photo: Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium (St. Louis Cardinals)
The St. Louis Cardinals’ A-Advanced affiliate fell just short of a first-half title, but after many pitching promotions out, struggled mightily after the break.
Florida State League
The Palm Beach Cardinals represent the St. Louis Cardinals at the A-Advanced level in the Florida State League. The A-Advanced level is the highest full season level of A ball. There are 12 teams in the Florida State League, with six teams divided into two divisions. Most teams play in their MLB team’s spring training facilities which makes it more difficult to hit for power. Due to this, the FSL is primarily a pitching league that sees deflated hitting numbers.
The 2019 regular season began on April 4 and ended on September 1. However, the final series of the season was cancelled for most teams due to the threat of Hurricane Dorian. Each team is scheduled to play a maximum of 140 games in the season; however, no team played a full slate of games, and Palm Beach played just 130. Each team plays 20 games against each divisional opponent with 10 games coming at home and the other 10 taking place on the road.
The Palm Beach Cardinals are managed by Dann Bilardello, who just completed his fourth year as the manager of the Beach Birds and his 14th season in the Cardinals organization. The former eight-year veteran of MLB previously managed AA Springfield and won the 2017 FSL co-championship with Palm Beach.
The pitching coach for this season was Will Ohman, in his second season with both Palm Beach and the Cardinals organization. He has been a very effective coach in his time in Florida and has helped at least 15 pitchers receive promotions in his two years with the team.
The Beach Birds featured a new hitting coach this year – Tyger Pederson – who previously served as the head coach of the Duluth Huskies of the Collegiate Summer Northwoods League. After leading the team to its best ever record (47-25), he jumped at the chance to work with Palm Beach hitters. The 29-year-old is the brother of Dodgers outfielder Joc Pederson.
The Cardinals began the year well, establishing their position at the top of the South Division for most of the first half. However, the team faltered as the all-star break approached and slid to second place at the end of the first half. They finished three games behind the Fort Myers Miracle (MIN) with a 35-29 record. The Beach Birds enjoyed playing at Roger Dean Stadium, posting a league best 19-12 record at home. However, their 16-17 record away was the second worst in the division behind the last place Jupiter Hammerheads (MIA). The team also enjoyed a high level of success against division rivals, winning 22 games and losing just 15.
However, this success would prove to be fleeting, as the Beach Birds collapsed in the second half of the season, as key pitchers were promoted upward to Springfield. Palm Beach finished sixth/last in the division in the second half with a dismal 22-44 record (.333 winning percentage). The team ended up 23 ½ games behind the division winning Charlotte Stone Crabs (TB), which went 47-22.
The home field advantage the Beach Birds enjoyed in the first half seemingly disappeared in the second half as they finished an identical 11-22 at home and on the road. Their division dominance also disappeared as they posted an abysmal 9-26 record against divisional opponents.
This lack of success in the second half ended the team’s postseason dreams early, snapping their two-year playoff streak. However, the playoffs were cancelled due to the threat of Hurricane Dorian, so even had they clinched a spot, they would not have been able to compete for the title.
36 pitchers took the mound for the Beach Birds this season, with 20 throwing more than 20 innings. The average age of the Palm Beach pitching staff was 23 years, which is slightly above the league average of 22.9 years.
The Palm Beach pitching staff finished the year with a 3.68 ERA, which placed them 10th in the 12-team league. The staff also placed last in WHIP (1.35) while posting the second fewest number of strikeouts (1021) and the issuing fourth-most walks (417). This gave the team the worst strikeout to walk ratio in the league (2.45 K/BB).
The Beach Birds had the best ERA (2.73) and second-best WHIP (1.19) at the all-star break, but the second half was a different story as most of the pitching staff received promotions to AA Springfield. Pitching was the engine for this team, as it performed well when the staff performed well, but collapsed when the replacements faltered.
32 hitters stepped up to the plate for the Beach Birds this season with 17 staying in Palm Beach long enough to record 100 at-bats. The average age of the Palm Beach hitters was 22 years, slightly below the league average of 22.3 years.
The Beach Birds did not have a good year at the plate, finishing with the third-worst OPS in the league (.649). They also ended the season tied for seventh in batting average (.239), sixth in on-base percentage (.310) and fourth-worst in slugging (.339).
However, a clear strength of the team was its plate discipline as it finished with the second fewest strikeouts (1021) and the seventh most walks (386). On the base paths, Palm Beach was not interested in swiping bags as they finished with just 23 stolen bases and a 49% success rate (23-for-47), by far the worst in the FSL in both categories.
The team’s struggles extended to the field as they posted the fifth worst fielding percentage in the league (.974) However, the catching combination of Julio Rodriguez, Dennis Ortega, and Ivan Herrera did an excellent job behind the plate, allowing just nine passed balls, the second fewest in the league while tying for fifth in caught stealing percentage (32%). This is a positive sign as both Rodriguez and Herrera had strong seasons at the plate in addition to their defensive prowess.
A successful first half of the season led to seven Beach Birds being named to the South Division’s All-Star Game roster. Five of the seven were pitchers, underscoring the dominance of the Palm Beach pitching staff in the first half.
Relievers Ben Yokley and Bryan Dobzanski were among the 18-man pitching staff, as well as starters Angel Rondon, Perry DellaValle, and Alex Fagalde. The other two players to receive this accolade were catcher Julio Rodriguez and outfielder Justin Toerner.
TCN Top Prospects
At the end of the season, Palm Beach featured nine top 50 prospects according to the most recent TCN rankings. Highlighting this group was #2 prospect Nolan Gorman, #6 prospect and the 19th overall pick in the 2019 draft, Zack Thompson, #12 prospect Ivan Herrera and #24 prospect Luken Baker. Filling out the rest of the top 50 are Alvaro Seijas at #26, Griffin Roberts at #30, Edgar Escobar at #39, Edgar Gonzalez at #42, and Diego Cordero at #46.
Nolan Gorman and Ivan Herrera both posted impressive numbers after aggressive promotions to Palm Beach in the midst of their age 19 seasons.
Zack Thompson also impressed after being selected in the first round. His ERA was elevated (4.05), but his impressive FIP (2.03) and strikeout and walk percentages (12.83 K/9, 2.70 BB/9) demonstrate his dominance at the A-Advanced level.
Justin Toerner was another key contributor in his time at Palm Beach. The outfielder posted a slash line of .290/4.03/.389/.792 and carried the lineup for the better part of the first month of the season.
Julio Rodriguez also raised his prospect status significantly with a strong year both at and behind the plate.
It was a mixed year for Palm Beach. The team enjoyed a strong first half, anchored by the best pitching staff in the league, but fell just short of first place. However, a string of midseason promotions decimated the Beach Birds and the replacements from Peoria did not prove to be as successful as the outgoing group. This led to a difficult second half of the season in which the team finished in last place.
Despite this second half collapse, there were some solid individual seasons from the replacement players. The Beach Birds were one of the few successful teams in the Cardinals organization in the first half of the year, and the reasons for that success played in Springfield for the second half of the season. These players had mostly solid seasons, while some of the replacement players performed very well at Palm Beach.
With Peoria, Palm Beach’s primary feeder club, also struggling in 2019, the 2020 Palm Beach outlook is uncertain. Perhaps members of the Cardinals most recent draft class will augment the candidates for next season’s roster.
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 Palm Beach Cardinals Team Review.
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