In its second season, the newest of the two St. Louis Cardinals’ entries in the rookie-level Dominican Summer League, the Cardinals Red, was young and as a result, took until August to fully gel.
The Dominican Summer League (DSL) is at the Rookie level within baseball’s minor league structure. The league is a gateway into affiliated professional baseball for players who are not eligible for Major League Baseball’s annual June First-Year Player Draft. The lack of eligibility is mainly due to not meeting the residency requirement.
The DSL is comprised of 45 teams split among six divisions with the Cardinals Red assigned to the eight-team San Pedro Division. The San Pedro Division is one of three containing eight teams with one division having nine squads and two divisions have six teams each. All teams play exclusively within their own division, to minimize travel.
After 13 seasons with one team in the league, St. Louis expanded to two squads for the 2018 season, enabling them to double the number of players assigned. The original team became the Cardinals Blue and a second team was created, the Cardinals Red, which play in the eight-team San Pedro Division. Both teams share the Baseball Oasis facility with one team usually home while the other is on the road.
The 2019 season began on June 1st and ran through August 24th with a maximum of 72 games scheduled. The Cardinals Red was one of 14 teams to play 71 games, so comparisons of the team’s raw numbers versus the league will be addressed in this article.
38 players were part of the Cardinals Red team in 2019 with eight – four position and four pitching – also seeing action on the Cardinals Blue. For the purposes of this article, the stats of those eight remain in the cumulative team totals in which they were generated. However, each of the eight player’s stats and prior experience was counted against the team for which they played the most, both when analyzing individual ages and experience (see below) and consideration for year-end awards.
The team averaged 17.6 years of age, just a bit younger than both the league average of 17.7 and the Cardinals Blue’s 17.8 average. While over 68% hail from the Dominican Republic, 26% come from Venezuela with Mexico, Cuba and Columbia represented as well. When it comes to experience, the squad had 20 rookies versus 12 players with one year of experience and two with two pro seasons.
Blending the age and prior experience components, with ages marked as of the start of the 2019 season on June 1, the 20 rookies were a mix of two 16-year-olds, 14 17-year-olds, three 18-year-olds and a 19-year-old. For ages of players who played pro ball for one year prior to 2019, three were 17 on Opening Day, six were 18, one was 19 and two were 20. The two two-year veterans were 19.
The Cardinals Red took a fairly young and inexperienced group into the 2019 season and their performance reflected it. The team got off to a fantastic start, winning their first four games only to finish June with a 9-16 mark. It was more of the same in July, when the C Red went 9-17, but everything seemed to click as July rolled into August, when the squad went 14-6 to finish the season. Their 32-39 record overall placed them sixth in the San Pedro Division, 12 ½ games behind the Diamondbacks2.
If there was a famous phrase that portrayed the Cardinals Red’s home-road splits it would be ‘There’s No Place Like Home’, as the team went 18-17 at home but just 14-22 on the road. Their longest winning streak was a seven-game span from August 15th through 23rd. That was the first time the team won more than three straight since the above-referenced four-game winning streak at season’s start. The Cardinals Red’s longest slide was an eight-game losing skid from July 20th through 27th.
While the C Red generated a mere .451 winning percentage, down from .563 the year before, they were competitive in most of their contests. 69% of the squad’s 39 losses were by three runs or less with 56% of the losses decided by two or fewer tallies. The Cardinals Red went 9-12 in games decided by one run, 4-10 in two-run contests, 4-5 for those decided by three runs and 16-12 in games determined by four or more tallies. By the time the calendar turned to August the team had figured out how to win those close ones, going 9-3 games decided by three or fewer runs and 6-3 in the blowouts.
21 hurlers took the mound, including two southpaws, one starter and one reliever, both rookies. The average age of the staff was 17.7 years old, which tied them for second youngest staff in the league with Colorado. That was well under the league average of 18.3 years.
In comparison, the Blue Jays had the league’s youngest staff at 17.6 years of age while the Cubs2’s pitchers averaged 19.5 years, which placed them as the oldest. Contrasting the average age of this year’s staff to last, the 2018 Cardinals Red staff also averaged 17.7 years old, which was the league’s youngest staff last season.
