Saints Sermon: John Straka Fills Out St. Paul Rotation
Last season the St. Paul Saints had the second best season in American Association history. That was thanks, in large part, to a starting rotation that saw four guys win at least 12-games, including Kramer Sneed, who tied the league record for wins in a season (15).
It was a fantastic year to say the least, but three of last year’s starters headed for Mexico this year, leaving a huge hole in the Saints rotation. Two of last year’s quartet of pitching maestros, RHPs Robert Coe and Jeff Shields, returned this year. The two combined to win 25-games in 2015 and both posted an impressive 3.11 ERA.
In April, Manager George Tsamis brought back former Saints RHP Mark Hamburger. Hamburger had pitched for St. Paul in 2013, posting a 6-8 record in 21 starts. That earned him a look from the Minnesota Twins, who purchased his contract., In 2014 and 2015, Hamburger was in the Twins farm system, pitching at AAA-Rochester in each of the last two seasons, where he pitched extremely well. Last season he was 4-2 with a 3.31 ERA in 45 appearances, striking out 63 in 68 innings pitched.
The Twins, surprisingly, released Hamburger in April and he was enamored with the idea of returning to pitch with the Saints in their new ballpark, CHS Field. Tsamis is happy to have him back as well, but understands that his stint with the team may be a short one. “He has such good stuff. It would not surprise me at all to see another club wanting to purchase his contract. There is a lot of need for good pitching out there, and he could fill a need somewhere for sure.”
While Hamburger remains, that only filled three of the Saints starting pitching needs. Another starter was an absolute must, especially considering that in less than two weeks the team starts a 14-day road trip where they will play 14-games, and taxing the bullpen was not a viable option. That brought the surprising trade for RHP John Straka.
It was not surprising that Tsamis wanted Straka. He had sought to acquire the Chaska-native last season, but without success. With just a few days before the season began, the Saints manager was able to acquire the 6-2, 215-pound right-hander, in what could be the final piece in another division title run.
Straka has all the tools, and could be a No. 1 or No. 2 starter on most teams in the American Association. After pitching one season in the Texas Rangers system, the right-hander pitched for Sioux City the last two years. After posting a solid 9-5 season with a 4.14 ERA in 2014, he had a breakout year last season, going 11-3 with a 3.27 ERA. That included striking out 110 batters in 129.1 innings pitched.
What really propelled the Minnesotan to such an outstanding year was the drop in his hits allowed, which went from 162 in 130.1 innings pitched in 2014 to just 124 in those 129.1 innings pitched last season. He demonstrated the ability to keep the damage against him down, and that showed in his success on the mound.
It is hard to replace four guys that all won 12-games in 2015, but it looks like Manager George Tsamis may have done just that. Three of these guys already won 11 last season, and Hamburger has proven that he has the stuff to dominate in this league. While 74-wins will be hard to replicate, these four have the kind of stuff that no one should doubt that mark is not attainable.
Saints Notes: With four spots in the rotation filled, the fifth spot is still up for grabs. The rumors around the team is that RHP Chris Peacock has a good shot at earning that final spot in the rotation. RHP Alec Crawford is another possibility. Either way, barring a trade, the team looks to be going with five right-handers for starters this season…It is going to be tough to replace Vinny DiFazio after the MVP season he had last year, but newly acquired Tony Caldwell is showing he is the real deal as well. The former New Jersey Jackals player homered twice in the exhibition, and threw out three attempted base stealers in the final two pre-season games. He looks to be the kind of shutdown catcher that Manager George Tsamis loves…The return of Angelo Songco necessitated a move, as the Saints had one more veteran than they were allowed. Newly acquired Michael Burgess was the odd man out. Burgess was dealt to New York in the Atlantic League. The move may mean that the team is looking for another bat to fill the DH role.
By Robert Pannier