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Cardinals put together winning '16 in Minors
Deep, diverse system captured crowns in GCL, NY-Penn, Appy leagues
12/12/2016 10:00 AM ET
Harrison Bader belted three homers and drove in 17 runs in 147 at-bats with Triple-A Memphis. (Jamie Harms/MiLB.com)

This offseason, MiLB.com will be honoring the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organizations. We're taking a look at each team to determine the outstanding seasons in Minor League Baseball.

If one judges a farm system by wins alone, the Cardinals' 2016 season would be considered an overwhelming success.

St. Louis' seven domestic affiliates combined for a .520 winning percentage, and five qualified for the playoffs. Of those five, three walked away with a championship. Class A Short Season State College captured its second New York-Penn League title in three years, Rookie-level Johnson City secured its fourth Appalachian League ring in seven seasons and the Cardinals' Gulf Coast League affiliate won its first-ever crown.

But systems are judged foremost by development, and the Cardinals did not fall short in that regard either. With 2015 third-round pick Harrison Bader surging to Triple-A and breaking into MLB.com's list of Top 100 Prospects and top pitching prospects Alex Reyes and Luke Weaver reaching the Majors, the talent pipeline remains strong as St. Louis looks to get back to the postseason in 2017.

Cardinals Organization All-Stars

Catcher -- Andrew Knizner, Johnson City (53 games): Taken in the seventh round of the 2016 Draft out of North Carolina State, Knizner put up a .319/.423/.492 slash line in his pro debut in the Appalachian League. The 21-year-old finished fourth in the circuit with a .915 OPS, while his 42 RBIs ranked third among Cardinals catchers. However, his offensive contributions were not what most impressed his organization.



"He really stepped up defensively right away to handle the pitching staff. That stood out right away," said Cardinals director of player development Gary LaRocque. "His level of experience as far as being in game situations and calling a game, we were very pleased with that."

First baseman -- Luke Voit, Springfield (134 games): After two straight seasons in the Florida State League, Voit entered a more hitter-friendly environment when he began the year at Double-A Springfield. The move paid off, as the 25-year-old captured the Texas League batting title by hitting .297 with a career-high .849 OPS. A 2013 22nd-round pick, Voit led the organization with 230 total bases while finishing third with 19 homers and 74 RBIs.

"[We've seen] continued improvement at the plate," LaRocque said. "Offensively, he really understands the strike zone. He put together a really solid year and throughout the year seemed to get into situations where he always seemed to be delivering at key times and putting together really quality at-bats."

Second baseman -- Eliezer Alvarez, Peoria (116 games): Playing on a full-season club for the first time since the Cardinals signed him as an international free agent in July 2011, Alvarez showed he was ready for the challenge. The native of the Dominican Republic batted .323/.404/.476, leading the organization in doubles (36) and stolen bases (36).

"Early on [in his career], he shared a lot of playing time and had a few injuries that kept him out of games along the way, and then all of a sudden a couple years ago he started to really mature defensively and gain confidence," LaRocque said. "It just translated over to offense once he started to get a lot of at-bats. We're pleased with his performance. He's a very good competitor."

Third baseman -- Paul DeJong, Springfield (132 games): After splitting 2015 between Johnson City and Peoria, DeJong moved up two levels to Double-A for his first full season. Following a sluggish start -- he hit .197 in April -- the Illinois State product finished with a .260/.324/.460 line while ranking second in the system with 22 homers and fourth with 73 RBIs.

"He started off slowly offensively, but that was only because it took some time to get adjusted to Double-A pitching," LaRocque said. "By midseason, you saw him catch up to the level of the league and offensively produce. He's a young man who adjusts. I think this year you're going to see all that come together."

Shortstop -- Tommy Edman, State College (66 games): The sixth-round pick in this year's Draft got a chance to start for State College after Jose Martinez was promoted to Peoria. Edman turned the opportunity into a productive season, batting .286 with 23 extra-base hits, 33 RBIs and 19 steals. He also drew 48 walks against 29 strikeouts and scored a New York Penn League-leading 61 runs.

