The CCO’s Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Year for 2016 – RHP Trevor Clifton
Way back at the beginning of April in the minor league predictions reports, I chose Trevor Clifton as my dark horse candidate for Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Year. After being named a Carolina League All-Star, Organization Pitcher of the Month two times, and Baseball America’s High-A Pitcher of the Year, that dark horse came in ahead of everyone else.
In what was a spirited competition for the honor, Clifton comes as a surprise to those expecting high profile names such as RHP Oscar De La Cruz, RHP Pierce Johnson, RHP Duane Underwood Jr. and RHP Ryan Williams. But all of them experienced injuries and varying levels of effectiveness. Clifton remained the most consistent pitcher in the organization while piling up great numbers and even greater recognition.
Playing the entire season for the High-A Myrtle Beach Pelicans, the back-to-back Carolina League Champions, the 21-year old Clifton was a leader many ways. Clifton not only led the Carolina League with a 2.72 ERA, his nearest competitor was 73 points behind. Clifton’s 1.16 WHIP was also ten points higher than the next pitcher in line, while he was third in the league with 129 strikeouts in 119 innings. All that to go along with Clifton’s 7-7 record while yielding only 97 hits, 36 earned runs, and 41 walks.
But it was in the big games that Trevor Clifton showed up best. Needing a win against the team with the best overall record in the league to start their playoff run, Clifton throttled the Salem Red Sox in an 8-1 victory. And in the best-of-five championship facing Lynchburg with the series tied 1-1, Clifton gave the Pelicans momentum by tossing six innings in a 7-0 shutout.
The Cubs selected the Tennessee high schooler in the 12th round of the 2013 draft. Clifton has a projectable frame at 6-foot-4, 170 pounds. The 21-year old throws a low-90s fastball that has sometimes clocked in the upper-90s, along with a mid-80s curve, a slider and a change-up.
Myrtle Beach did not lack for other candidates for Pitcher of the Year honors, as everyone else considered played some or all of 2016 with the Pelicans.
Right-handed starter Zach Hedges was a combined 10-11 with a 2.75 ERA and a 1.139 WHIP for High-A Myrtle Beach and Double-A Tennessee. Hedges allowed 44 earned runs on 137 hits with only 27 walks and 95 strikeouts in 144 innings.
Another starter, righty Preston Morrison, was 12-4 with a 2.11 ERA and a 1.133 WHIP, allowing 112 hits, 30 earned runs, and 33 walks while striking out 122 in 128 innings between Low-A South Bend and Myrtle Beach.
Leading both the Carolina League and all of the Cubs’ minor leagues with 22 saves, Ryan McNeil was 1-1 with a 2.33 ERA and a 1.241 WHIP with 61 strikeouts in 54 innings, allowing 46 hits, 14 earned runs, and 21 walks.
However, in our first ever Twitter poll, fans came close to not seeing it this way. With two hours left, Zach Hedges had a surprising lead before Trevor Clifton put on a final push to end up winning 47% to 38%, with Preston Morrison at 10% and Ryan McNeil 5%.