Photo: Alec Burleson (Springfield Cardinals FANatic Photos)
St. Louis Cardinals Press Release
The St. Louis Cardinals announced today their selections for Minor League Player and Pitcher of the Month for May, with Memphis Redbirds (AAA) outfielder Alec Burleson and Springfield Cardinals (AA) right-handed starter Gordon Graceffo (gruh-SEFF-oh) taking the honors for the second time in their respective careers.
Burleson, 23, hit for an .357 average (35-for-98), with five home runs, eight doubles, 24 RBI and 16 runs scored in 24 games with Memphis. His .592 slugging percentage and 58 total bases led all qualified Cardinals minor league hitters for the month, while also ranking first in batting average and RBI. Burleson finished the month strong, hitting .455 (20-for-44) with five 3+ hit games over his final 10 games, including his second career four-hit performance on May 28 vs. the Iowa Cubs.
“Alec put together an outstanding month offensively, his .980 OPS helped to lead Memphis to their winning month of May,” said Cardinals Director of Player Development Gary LaRocque.
The 6’2”, 220-pound Burleson was a 2nd round compensation selection for the Cardinals (70th overall) in 2020 out of East Carolina University where he played both outfield and pitched. Currently ranked the 9th best prospect in the Cardinals organization by Baseball America, Burleson previously earned Minor League Player of the Month honors in his first month of professional baseball in May 2021. Among all Cardinals minor leaguers through the end of May, Burleson ranked 1st in hits (55) 2nd in average (.327), RBI (38), total bases (99), and 3rd in HR (11) and extra base hits (21).
Graceffo, 22, posted a 2-2 record with a 1.45 ERA (5 ER/31.0 IP), 0.84 WHIP, and 30 strikeouts to just three walks over his five May starts (four with High-A Peoria Chiefs and one with Double-A Springfield). After earning a promotion to Springfield on May 23, Graceffo made his Double-A debut on May 27 at Tulsa, earning the win while allow two runs on six hits and striking out four over 7.0 innings. He is the first Cardinals pitcher to win back-to-back Pitcher of the Month honors since LHP Austin Gomber (August 2017 & April 2018) and first to do so in the same calendar year since LHP Bud Smith (July & August 2000).
“Gordon’s month of May was highlighted by five quality starts and his well-deserved promotion to Double-A Springfield,” stated LaRocque.
Drafted by the Cardinals in the 5th round (150th overall) in 2021 out of Villanova University, the 6’4” starter led all Cardinals minor league pitchers in ERA (1.20), wins (4), strikeouts (60), WHIP (0.70) and innings pitched (52.2) through the first two months of the season. He currently ranks as the 10th best prospect in the Cardinals organization by Baseball America and did not allow more than two runs in any of his first nine starts this year.
Blake Newberry’s Take
We’ll start with the Pitcher of the Month, since the Cardinals and I both agreed that Gordon Graceffo is the top choice. He dominated High-A competition with Peoria and then was unfazed in his Double-A debut. He was the top starter in the system and completely deserving of the Pitcher of the Month honor.
It regards to the Hitter of the Month, Alec Burleson is a fine choice, though I chose Jordan Walker. The Memphis outfielder led all finalists in hits (35), RBI (24) batting average (.357), and slugging percentage (.592) while leading the way for the Memphis Redbirds lineup.
Burleson was chosen 70th overall in the 2020 MLB draft, but had to wait until 2021 to make his professional debut. That didn’t effect him much, though, as all he’s done since joining the organization is hit. He reached Triple-A by the end of his first season, though his 81 wRC+ meant that he was less productive at the highest minor league level than he was in the previous two.
He debuted at High-A Peoria and tallied a 153 wRC+, a sign of his advanced bat coming out of college. He was then promoted to Double-A Springfield where he was still 16% above league average as a hitter (116 wRC+).
This season, he has proven that his Triple-A struggles in 2021 are nothing to be concerned about, as he has a 153 wRC+ while crushing 12 home runs and striking out in just over 13% of his plate appearances.
In my assessment, he finished in a close second to Jordan Walker, who led all finalists in walks (16), OBP (.418) and OPS (.996) in May. Ultimately, there is not a wrong choice as both players excelled last month.
If Burleson keeps playing the way he has been, then he may be looking at a major league debut in 2022.
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