"Tommy took advantage of the playing time right away, knowing he had come off good college seasons," LaRocque said. "At the New York-Penn League level, he saw and handled that pitching extremely well and defensively was very steady. He has solid tools, very good instincts and understands the game very well."

Honorable mention: Allen Cordoba compiled a .362/.427/.495 line with 22 steals in 50 games for Johnson City. The Padres selected the 21-year-old with the third pick in the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday.

Outfielders

Magneuris Sierra, Peoria (122 games): Sierra produced a .191 average in 51 games with Peoria in 2015 before before he was assigned to Johnson City at midseason. This year, the Cardinals' No. 6 prospect finally conquered Midwest League pitching. The 20-year-old center fielder finished ninth in batting with a .307 average, totaling three homers, 29 doubles, 60 RBIs and 31 steals.

"He went back to Peoria and stayed the season and did very well," LaRocque said. "Defensively, he was a plus outfielder. He gets into the gaps well and goes back to the wall well. Offensively, he's still gaining the experience of learning his strike zone, but he hits mistakes. Really, we're excited about the future for him, but we also realize he needs the at-bats and he needs time."

Harrison Bader, Springfield (82 games), Memphis (49 games): Bader began the season without much fanfare, ranked 10th among Cardinals prospects. The 22-year-old exploded out of the gates and hit .303 with 13 homers in the first half of the season. He ended up with a .267 average, 19 homers and 58 RBIs to move up to third in the system's rankings and 82nd overall.

"Offensively, he hit right away in the months of April and May," LaRocque said. "He was at the level of the league and beyond it. ... He had a lot of energy. He's got good tools and he competes extremely well."

Brian Sanchez, DSL Cardinals (61 games): Despite spending the season in the Dominican Summer League, Sanchez's numbers are difficult to overlook. The 20-year-old put together a .349/.433/.642 slash line and drove in 76 runs, the second-highest total among Cardinals Minor Leaguers, in 232 at-bats. The native of the Dominican Republic drove in more than twice as many runs as the next highest total on the team. Sanchez also swatted 15 homers to go with five triples and 13 doubles.

Utility -- David Washington, Springfield (22 games), Memphis (105 games): Splitting the season between the Minors' top two levels, Washington led the organization with 30 homers -- 25 with Triple-A Memphis -- and plated 77 runs while playing first base and the outfield. The 26-year-old San Diego native became a free agent at the end of the season and signed with the Orioles on Nov. 21.

Right-handed starter -- Luke Weaver, Springfield (12 games), Memphis (one game), St. Louis (nine games): Although he missed the first two months of the season due to a fractured left wrist, Weaver went on to post a 1.30 ERA with 92 strikeouts over 83 innings in the Minors. The 23-year-old earned Texas League Player of the Month honors after giving up five runs over 31 1/3 frames in June and needed just one Triple-A start before reaching the big leagues in August. The 2014 first-round pick had a 1.78 ERA in three Minor League seasons.

"He's got great stuff and he's got a great presence on the mound. ... A lot of things came together really well for him this year," LaRocque said. "He competes extremely well, he challenges the strike zone and he's got good stuff and a nice feel for off-speed pitches."

Left-handed starter -- Austin Gomber, Palm Beach (17 games), Springfield (four games): Gomber went 7-8 with a 2.69 ERA and 116 strikeouts over 127 innings, including a 1.40 ERA in 19 1/3 frames with Springfield. The 23-year-old has posted an ERA under 3.00 every season since he was selected in the fourth round of the 2014 Draft.

"He continues to put together quality innings and quality starts," LaRocque said. "He's worked very hard on his secondary pitches. He's got a good feel of his off-speed stuff and can pitch with contrast. Austin just continues to move through the system and produce at every level."

More Organization All-Stars

Relief pitcher -- Kyle Grana, Palm Beach (43 games): Although Grana posted a career-worst 3.12 ERA, the 25-year-old right-hander averaged 10.9 strikeouts per nine innings, the seventh-best rate in the Florida State League among pitchers who threw at least 50 innings. The Missouri native converted six saves in seven chances, held opponents to a .203 average and notched a career-high five victories. The Dodgers claimed Grana off waivers on Dec. 8.

Alex Kraft is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow and chat with him on Twitter @Alex_Kraft21. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.
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