Surprise Players of the Year – The Relievers

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Part Three of Three

For a relief pitcher to be a breakout pitcher, a lot of things have to go right. Or in some cases, a lot of things have to go wrong. The pitchers that made this year’s team as relief pitchers did not make the starting rotation coming out of spring training, others had injuries, and others reinvented themselves. All made adjustments and continue to do so in spite of their success. That’s what good pitchers do.

McNeil 67 2015For Ryan McNeil of South Bend, he spent the better part of two years recovering from elbow surgery. Last year he started some at Boise but this year became a reliever for South Bend. The first months were not kind to Ryan. He had a 6+ ERA in May. However, in June he put up an ERA of 2.40, and in July, 0.79. His fastball is now up to 92-93 mph. It began the year around 90 mph. Before his surgery, it was usually setting at 95 miles an hour. Good things are happening for him. I could see the Cubs letting him start a few games in spring training in 2016 to test out his arm.

Corbin Hoffner’s career looked like it might be over last year. At only 22 years old, he had been in the organization since 2012. He’d never made it past high A ball at Kane County. This year he transformed his delivery to be a sidewinder and his career has taken off. In 14 appearances since mid-June at low A South Bend, his ERA is 0.45 ERA with 5 saves.

Mark Malave is another pitcher who transformed himself. Last year he was a 1B/C for Boise and hit a respectable .263. However, with the now glut of catchers in the system, Malave saw the writing on the wall and changed positions. Malave has already advanced a level in 2015 going from the Arizona Rookie League to short season Eugene as a reliever. Malave throws in the low 90s and already has a solid curveball in his repertoire. Between the two levels, he has a 2.25 ERA in 15 innings. He has struck out 19 and walked only 3.

I have talked about Josh Conway all summer. First, it was surprising that Conway skipped South Bend this year after pitching in Boise in 2014 where he started with a strict pitch count and innings limits. He had a 1.36 ERA in 36.2 innings and I assumed he was going to be a starter at South Bend this spring. I was wrong. He started out at Myrtle Beach as a reliever – it was a bit of rough start to begin the year. He had ERAs of 5+ and 6+ in April and May and it just shows you how hard he’s worked at his craft for him to bring down to 3.00 now. Since June 1, he’s had an ERA under 1. After missing the better part of two years, Conway is really coming on strong this year. He’s back throwing in the 92-93-94 mph range Conway and will be in Tennessee next year.

Luis Hernandez made the list simply on the highly praise of another blogger. He has good size at 6’5” and 210 lbs. He is only 20 years old, was born in the Dominican Republic, and throws right-handed. I have not been able to see Hernandez as he plays for the Arizona Rookie League. He has been quite dominant for the young Cubs. Reports are that Hernandez has good life on his fastball – around 93-95. In 7 appearances has a 0.82 ERA in 11 innings. He’s struck out an amazing 18 batters in that span.

araujo 363Short season Eugene has two relievers who made the list and they both have the same characteristic – mid 90s heat. They both missed out on being starters at the end of spring training and were relegated to the bullpen. They are Greyfer Eregua and Pedro Araujo. Both have been excellent relievers for the Emeralds piggybacking recent college draftees Ryan Kellogg, Kyle Twomey, Preston Morrison, Casey Bloomquist, and Kyle Miller. In addition, both are striking out around one better per inning. The 21 year old Eregua. Greyfer is from Venezuela and has an outstanding ERA (1.91) and a high K rate (40 in 32.1). Batters are only hitting .165 off him. Aruajo is 6’3” and from the Dominican Republic. He has a 3.06 ERA in 14 games and has struck out an amazing 45 batters in 32.1 innings!

Dave Berg has gone from Eugene all the way to Myrtle Beach, bypassing South Bend, this summer after being drafted in June out of UCLA, where he was their all-time saves leader. That’s quite a climb for seven weeks of work in 2015. He has four sidearm pitches that he can throw for strikes. After throwing a couple of games at Eugene to get warmed up, Berg went to Myrtle Beach. After giving up 2 runs in his debut at high A on July 7, Berg has not allowed a run since in 8 more appearances. The 2015 draftee should be in Tennessee next year as a side arming reliever.

Surprise Relief Pitcher of the Year
alzolay 65 2015This was a tough decision as there were many good candidates. However, Venezuelan Adbert Alzolay stood out. In 2013 in the Venezuelan Summer League, he had a 1.07 ERA as a starter and struck out 61 in 67 innings. In 2014, Adbert spent most of the year in rookie ball at Arizona. His starts in the AZL were horrific and explain why it’s a good thing not to judge him by his stats there. He had an 8.51 ERA in 9 appearances!!! However, he did strike out 26 in 24.1 innings.  Alzolay almost earned a starting spot at Eugene coming out of spring training. As a reliever this year at Eugene, Adbert has a very low ERA (1.04) and high strikeout totals (23 in 26 innings) in middle relief at Eugene. Opponents are also only batting a piddly .143 against him. Adbert is 20 years old, 6’ and 170 pounds, and generates a lot of heat from his small frame. He made the Northwest League All-Star Team this summer and he will likely stay a reliever next year at South Bend.

Next Year
It’s a little hard to pick relievers for the conditions listed above in the first paragraph. I think one reliever we’ll need to keep an eye on for next year is Matt Brazis who has been injured most of this year. He came to the Cubs in the Justin Ruggiano trade.


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