photo: Austin Warner (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)
This is the final part of The Cardinal Nation’s monthly two-part series as 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 May system-wide pitching leaders.
Warner claims TCN’s top pitching honors
While a number of starters in the Cardinals system had strong Mays, one hurler distinguished himself from the rest, utilizing a terrific stretch of pitching to get himself on the prospect radar.
Our May Pitcher of the Month is High-A Palm Beach starter Austin Warner, who should also have a strong case to claim the still-to-be-announced Cardinals organization and the Florida State League Pitcher of the Month honors.
Among starters with at least 25 innings pitched, Warner led the Cardinals system with a minuscule 0.91 ERA, finishing second with a 0.84 WHIP and ranking third with 35 punchouts through 29 ⅔ innings hurled for the Beach Birds.
“He’s a hard-working guy who throws strikes,” Cardinals Minor League Pitching Coordinator Tim Leveque told MiLB.com. “He commands his pitches, he gives everything he’s got every time he goes out there.
“However tall you are, however short you are, stuff is stuff. His fastball is upper-80s, low-90s, but he commands it. He’s got a good slider, good curveball and feel for the changeup. He definitely has more than just the fastball.”
Simply put, Warner is a feel-good story. If you haven’t heard it already, he is an undersized non-drafted lefty who was playing for the independent River City Rascals this time last year. The Cardinals signed him and he hasn’t stopped putting up terrific results.
After somewhat of a rocky April (5.66 ERA in four starts), the 23-year old allowed a combined three earned runs over his four starts in May, highlighted by a dominant nine-inning 10-strikeout performance on May 21.
“(I was just) dominating the bottom half of the zone, staying low in the zone (this month),” Warner told MiLB.com. “Earlier in the year, I was not doing that. (I’m) using the fastball a lot and working off that with the changeup, curveball and slider. The curveball, I’ve been using that as a strike more, but not as an out pitch — that’s more the changeup and slider.”
Overall on the season, Warner has compiled a 3-1 record with a 2.86 ERA in eight total starts for Palm Beach. His 51-to-5 strikeout to walk ratio over 50 ⅓ innings stands out especially and it will be interesting to see if he will be able to maintain this pace going forward.
(Though it does not count here, Warner began June with seven more scoreless innings on Friday night.)
Runner-up to Warner is TCN’s No. 8 prospect Ryan Helsley, who also had a strong case to be the organization’s top pitcher in May. Had it not been for his so-so start on May 5 with Double-A Springfield, Helsley might have been on the winning side of the spectrum. Regardless, the power armed righty thrived and seems to have ensured his third trip to Triple-A Memphis is the charm.
Following a relatively shaky April, Helsley put it together in May, posting a 2.16 ERA over 33 ⅓ innings pitched between Springfield and Memphis. He also had an impressive 40-to-9 strikeout to walk count with a system-best 0.75 WHIP over five starts.
“I felt like I wasn’t pitching terribly (early on),” Helsley said prior to his promotion to Memphis on May 21. “It was a tough start, but I felt like I was executing pitches. There was tough breaks here and there. You just try to stay with the same mind-set. It is a long season. You just got to plug away and stay after it day in and day out. Stay on top of my arm care, stay healthy, and just take the ball every five days.”
TCN’s No. 25 prospect Casey Meisner, acquired in the Josh Lucas trade from Oakland as spring camp ended, had a nice showing in May for Palm Beach. The New York Mets’ 2013 third round pick posted a 1.27 ERA in five starts, striking out 22 batters against 10 walks over 28 ⅓ innings pitched. Meisner also had a 0.95 WHIP and held opposing hitters to a minuscule .168 batting average.
Warner and Meisner are two who could step up to Springfield in the near future, when the need arises.
Another arm worth mentioning is power sinker specialist Dakota Hudson, who ranks as TCN’s No. 7 prospect. Hudson boasted a 1.65 ERA through five starts with Memphis while showing more swing and miss stuff (28-to-15 K/BB in 32 ⅔ innings) in the process. The 23-year old could make for a true weapon out of the St. Louis bullpen, depending on the status of the 40-man roster.
TCN’s No. 20 prospect Daniel Poncedeleon continued to excel for Memphis following an outstanding April. The righty made six starts this month with a 3.13 ERA, leading the organization with 42 strikeouts over 31 ⅔ innings pitched and leads the Pacific Coast League in season ERA at 2.48.
A pair of low-A Peoria starters had strong months – Evan Guillory (3.08 with a system-best 38 innings pitched) and Zach Prendergast (3.38 ERA over 24 innings).
At Springfield, TCN’s No. 19 prospect Jake Woodford was perhaps the top performing starter for the S-Cards. He owned a 3.41 ERA over six starts and held a 26-to-10 strikeout to walk in 31 ⅔ innings. His month was highlighted by eight shutout innings against Corpus Christi (HOU) on May 24.
Peoria swingman Kodi Whitley had a 1.69 ERA in eight games (two starts), posting a 17-to-6 strikeout to walk ratio over 21 ⅓ innings pitched.
Last month’s winner continues to perform very well. Former big leaguer and current Memphis closer Preston Guilmet gave up just one earned run over 13 innings (0.69 ERA) while converting six saves in as many May chances. He struck out 13 batters and walked only one in 10 games.
Earlier related article – The Cardinal Nation May Player of the Month
For more – Catch Derek Shore’s in-depth Springfield Cardinals Notebook, posted each Thursday morning all season long, exclusively for members of The Cardinal Nation.
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