my conclusion remains: better prospect, lesser season.


Prior Cardinals organization award winners

As you can see below, other than Magneuris Sierra's explosive GCL MVP season three years ago, every organization Player of the Year over the last decade played at either Springfield or Memphis. Same with nine of the last 11 pitchers honored since 2007.

Clearly, proximity to St. Louis is a significant consideration for the Cardinals in their decision-making.

Yr Player Teams Pitcher Teams
1995 Mike Gulan, 3B Lv/Ark Mike Busby, RHP Lv/Ark
1996 Dmitri Young, INF Lv Britt Reames, RHP Peoria
1997 Brent Butler, INF Peo Cliff Politte, RHP PW/Ark
1998 Pablo Ozuna, INF Peo Rick Ankiel, LHP Peo/PW
1999 Adam Kennedy, INF Mem Rick Ankiel, LHP Ark/Mem
2000 Albert Pujols, 3B Peo/Pot Bud Smith, LHP Ark/Mem
2001 Covelli Crisp, OF Potomac Jimmy Journell, RHP Pot/NH
2002 John Gall, 1B N Haven Tyler Johnson, LHP Peoria
2003 John Gall, 1B Tenn/Mem Dan Haren, RHP Tenn/Mem
2004 Reid Gorecki, OF PB/Tenn Anthony Reyes, RHP PB/Tenn.
2005 Travis Hanson, 3B Sgf Mark Worrell, RHP Palm Beach
2006 Colby Rasmus, OF QC/PB Blake Hawksworth, RHP PB/Sgf
2007 Colby Rasmus, OF Sgf P.J. Walters, RHP QC/PB/Sgf
2008 Daryl Jones, OF PB/Sgf Jess Todd, RHP PB/Sgf/Mem
2009 Allen Craig, OF/IF Mem Lance Lynn, RHP PB/Sgf/Mem
2010 Matt Carpenter, 3B PB/Sgf Shelby Miller, RHP QC
2011 Matt Adams, 1B Springfield Shelby Miller, RHP PB/Sgf
2012 Oscar Taveras, OF Springfield Seth Maness, RHP PB/Sgf
2013 Kolten Wong, 2B Memphis Zach Petrick, RHP Peoria/PB/Sgf
2014 Magneuris Sierra, OF GCL Marco Gonzales, LHP PB/Sgf/Mem/StL
2015 Stephen Piscotty, OF Mem/StL Alex Reyes, RHP PB/Sgf
      Austin Gomber, LHP Peoria
2016 Carson Kelly, C Spr/Mem/StL Luke Weaver, RHP Spr/Mem/StL

Note the only two-time winners are Rick Ankiel, John Gall, Colby Rasmus and Shelby Miller. Which one is not like all the others?

Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation: Cardinals AFL Prospect Interview with Carson Kelly

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