photo: Jake Walsh (Springfield Cardinals FANatic Photos)
It is a great pleasure to finally be able to again select The Cardinal Nation’s Pitcher of the Month across the St. Louis Cardinals minor league system. This article covers play during May across the four full-season affiliates and is our first such recognition since August 2019.
As a reminder, this is NOT the “Pitcher of the Month Among Top Prospects”. Every player in the system has an equal chance, with only their performance during the month used to differentiate the best of the best. Age and level, which are key prospect considerations, are not factors here.
Among our group of eight May finalists, Springfield right-hander Jake Walsh logged the lowest ERA and WHIP and second highest strikeout-to-walk ratio. The 25-year-old, who just completed his first month as a reliever, had to beat out a number of starters as well as peer bullpenners to become our Pitcher of the Month.
Read on for the details on how the decision was made, while recognizing a number of other mound standouts during the month, as well.
To qualify, a pitcher must have thrown at least 10 innings during May. That took our prospective candidate list from 71 down to 40. To make the list of eight finalists, an ERA of 3.00 or better was required. (Drawing the cut line was easier by the fact there is a huge gap in the data, with only two finalists between 3.00 and 3.65.)
In the following tables, names are listed in descending ERA order.
Only three of the four full-season affiliates are represented among the finalists, with Memphis missing out. (Bernardo Flores Jr. was closest with a 3.38 ERA.)
None of the eight finalists posted an ERA under 1.00, and just two came in under 2.00. Walsh and Levi Prater distinguished themselves as the best of the best in the Cardinals system in May.
Walsh delivered the lowest ERA at an impressive 1.29. While 2020 third-round draft pick Prater came in next at 1.77 in his first professional action, his walk count of 20 in 20 1/3 innings suggests he may have been dodging trouble at times.
To that end, Walsh’ FIP and xFIP, Expected Fielding Independent Percentage, are 1.55 and 3.48, respectively, while Prater’s are 4.50 and 4.62.
Impossible to ignore, however, is Prater’s total of 34 strikeouts for Palm Beach, the most of any pitcher in the entire system, finalist or not. Peoria’s Jack Ralston also punched out 30 in his 20 1/3 frames.
Peoria’s Fabian Blanco was stingiest issuing free passes, with just three during May.
As noted, Walsh logged the lowest ERA and also led in WHIP (surrogate for rate of fewest baserunners). Coupled with the fourth highest strikeout rate among finalists (12.2 per nine innings), Walsh’s strikeout to walk ratio of 4.8 to 1 topped all the competition save one.
Prater stands out with the highest strikeout rate (15.0 per nine) and fewest hits per nine innings allowed (at 3.1). But his very high walk rate of almost one per inning made for an ordinary WHIP and a strikeout to walk ratio that was near the bottom of our finalist list.
Only one finalist walked fewer than 2.4 batters per nine, with Nick Trogrlic-Iverson at 1.7 the clear leader. Trogrlic-Iverson, a non-drafted free agent signee in 2020, has already earned a promotion from Palm Beach to Peoria. Finalist Michael Brettell also moved up a level during May, to Springfield.
Joining Prater and Walsh as other finalists with a strikeout rate over one per inning is starter Jack Ralston as well as relievers Ramon Santos and Fabian Blanco.
TCN’s Pitcher of the Month
As the winner of The Cardinal Nation’s May Pitcher of the Month recognition, Walsh had been very consistent. After yielding a run in his first appearance of the season (and first at the Double-A level), he had run off a string of seven consecutive scoreless appearances that was not broken until his final appearance on May 30. In that game, Walsh took a loss after serving up a double, two free passes and a run-scoring wild pitch.
Walsh has been a trusted finisher for Springfield manager Jose Leon, serving as his team’s final pitcher in eight of his nine outings. The Florida native has been versatile, pitching anywhere from 1/3 of an inning to covering 3 2/3 innings (the latter on just one hit and no walks with five strikeouts).
Perhaps what is most interesting, however, is Walsh’s back story and his 2021 rebirth. St. Louis’ 16th round selection in the 2017 draft had been a promising starter his first two seasons before missing almost all of 2019 due to injury (and he would have sat out 2020, as well). Elbow soreness that surfaced just prior to spring training 2019 led to months of rehab attempts before a UCL tear was diagnosed. Walsh had Tommy John surgery that August.
Upon his return in 2021, Walsh has become a dominant reliever and a very bright spot on a Springfield staff that carries a collective ERA of 6.43, placing a distant last in its league and worst in a rough year for pitching across the Cardinals system.
What is next
On Wednesday, I will be back to disclose our Player of the Month for the Cardinals system during May. The Cardinals organization should announce its corresponding winners this coming week, as well.
June 3 update
The Cardinals agree with our selection.
Our Minor League Pitcher of the Month is RHP Jake Walsh 🙌
The 25-year-old posted a 1.29 ERA in nine relief appearances for Springfield (AA) with 19 SO in 14.0 IP and a 0.79 WHIP.
A 16th round pick in 2017, Walsh had a 2-1 mark and closed out right games for the S-Cardinals. pic.twitter.com/Qvq25VkCj5
— Cardinals Player Development (@CardsPlayerDev) June 3, 2021
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