Cardinals Minors Reliever of the Year: 2010

Cardinals Minors Reliever of the Year: 2010

Fernando Salas is The Cardinal Nation/Scout.com's top relief pitcher in the St. Louis Cardinals minor league system in 2010.

Based upon a standout 2010 season, 25-year-old right-hander Fernando Salas has earned The Cardinal Nation's Minor League Reliever of the Year award.

Despite what I believe is a record six call ups to St. Louis this season, Salas' consistency was a key reason the Memphis Redbirds returned to the Pacific Coast League playoffs for a second consecutive year.

His manager, Chris Maloney, recognizes the closer's many contributions.

"Salas did an outstanding job," Maloney said. "He picked up every save but one that he had an opportunity for and made most of them look pretty easy. Nothing fazed him. He was just going to go out there and stick in the strike zone and say, ‘you've got to hit me.' He did a great job."

Salas' season ERA in Triple-A was an uninspiring 3.79 due in a large part to an inexplicable six-run outing on August 19. When considering FIP, however, which is intended to eliminate everything a pitcher cannot control but still uses the same scale as ERA, the answer is very different. Salas' 2.30 FIP led all Memphis relievers by over a run.

Maloney summarizes Salas' offerings and admires his approach.

"He's got a plus changeup, a little better than average fastball and a good breaking pitch," the manager said. "The thing about him is that is really impressive is that he comes in and pounds the strike zone."

As the closer, Salas did not often come into a game with runners on base, but when he did, he almost always got the job done. Salas allowed just one of nine inherited runners to score to lead the Redbirds. During the months of May, June and July, he made an amazing 21 consecutive appearances without allowing a run of his own, either.

Salas fanned almost five batters for every free pass issued, with 44 strikeouts and just nine walks in 35 1/3 innings. He also yielded just two opposing home runs all season.

Salas picked up 19 saves, third-highest in the Pacific Coast League in 2010 and second-most in the Cardinals system. It was just one save fewer than Palm Beach's former closer David Carpenter, since traded to Houston for Pedro Feliz.

Maloney recognizes the difficulty inherent in the closer's role and notes Salas has what it takes to be successful in it.

"The closer's spot is the toughest spot in the bullpen because you know you are going to be the last man standing," Maloney observed. "You are either going to get it done or you don't. Some guys can't handle that, but Salas can get those final three outs. He's got a lot of moxie out there. He knows what he is doing. He plays cat and mouse and he's got enough stuff to get it done. He doesn't rattle and he throws strikes."

Salas was one of two Redbirds named to the 2010 PCL All-Star Game, along with starting pitcher Brandon Dickson. In 2011, he will be looking to stick on the major league roster. Maloney offers the following basic advice.

"He needs to continue to throw strikes, quality strikes and get ahead of hitters and finish them off," the manager said.

Fernando Salas is The Cardinal Nation/Scout.com 2010 Minor League Reliever of the Year.

Note: Link to article with all previous award winners across the system club by club as well as 2010 team recaps, exclusively for subscribers.

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Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnationblog.com. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Selected TCN content appears at FOXSportsMidwest.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

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