Virginia Tech's Ronnie Shaban, a right-hander, was the St. Louis Cardinals' 33rd round selection, 1,020th overall, while lefty Lee Stoppelman from the University of Central Missouri had earlier became a Cardinal when named in the 24th round, 750th overall.
Shaban stepped into a prominent role for playoff-bound Johnson City of the rookie level Appalachian League. There, he logged 16 saves, the third highest total in the entire system, including full-season clubs.
Stoppelman emerged as the top bullpenner for short-season Class-A Batavia, a club one level higher than Johnson City. The Muckdogs of the New York-Penn League did not have a full-time closer by design. Both were all-stars in their respective leagues.
However, there is a third, dark horse, entrant into this race. Dixon Llorens, taken in the 25th round from Miami-Dade Community College this June, is just 19 years of age. The right-hander dominated Appy League hitters and was moved past Batavia to Quad Cities, the highest level of these three. Though he didn't close, the 5-foot-10, 170-pounder usually did what was expected of him – to get opposing batters out.
Let's look at their numbers.
While all three had exceptional strikeout rates, Llorens was most impressive at 15.5 per nine innings. Stoppelman generated a substantially lower walk rate than the others and did not allow a home run the entire season. His ERA was lowest by a considerable amount.
Let's drill down a bit deeper into the stats. In this table, Llorens' Johnson City and Quad Cities numbers are listed separately.
While Shaban is by far the best at inducing ground balls, that is the only area here in which he excelled in comparison. Stoppelman and the JC version of Llorens were similar in GO/FO rate. However, when Llorens stepped up in competition level, his fly ball rate increased dramatically.
Llorens' batting average on balls in play (BABIP) was unusually low at JC but seemed to find a more expected level at QC. His .297 Midwest League mark is in the average range and close to Stoppelman's .291.
Though Llorens did not allow a run in the Appy League, his Midwest League ERA was almost four. While his MWL fielding independent pitching mark (FIP) is a run lower, it is still considerably higher than Stoppelman's in the NYPL.
So, while Shaban amassed the saves and ground balls and Llorens moved faster at a younger age, he was far less impressive at the higher level of competition. All things considered, Stoppleman was the most effective reliever in 2012, in my view.
Congratulations to Lee Stoppelman, The Cardinal Nation/Scout.com Minor League Rookie Relief Pitcher of the Year for 2012.
Note: For more information on Stoppelman and Shaban, The Cardinal Nation Relievers of the Year for Batavia and Johnson City, respectively, subscribers should click on this link. You will be taken to an index page with links to all articles about previous award winners across the system club by club, schedule for upcoming announcements as well as 2012 team recaps.
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Brian Walton can be reached via email at email@example.com. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Follow Brian on Twitter.
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