photo: Michael YaSenka (Robert Kell)
It is again the time to select The Cardinal Nation’s Pitcher of the Month. This covers play during July across the St. Louis Cardinals’ nine minor league affiliates.
As a reminder, this is NOT is 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, either.
Among our group of 10 finalists, Johnson City right-hander Michael YaSenka logged the second-lowest ERA and highest strikeout rate while pitching in his first full month as a professional. The 21-year old is our Pitcher of the Month. He also received the Cardinals organization’s honor for July.
Read on for the details on how I came to our decision, while recognizing a number of other mound standouts during the month, as well.
To qualify, a pitcher must have thrown at least 20 innings during July. To make the list of 10 finalists, an ERA of 3.00 or better was required.
In the following tables, names are listed in the same descending ERA order.
|Gustavo J. Rodriguez||DSLB||21||1||13||1||0||2||21||0.43|
Seven of the nine affiliates are represented among the finalists, with only State College and Memphis missing out.
As is often the case, those in the “complex leagues”, the Dominican Summer and Gulf Coast Leagues, sport some players with flashy results. Admittedly, they have a tougher time winning these monthly awards, unless their numbers dominate those pitching at higher levels.
Two of the 10 finalists had ERAs under 1.00 and two more came in under 2.00.
The DSL Blue’s Gustavo J. Rodriguez delivered the lowest ERA at a very impressive 0.43. His teammate Wilmer Ortega yielded just 10 hits in 20 innings. The walk count by Nathanael Heredia from the Gulf Coast League, 17 in 22 innings, stands out for the wrong reason, however.
|Gustavo J. Rodriguez||DSLB||0.43||0.171||0.211||0.413||0.71||0.9||9.0|
Here is where it gets interesting. A number of candidates can make a claim.
In his first month starting after a move from the Peoria bullpen, Parker Kelly had the second-lowest batting average against from among our finalists at just .164 (Ortega is first at .149.) Kelly’s slugging against is just .008 behind Rodriguez’ best.
The top four pitchers in the table really separated themselves in almost every category. They are the only finalists with ERAs under 2.00 and WHIPs under 1.00. They are the only ones with batting averages against at .200 or less and OPS’s significantly under .600.
YaSenka has the highest strikeout rate, with Rodriguez walking the fewest per nine.
The Pitcher of the Month
When all is said and done, Michael YaSenka is the winner of The Cardinal Nation’s July Pitcher of the Month honors. The right-hander was very consistent, pitching three scoreless games and allowing just one earned run in his two other outings.
Rodriguez is averaging about five innings per start while YaSenka is going closer to six, including a seven-inning complete game that included 10 strikeouts on July 24, which helped tip the balance in his favor. He also received the Appalachian League Pitcher of the Week award for the period of July 8-14, so it was a strong month from beginning to end.
After his selection by the Cardinals in the 17th round of the 2019 First-Year Player Draft, 515th overall, the former Eastern Illinois standout showed he was able to shoulder a starting load, unlike many of his recently-drafted peers. That opened the door for his early success.
At 0.56 for the season, YaSenka leads the race for Appalachian League ERA title by over two runs per nine innings, with the next-closest qualifying competitor at 2.63. His 0.84 WHIP is also lowest and is just one of two under 1.00 in the rookie-level circuit.
Johnson City pitching coach Rick Harig is very complimentary of YaSenka’s four primary offerings.
“YaSenka has a solid command of his pitches, starting with his 80-81 mph curve and 92-23 mph fastball that has a nice exit velocity,” Harig said. “What I was most impressed by is his slider. The movement on that pitch along with his others give him a good chance moving forward.
“He has a good understanding of what he wants to throw in every matchup. I actually wish he would have thrown his changeup more often,” the coach concluded.
On Draft Day, TCN’s Blake Newberry wrote the following about YaSenka.
YaSenka made 15 starts for the EIU Panthers this spring, recording a record of 4 wins and 7 losses. He collected 100 strikeouts in 90 2/3 innings as he flashed some swing and miss ability. He needs to refine his command of the strike zone, however, as he finished the season with a 5.56 ERA and 33 walks allowed.
The right-hander began his career at Chesapeake Junior College where he posted below average ERA numbers but struck out hitter to the tune of 14 K/9.
YaSenka also spent two summers with the Rockville Express of the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League. He has a rough season in 2017, posting a 6.62 ERA. However, he fared much better in 2018, posting an ERA of 3.41. He struck out 41 hitters and walked 19 in his 31 2/3 innings of work in 2018.
Clearly, a Cardinals scout saw something that he believes the Cards can work with and is banking on the Cardinals player development system to straighten him out. Hopefully, YaSenka can refine his command and continue to show good swing and miss stuff. If he can do this, he could have the makings of a solid reliever.
So far, he is exceeding those expectations.
In fact, in addition to receiving the Cardinals organization Pitcher of the Month recognition on Friday, YaSenka was promoted to State College. This is the second consecutive month the organization’s Pitcher of the Month was moved up a level concurrently and is another well-deserved honor for YaSenka.
June’s winners in July
I like to look back at how the prior month’s winners performed in the four weeks following their system-wide honors.
Our top pitching selection for June was Springfield’s Alex FaGalde, while the Cardinals organization honored then-Peoria starter Alvaro Seijas.
FaGalde was bitten by the injury bug, making just three July starts. When able, the 25-year old continued to deliver at a high level, with a 2.04 ERA, a .188 batting average against, 15 strikeouts and just two walks in 17 2/3 Texas League innings.
Seijas, 20, was rewarded with a promotion to high-A Palm Beach and had a good first month in the Florida State League. In five starts at his new level, the right-hander posted a 3.86 ERA. In 25 2/3 innings, he fanned 26, but the 10 walks stand out.
Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation
Join The Cardinal Nation for the most comprehensive coverage of the St. Louis Cardinals from the majors through the entire minor league system. Annual members may purchase the new 2019 Prospect Guide PDF for less than half price. In addition, our limited edition printed and bound Guides are $5 off, so get yours today!
© 2019 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.