Jedd Gyorko was the best under-the-radar performer on the St. Louis sports scene this year.
Over the past few weeks, we’ve been rolling out the nominees for our 2016 Arch Awards, which pay tribute to the best people, teams, and events in St. Louis sports each year. Our category for today is the Best Under-the-Radar Performer, an award that goes to the athlete on the St. Louis sports scene who provided the most outstanding performance without widespread recognition during the 2016 calendar year.
This year’s nominees were Mizzou receiver J’Mon Moore and defensive end Marcell Frazier, Blues forward Scottie Upshall, and Cardinals infielder Jedd Gyorko. While Upshall was a surprisingly valuable contributor to a team that was by far the best in St. Louis during 2016 and the Mizzou guys both had major breakout seasons after being rather unheralded to begin the year, Gyorko stood out above all others.
Gyorko earned a dominant 71 percent of the vote, while Upshall came in second with 18 percent. Moore received a seven percent share, while Frazier earned just four percent of the vote.
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After coming over from the San Diego Padres in a trade for Jon Jay last December, Gyorko was expected to fill a utility role off the Cardinals’ bench during 2016. After Jhonny Peralta and Ruben Tejada suffered injuries during spring training, however, Gyorko earned the start at shortstop on Opening Day. He was soon pushed out of that job by Aledmys Díaz, but he impressed enough during the early going to begin taking away at-bats from Kolten Wong at second base.
As injuries occurred throughout the season, Gyorko also spent extended periods at first base and third base, ultimately starting a total of 100 games while playing in 128 overall. In a major surprise, Gyorko–whose previous career high in homers was 23, a feat that came during his rookie season in 2013–led the Cardinals with 30 homers in 400 at-bats. He hit .243/.306/.495 for the season.
As the Cardinals seek to develop a more consistent, on-base-focused offensive approach in 2017, it appears as if Gyorko will once again head to spring training planning to come off the bench. But since Wong and Peralta are far from sure things, it’s very possible that he could take at-bats away from them during the course of the season.