photo: Dozer Park (EnjoyIllinois)
By Satchel Perlowski and Brian Walton
The Peoria Chiefs 2019 season had its moments, but for the most part, it was a frustrating season that started off slowly, with a seventh-place first half and a last-place finish after the break. Their overall .388 winning percentage (54-85) was the worst by a St. Louis Cardinals Class-A affiliate in 37 years, since the 1982 Gastonia Cardinals limped home at .378.
It was quite a contrast to 2018, when the Chiefs finished their regular season with a record of 76-63 and were defeated by Bowling Green in the Midwest League Championship Series. This year, the Chiefs did not make a bid at the playoffs as pitching and their lack of timely hitting turned out to be their downfall.
Midwest League Western Division First Half 2019 Standings
|1H MWL West||W||L||PCT||GB||HOME||AWAY|
Month by month – first half
In April, the Chiefs went 8-13, including a 1-4 start and two different four-game losing streaks, and ended the month 5 ½ games behind in the first-half division race. Still, Nolan Gorman was tearing the cover off the ball (six home runs and 20 RBI in 21 games) and from the mound, Tommy Parsons (who ended 2019 with Memphis) was frustrating opposing hitters (3-0, 0.30 ERA in four starts).
May brought optimism early, with a five-game winning streak to open, but the club logged a 15-17 record and a 23-30 first half mark. That put them in seventh place, 12 games out of first. Starters Kyle Leahy (3.67 ERA), Alvaro Seijas (3.86) and Diego Cordero (3.94) led the staff. 18-year old catcher Ivan Herrera posted a .297/.376/.419 slash line with three doubles, two homers and 18 RBI in 20 games. Top prospects Jhon Torres (.167 BA in 21 games) and Malcom Nunez (.183 BA in 21 games) spent most of the month with the Chiefs, but struggled and were backed off to short-season Johnson City.
In the first half of June, the Chiefs fell behind the leaders even more, going 7-9 and finishing the first half on June 16 at 30-39, 15 ½ games back, in seventh place in the eight-team division. The club was five games under .500 at Dozer Park and four on the road.
Tuesday, June 18 brought the Midwest League All-Star Game in South Bend, Indiana. Five Chiefs appeared for the West, which lost the 3-3 game on a tiebreaker.
Brady Whalen and Nolan Gorman were starters at the corner infield positions, with Whalen going hitless in two at bats and Gorman working a free pass in his two plate appearances. Reserve infielder Delvin Perez went 0-for-2 but manufactured a run after reaching via a force out, advancing on a throwing error, a steal and scoring on another throwing error.
Diego Cordero, originally named to the West squad, had since been promoted to Palm Beach. The lefty was replaced on the roster by Edgar Escobar, who tossed a one-two-three seventh with two strikeouts. The final Peoria All-Star, Alvaro Seijas, allowed a walk and fanned one in the ninth.
No Chiefs were named to the post-season MWL All-Star Team.
Midwest League Western Division Second Half 2019 Standings
|2H MWL West||W||L||PCT||GB||HOME||AWAY|
Month by month – second half
The Chiefs began their second half without offensive powerhouse Nolan Gorman, who was promoted to Palm Beach on June 20.
To start the new half, the team delivered more of the same, as the 3-7 record to conclude June included a five-game losing skid, putting them back in seventh place.
July decided where the Chiefs were headed this season, and it was not good, as Peoria dropped its first 11 games. They concluded July with an 8-20 record, putting them at 11-27 in the half. In fairness, the roster was in flux as players were being moved up and new players were coming in to join the Chiefs.
Third baseman Brendan Donovan had a month to remember, slashing a system-best .390/.489/.675. The 22-year old posted the best OPS (1.164) in the system with as many extra-base hits (14) as RBIs and was recognized as the MWL Player of the Month. In his first month starting after a move from the Peoria bullpen, Parker Kelly posted a 1.29 ERA.
In the final month of the regular season plus the final two games in September, the Chiefs logged a 13-19 record with a plethora of new players. Pitching struggles continued to haunt the Chiefs, as they brought their 24-46 second half to a disappointing close. Peoria was in last place, 22 games out. They were nine games under .500 at home and 13 under away from Dozer Park.
Rewinding to view the Chiefs season in full, it is clear that the majority of the team’s struggles stemmed from the pitchers having trouble throwing strikes and locating pitches. The Chiefs came in last in the MWL in team ERA at 4.74 and in the WHIP category at 1.50. The league’s best squad had a 2.81 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP.
On top of that, the Chiefs led the league in walks issued with 610, which was 222 more than the best staff in the circuit. The Chiefs finished with 28 total saves, tied for the worst in the league.
The Chiefs had talent at the plate with standouts such as MWL All-Stars Gorman and Whalen. Peoria finished tied for third in team batting average at .247. However, the offense was 11th in runs scored with 563 and 10th in home runs with 68. The Chiefs had 1,113 total hits this season, seventh-most, 72 hits away from the leader.
With their .971 fielding percentage, the Chiefs defense came in seventh in the league. Their catchers’ baserunners caught stealing mark of 35 percent was a solid fourth-best.
Despite playing in only 67 games, Gorman led the Chiefs in home runs with 10 and he plated 41. The third baseman was easily one of the most talented hitters on the roster – and in the entire farm system, though he was promoted to Palm Beach in June. Gorman was selected 19th overall by the Cardinals in the 2018 MLB draft and had a solid stint with the Chiefs.
Parsons was the most dominant Chiefs pitcher this season, going 4-0 with a 0.26 ERA in 35 innings before his promotion upward. Parsons pitched a shutout and only allowed five walks and one home run. Parsons was voted MWL Player of the Month in April.
A player who consistently produced runs for the Chiefs all season is Brady Whalen. Whalen led the Chiefs and the MWL in RBI this season with 81. That is eight more than the closest league player and 28 more than any other Chief. Whalen is a switch hitting first baseman who is very solid at situational hitting. Whalen finished the season with a .705 OPS along with seven homers.
Donovan was a dark horse to end up on this list, but he earned it. Donovan was third on the Chiefs this season in hits (107), second in home runs behind Gorman with eight and second in RBI behind Whalen with 53. Donovan led the Chiefs in total bases with 163 and runs scored with 70. All in all, Donovan is a force from the left side of the plate and pitchers are usually afraid to give him anything inside or down the middle of the plate.
Of the five Chiefs who played over 100 games this year, Cedeno was tops in batting average at .270. Cedeno is fifth on the Chiefs in home runs with six and fourth in hits with 99 as well as in total bases. Cedeno has an approach at the plate that has improved throughout the season and he is the best situational hitter on the roster.
Rough pitching was the downfall for the 2019 Peoria Chiefs. The offense was present all season, but with as many batters walked per game as the Chiefs did, it would be almost impossible to have a successful season, even as individual players continued to develop.
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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