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ANKIEL

After struggling as a pitcher, Rick Ankiel transformed himself into an outfielder to culminate his remarkable career in which some of his accomplishments were rivaled by only Babe Ruth in big-league baseball history. (Rick Bowmer photo)

ST. LOUIS • For a particularly vitriolic stretch of time on Twitter last Thursday, the question seemed innocent enough given the Cardinals announcement that afternoon. It was a reasonable insinuation the fan made about the club's player and pitcher of the year awards for the minor-leaguers and a fair question.

What does it say, the question on Twitter asked, that the Cardinals' top hitting prospect is only a teenager and at the lowest level of the organization?

It says very little, to be honest, because that's not the case.

There is a difference between the team's best hitting prospect and the minor-league Player of the Year Award. The latter is based on a single year of production. The former is based entirely on promise, looking at a career of production with the view of that player's ultimate ceiling in the majors. The team's top hitting prospect who hasn't seen the majors yet is Stephen Piscotty. The player of the year is Magneuris Sierra. Under the Cardinals' current farm system leadership, one is not a guarantee of winning the other.

But the Twitter question strikes at a more pertinent question when it comes to the award, especially when an 18-year-old outfielder wins one in tandem with a starting pitcher, Marco Gonzales, who is expected to have a role in the majors this coming season. The Pitcher of the Year Award appears to be a validation of those expectations.

What does the Player of the Year award mean for Sierra then as an indication of his future? Does the award's past tell us anything?

Sure.

Sierra, at 18, is the first teenager to win the Player of the Year Award since Brent Butler in 1997. He is the youngest to win the award in the past 20 years of the history available on the award. He is the first from a short-season club to win the award, which says he did in half a season what other winners have done when playing for a full-season club. So already he's ahead of the previous winners when it comes youth. And if he actually reaches the majors, he'll be ahead of more than a third of the previous winners.

And if he impacts the majors ...

Well, slow down, cowboy.

Of the 17 winners before Sierra since 1995, seven didn't have an at-bat for the Cardinals. From 1997 to 2005 -- a thin time around the Cardinals' farm system -- the only players of the year to reach the majors and play were John Gall, Adam Kennedy, and that Albert Pujols chap. Combined they did hit 453 home runs for the Cardinals and win three National League MVPs. That may be a good way to give you a sense of the predictive power of the Player of the Year award: power. Here is a ranking of the home runs hit for the Cardinals by past winners:

Albert Pujols ... 445

Allen Craig ... 57

Colby Rasmus ... 50

Matt Adams ... 34

Matt Carpenter ... 25

12 winners combined ... 16

Kolten Wong ... 12

It should be noted that the above list includes many of the winners from the recent, stronger stretch for the minor-league system. The five winners from 2009 to 2013 have produced two All-Stars (Craig, Carpenter) and two everyday players (Adams and Wong) and one top-three vote-getter for a Rookie of the Year award (Wong). The fifth was Taveras, who would have had a chance to win the everyday job in right field in 2015.

The Pitcher of the Year Award has been more reliable when it comes to at least identifying a pitcher on his way to the majors. Only one winner of the award since 1995 has not reached the majors with the Cardinals, and that was 2013 winner Zach Petrick who is still working his way up through the system toward the majors.

That said, not many of those winners have stuck with the team.

Some have been traded. Some have faltered. Some more were traded.

Yes, yes, we all know that wins are a superficial way to grade a pitcher's contributions to a team, but in this case wins does operate a lot like home runs above. It does show the role, the success, and the amount of time spent with the Cardinals in the majors. You cannot hit 57 home runs for the Cardinals without sticking around for awhile and having some success. Similarly, you can't win 26 games without at least getting some significant playing time in the majors. As above, here are the rankings for the Pitcher of the Year Award winners based entirely on wins, counting up:

Shelby Miller ... 26

Lance Lynn ... 49

The other 16 winners ... 67

That should give you a sense of the award and what to read from it.

No, the top hitting prospect in the Cardinals' organization did not spend the last season in GCL. He is one of the team's top rising prospects, but there are others who are closer and there are others who could be better. Could be. The team's organization awards are just that. Awards.

They are tokens for past performance.

They are predictions of future stardom.

From the Cardinals and The Post-Dispatch archives, here are the past winners of the minor-league awards for you to peruse. Enjoy the nostalgia.

PLAYERS OF THE YEAR

1995 Mike Gulan, 3B

1996 Dmitri Young, INF

1997 Brent Butler, INF

1998 Pablo Ozuna, INF

1999 Adam Kennedy, 2B

2000 Albert Pujols, 3B

2001 Covelli (Coco) Crisp, OF

2002 John Gall, 1B

2003 Gall, 1B

2004 Reid Gorecki, OF

2005 Travis Hanson, 3B

2006 Colby Rasmus, OF

2007 Rasmus, OF

2008 Daryl Jones, OF

2009 Allen Craig, OF

2010 Matt Carpenter, 3B

2011 Matt Adams, 1B

2012 Oscar Taveras, OF

2013 Kolten Wong, 2B

2014 Magneuris Sierra, OF

***

PITCHERS OF THE YEAR

1995 Mike Busby, RHP

1996 Britt Reames, RHP

1997 Cliff Politte, RHP

1998 Rick Ankiel, LHP

1999 Ankiel, LHP

2000 Bud Smith, RHP

2001 Jimmy Journell, RHP

2002 Tyler Johnson, LHP

2003 Dan Haren, RHP

2004 Anthony Reyes, RHP

2005 Mark Worrell, RHP

2006 Blake Hawksworth, RHP

2007 P.J. Walters, RHP

2008 Jess Todd, RHP

2009 Lance Lynn, RHP

2010 Shelby Miller, RHP

2011 Miller, RHP

2012 Seth Maness, RHP

2013 Zach Petrick, RHP

2014 Marco Gonzales, LHP

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