photo: Paul DeJong (Jeff Curry/USA TODAY Sports Images)
While the 2017 St. Louis Cardinals clearly benefitted from the fruits of their farm system, the top first-year player from among the ranks seemed pretty clear once the season turned to summer.
Arriving in St. Louis on May 28, Paul DeJong began by filling in at second base for injured Kolten Wong, and a month later, he became the every-day shortstop, while hitting his way into the middle of the lineup.
On the pitching side, Luke Weaver was called upon to step into the rotation. The right-hander spent the majority of the second half of the season with St. Louis with very strong results.
A third rookie became stronger and stronger as the season progressed. First baseman-outfielder Jose Martinez eventually earned his way into the regular lineup and became the National League Rookie of the Month in September.
A number of other rookies contributed to the Cardinals, as noted in the tables below, but none more so than DeJong, The Cardinal Nation Rookie of the Year for 2017.
Looking at the bottom line statistically, the fWARs of Weaver and Martinez totaled exactly equals that posted by DeJong.
DeJong, who turned 24 in August, had his strong debut offensively while playing his first professional season at the demanding position of shortstop.
He stands strong in comparison to his National League first-year peers, tied for the NL rookie lead in doubles (26), second in slugging (.532), and fourth in home runs (25), RBI (65) and hits (119). DeJong was named the NL’s Rookie of the Month in July.
Among all Cardinals, not just first-year players, DeJong led the way in 2017 with his 25 round-trippers, the first rookie to lead the club since Albert Pujols (37 in 2001). He also broke the Cardinals rookie record for home runs (20) as a shortstop and his .857 OPS is fifth all-time among Cardinals rookies (minimum 400 at-bats).
The runners up
With St. Louis, Weaver went 7-2 with a 3.88 ERA (60 1/3 IP) and collected 72 strikeouts in 13 games (10 starts). That average of 10.7 K/9 IP is fifth-highest among all National League starters (min. 60 IP) – not just first-year pitchers.
Weaver is one of five just rookie pitchers to log a pair of double-digit strikeout games (8/23 and 8/29) in 2017. The 24-year old was a key contributor to the Cardinals’ attempt to claim a Wild Card, winning seven consecutive starts from August 2 through September 20.
That win streak was tops on the Cards, was fourth-longest in the NL and longest by any MLB rookie in 2017. He is just the sixth rookie pitcher in the last 70 years to allow two runs or fewer over seven consecutive winning starts.
Martinez’ .309 average led all Major League rookies and he ranked number one in the NL with his .379 on-base rate and his .518 slugging mark is third. He also ranked in the NL rookie top 10 in home runs (14, 8th), RBI (46, T10th), runs scored (47, 8th) and walks (32, 8th).
In his strong finish, the 29-year old reached base safely in 27 straight games to end the regular season, the team high for 2017 and the longest streak by a Cardinals rookie since Pujols’ 48 straight in 2001.
Martinez was also a weapon off the bench, leading MLB pinch hitters by batting .462 (12-for-26). That is the highest single-season pinch-hit batting average for a Cardinal since 1974.
Honorable mentions – pitchers
Lefty Ryan Sherriff did not arrive until August 23, but contributed right away, with 10 scoreless outings in his 13 relief appearances. He stranded seven of nine inherited runners. The 27-year old was especially stingy against left-handed hitters, holding them to a collective .080 average (2-for-25) on two singles, no walks, a hit batsman and seven strikeouts.
John Brebbia (2.44) and Sam Tuivailala (2.55), ranked second and third respectively among NL rookie relievers in ERA. Brebbia, who made his ML debut on May 28, the same day as DeJong, became an often-used asset out of the bullpen, finishing seventh among NL rookies with 50 relief appearances.
Among all NL relievers, Brebbia was among the leaders in opponent BA (.193, 9th), opponent OBP (.255, 7th), walks/9 IP (1.92, 6th), baserunners/9 IP (9.23, 8th) and hits/9 IP (6.45, 13th). He was equally effective against right-handed batters, with a .183 BA (21-for-115) and left-handed batters at .208 (16-for-77).
In his fourth partial season with St. Louis, things began to click for Tuivailala. The hard-throwing right-hander appeared in a career-high 37 games, while leading all NL rookie relievers with 1.06 GIDP/9 IP. He also ranked third among NL (and 5th MLB) rookie relief pitchers with a 1.09 WHIP, as he did a much better job keeping his walks under control.
Prospect Jack Flaherty made his MLB debut September 1. The 22-year old, TCN’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year, appeared in six games (five starts) with St. Louis, going 0-2 with a 6.33 ERA and 20 strikeouts in 21 1/3 innings. Flaherty is the 14th youngest Cardinals pitcher to make his MLB starting debut at 21 years and 320 days old and the youngest since Rick Ankiel in 1999.
Honorable mentions – hitters
Luke Voit made his MLB debut June 25 went on to make 17 starts at first base and one as designated hitter. The first baseman logged two four-RBI games and was solid off the bench, going 10-for-33 (.300) with a home run as a pinch-hitter, one of three Cardinals with 10 pinch hits this season.
Harrison Bader started 20 of 27 games with St. Louis, including 17 in center field. The multi-tooled player had seven infield hits among his 20 hits and launched three home runs in his first 11 MLB games. Bader was especially effective against left-handed pitching, batting .400 (8-for-20, including two home runs).
Magneuris Sierra received the very rare promotion from high-A Palm Beach on May 7 and contributed immediately. The 21-year old started in the outfield in his first 13 games with St. Louis, becoming the youngest Cardinals position player to make his MLB debut since Pujols in 2001. Sierra hit safely in each of his first nine MLB games, breaking the team record that had stood since 1902. Sierra batted .345 (19-for-55) as a starter, but .000 (0-for-5) off the bench.
Top prospect catcher Carson Kelly came up in July but played sparingly behind Yadier Molina. The 23-year old started just 14 games, including the final six when Molina was injured. Kelly has shown little offensively yet, but has been steady behind the plate, charged with only one error in 191 career total chances.
Special thanks to the Cardinals Media Relations Department for providing many of the factoids presented above.
Prior years’ winners
Our honorees over the past few years follow.
|TCN Rookie of the Year|
These winners are also permanently recorded under “SEASON RECAPS/TOP PLAYERS,” located on the left red menu bar here at The Cardinal Nation.
Link to master article with all 2017 award winners, team recaps and article schedules for the remainder of this series. Next up will be our selections as the top players on the St. Louis Cardinals as well as a comprehensive season recap.
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