The young C Red staff had a six-man rotation made up of five rookies and a one-year veteran. Five of the six are right-handed, with 18-year-old Diorys Guerrero the only lefty. Overall, the pitching staff compiled a 4.46 team Earned Run Average (ERA) and 1.565 Walks plus Hits per Innings Pitched (WHIP), which put them 29th in ERA and 39th in WHIP as compared to their counterparts on other squads. The C Red staff was in the lower tier in Hits Per 9 Innings (9.0), Strikeouts Per Nine innings (7.9) and Walks Per 9 Innings (5.1), tied for 33rd, 32nd and 31st, respectively. They had a Strikeout-to-Walk ratio of 1.56:1, 35th in the league.
The average age of Cardinals Red hitters was 17.7, which was the league average and in a four-way tie for 17th along with the Angels, Indians and Braves. That puts them a tad older than the 2018 average of 17.6. The Padres claimed the youngest group at 17.1, and on the other end of the age spectrum, both the White Sox and Rays2 had hitters averaging 18.4 years old.
This offense put runs on the board to the tune of 6.08 per game on average, good for ninth in the league. Of the eight teams above them, just three had a younger average age.
The 2019 Cardinals Red offense was absolutely superb at working the free pass, drawing 415 walks, which was just three off the league lead. Not surprisingly, their On-Base Percentage (OBP) of .376 was fifth, the ranking brought down by their Batting Average.
Another aspect of the game in which the Cardinals Red did well was on the base paths. The team was sixth in stolen bases with 133 but were caught only 40 times, giving them a 76.9% success rate. That was the second best success rate in the league.
Overall, the Cardinals Red slashed .256/.376/.356/.731 for the season. Their Batting Average put them in a three-way tie for 14th, just outside of the top 25%. The team’s Slugging percentage was 18th while the OPS was 10th, the latter driven by the excellent OBP.
Like their C Blue counterparts, the C Red had difficulty making contact, striking out 632 times in 2,369 at bats or once every 3.75 at bats. Only four teams whiffed more than did the C Red.
The Cardinals Red was tied with the Reds for 24th in the league with a .952 fielding percentage. In comparison, the league’s top defensive team was Rangers1 with a .971 fielding percentage and the worst was the Angels’ .938.
Two individuals who did field their positions well were the first base tandem of Luis Andujar and Alexander Samuel, who generated .994 and .985 fielding percentages, respectively. Both 19-year-olds were experienced players, Andujar having played in 2018 and Samuel in 2017 as well as last season.
Catching duties were shared primarily by two players who came to the 2019 season with similarities but also key differences: Jesus Orecchia and Roblin Heredia. Although both players were signed out of Venezuela, Orecchia tops Heredia in age, prior experience and 2019 playing time. The former is the elder by 15 months, having turned 18 in April, with a year’s work experience under his belt and caught 11 more games than the latter, 34 to 23. The two had similar fielding percentages, .980 for Orecchia to Heredia’s .975, but Heredia compiled a far superior caught stealing rate, nailing 24 of 57 who tried to steal, 42%, against Orecchia’s 28 of 90, 31%.
Team backstops had a cumulative caught stealing rate of 31%, 18th in the league, along with three other teams. The team nailed 60 base runners with 134 runners successful. A comparison of the C Red caught stealing percentage versus the other seven teams in their division puts the C Red in the middle of the pack, fourth.
The 2019 Dominican Summer League All-Star Game took place on Sunday, July 14th with the Cardinals Red sending two representatives: outfielder Diowill Burgos and right-handed pitcher Angel Cuenca. That brought the St Louis organization’s participation in the game to three overall, as Burgos and Cuenca were joined by Cardinals Blue outfielder Gustavo A. Rodriguez. That number matched the 2017 All-Star total, when the Red also sent two players to the higher-performing Blue’s one.
The 2019 performances of Burgos and Cuenca will be discussed in the applicable DSL Pitcher and Player of the Year articles to come.
The Cardinals Red was a team propelled by their offense with the pitching lagging behind. 59% of their roster got their first taste of pro ball, compared to 45% for the Cardinals Blue, and the inexperience showed in their results. But their excellent .700 winning percentage in August provides a positive foundation on which the players can build in 2019.
Link to master article with all 2019 award winners, team recaps and article schedules for the remainder of this series. Next up will be our Dominican Summer League Blue Team Review.
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