(photo: Randy Arozarena/Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)
This is the second of The Cardinal Nation’s monthly two-part series in which we name our Players and Pitchers of the Month across the St. Louis Cardinals organization. While the Cardinals themselves recognize their top players as well, we undertake our own independent analysis unencumbered by the organization’s selection criteria.
Let’s get right to it with a look at the list of June system-wide hitting leaders, starting with our honoree.
Arozarena stands out
While a number of position players in the Cardinals system had strong Junes, one offensive player rose above the rest, while utilizing a tremendous stretch to earn a promotion to Double-A.
Our June Player of the Month is then Palm Beach outfielder and now Springfield corner outfielder Randy Arozarena. The 22-year old should also have a strong case to claim the still-to-be-announced Cardinals organization and the Florida State League Player of the Month honors.
Among position players with at least 75 at-bats, Arozarena led the Cardinals system with a .590 slugging percentage and .964 OPS in the month of June. He finished the month with .295 batting average and .306 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) which made for an obvious choice given the success of offensive players in the pitcher-friendly FSL (average slash line for league players this year: .250/.321/.361/.682)
The Cuban native was making up for lost time in Palm Beach after a slow start to his first season with the organization. After leaving his homeland following the 2014 season, Arozarena sat out all of 2015, played in Mexico and signed with St. Louis last August before an aggressive assignment in his official Cardinals debut.
“It is harder,” Palm Beach manager Dann Bilardello told The Cardinal Nation. “For one, it is the language, and two, you are thrown into an atmosphere different from what you are accustomed to. There was an adjustment period off the field for him. That is tough for anybody, and he handled it pretty well.”
There were many on-field challenges as well. He came in with a reputation for consistent contact with line drive power, but failed to show either to start the season. Arozarena batted just .105 with 11 strikeouts and one extra-base hit in his first 11 games (38 at-bats).
In 21 games for the Beach Birds in June, Arozarena hit safely in 16 while being named FSL Player of the Week for the period of June 5-11, including a power surge with four homers over the course of five games.
With that, the right-handed slugger was selected to the midseason FSL All-Star Game, where he also took part and won the pre-game Home Run Derby.
“The improvements still need to come in all aspects of his game, offensively and defensively, the mental approach, the baserunning – all of it,” Bilardello added. “There is still a ways to go, but we are pleased with the progress so far.”
Arozarena played in just one game following the All-Star break at Palm Beach before receiving a promotion to Springfield on June 30. While the opening was at the expense of Oscar Mercado’s injury, Arozarena earned his shot at Double-A.
“I really like the adjustments he’s made on a daily basis,” Palm Beach hitting coach Erick Almonte told MiLB.com recently. “We’ve been facing a lot of good pitchers who throw hard, and his bat speed is incredible. He’s been much better at shortening his swing and going gap to gap. And the results are showing every day.
“The month of April was his first time playing [in the United States]. This is a hard league to hit in, and he was trying to do too much at the beginning. We made some adjustments, and he’s been swinging at strikes, which is key.”
One area of his game Almonte noted needs improvement is to show more patience in an attempt to increase walks. In the month of June, Arozarena controlled the strike zone well with a 14-to-6 strikeout to walk count (compared to 19-to-3 K/BB in April and 20-to-4 in May).
“When the second half begins, pitchers will pitch differently against him,” Almonte told MiLB.com. “But I think he will be up to the test and show everybody that he can put up good numbers for a whole season.”
Had it not been for his strikeout to walk ratio (28-to-3 K/BB) and an unsustainable .397 BABIP, Harrison Bader could taken home the Player of the Month honor for June. That said, Bader did perhaps the most damage this past month with 14 extra-base hits (but in 23 more at-bats) and 19 RBI.
Overall, the outfielder slashed .317/.355/.564 with a .919 OPS, and one pro scout said he was most impressed with his skill-set on that Memphis roster.
“Definite everyday player with All-star upside,” the scout said.
Cutting down the strikeouts is one key stepping stone to the big leagues for Bader going forward.
Another player who received consideration is Springfield lead-off man Oscar Mercado, who recently went down with a shoulder injury. Prior to his move to the disabled list, Mercado paced the system with a June-best .339 batting clip that included nine extra-base hits (five doubles, one triple, and three homers) and six RBI, finishing with .865 OPS.
Mercado was simply outperformed in terms of doing damage with the bat.
Speedster Magneuris Sierra also had a robust June, posting a system-high .344 average along with .876 OPS to boot. The lefty Sierra even flashed some sock with his bat, producing 12 extra-base hits (10 doubles, one triple, and one inside-the-park home run).
Memphis Mafia basher Luke Voit was on pace to have the strongest month among Cardinals prospects, but for a good reason, he didn’t. In his 20 games before his first call-up to St. Louis on June 25, Voit had a .957 OPS with four homers and 19 RBI.
We should also not overlook the .338 batting average from Peoria outfielder Shane Billings, but it was mostly of the singles variety, with 21 of his 26 June hits one-baggers. Billings earned his promotion to Palm Beach to replace Arozarena.
Two other players definitely also deserving of mention are Memphis’ Nick Martini and Peoria’s Ryan McCarvel, who batted .313 and .299, respectively. Martini had 15 RBI while McCarvel had a system-best 15 extra-base hits last month.
Look the Cardinals organization’s announcement of their choices as the top performers from the third month of the 2017 season.
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