photo: Dylan Carlson and Joe Kruzel (Springfield Cardinals FANatic Photos)
The 2019 campaign marked another down season for the Springfield Cardinals.
For one, the Cardinals missed the Texas League playoffs for the third consecutive season, which has happened only one other time since the franchise moved to Springfield in 2005.
At 60-80, Springfield finished with the second-worst record in the league for the second straight year as well.
Despite that, the S-Cards had many new arrivals earn a chance to develop at Double-A and featured the clear-cut best player in the Texas League. Dylan Carlson was the club’s first Player of the Year since Oscar Taveras and Matt Adams won it in back-to-back years in 2011 and 2012, respectively.
First-year manager Joe Kruzel sees positives from 2019.
“The biggest thing that I witnessed this season is there has been more individual growth by some players than team growth as far as wins and the record,” Kruzel said.
Kruzel said a number of players made “big strides and progress in their careers,” which he hopes will translate into more success in 2020.
“There has been a tremendous amount of individual growth, but it hasn’t translated into winning games this year,” Kruzel said. “Hopefully, next year it will.”
In a season that was more forgettable than memorable, Springfield will definitely remember the season 20-year-old sensation Dylan Carlson put together for years to come.
One of the youngest players in Double-A in 2019, on August 27, Carlson became only the ninth Cardinals prospect to win the Texas League Player of the Year honors. The switch-hitter exploded onto the scene, ranking among the league leaders in average, home runs, RBIs, OBP, slugging, OPS, hits, doubles, triples, walks, extra-base hits, total bases, runs and stolen bases.
He became The Cardinal Nation’s top overall prospect in the process and his breakout year culminated into a late-season promotion to Triple-A Memphis, where he continued his success.
“I was very fortunate to have been in the same city as he was for most of the season this year,” Kruzel said. “I always thought every time Dylan comes to the ballpark he expected to play and wanted to play. You never knew if he was doing well or not. He just acted the same every night. The best thing I did for him this year was I stayed out of his way, let him play and let him grow.”
The 2019 edition of the Cardinals featured more valleys than peaks, mostly due to a roster that was the youngest in the league (23.1 average age).
With a 30-40 first half and second half, the club ended a combined 60-80 on the season, a dismal .429 winning percentage. That is the second-worst mark in the division and league, ahead of NW Arkansas (KC, 57-81), which posted a .413 winning percentage.
Springfield finished in last-place in the first half, trailing Arkansas by 14 games. They played good ball at Hammons Field (22-15), but struggled mightily on the road (8-25).
The second half proved to be similar.
The Cardinals had a winning record at home (17-16), but scuffled away (13-24), finishing 11 games back of Tulsa (LAD, 41-29), in third place.
Springfield welcomed 328,217 fans through the turnstiles at Hammons Field, with their per-game average 4,757, fourth-highest in the Texas League. That was down from 4,871 in 2018 and 4,801 in 2017.
The Texas League is a full-season league made up of a 140-game regular season, which began April 4 and concluded on Sept. 2. The eight-team league is divided into two divisions with the Cardinals Double-A club placed in the North.
Springfield started off very poorly, dropping their first seven games of the season. They went 8-17 overall in April.
Both the offense (.235 average) and pitching (5.97 ERA) struggled early on.
The Cardinals showed some improvement in May with their hitting and pitching on their way to a 14-15 record.
Springfield finished the first half splitting the final 16 games. Arkansas won the first-half title.
Kruzel took away a lot from his club in the first half.
“I think at times there was some really good things going on out there,” Kruzel said. “We went through some stretches where it wasn’t that we were playing really, really bad. We just weren’t winning. We weren’t finding ways to win. Something would happen that would create a loss for us instead of the other way around.”
As the records reset, the Cardinals could not find early momentum, dropping 14 of its first 26 games. Springfield followed a down June with a much-improved July (16-12) and entered the dog days of August in first-place with a 20-18 record.
The key behind their success was due to improved play in all phases – hitting, defense and pitching.
That said, the S-Cards lost that momentum and finished a disappointing 10-22 over the final 32 games.
The pitching and offense
As an organization, the Cardinals have traditionally been known for their pitching. This year’s Double-A version was led by the offense, however.
A key reason behind Springfield’s struggles in 2019 was the 4.79 team ERA, dead-last in the league.
15 different pitchers started for Springfield this season, including Johan Oviedo with 23, Evan Kruczynski with 20, Angel Rondon with 20, Tommy Parsons with 14, Austin Warner with 14, Williams Perez with 13 and Alex FaGalde with 11.
The 2019 pitching staff, tutored by second-year pitching coach Darwin Marrero, logged the already-mentioned 4.79 ERA. The league average was 4.02 and the next-worst club finished at 4.35.
On the offensive side, first-year hitting coach Brandon Allen spearheaded a powerful group, ranking third in the league with 140 homers.
Although Springfield was fifth in runs per game (4.35), compared to the most prolific offense in the league at 4.83.
The Cards were dead-last in batting average at .237 with the seventh-worst on-base percentage (.313). Though, the offense was fourth in slugging percentage (.379).
Fielding was a strong suit for the 2019 Cardinals.
The club’s fielding percentage was tied for the best in the league at .985 and they turned the fourth-most double plays with 290.
The catching was also a strength as they were tied for the least amount of passed balls (12) on the season. The catching corps threw out 30% of attempted baserunners, which is exactly league-average.
The 25 players on the active Opening Day roster included an experienced pitching staff and a youthful group of position players.
From among those returnees, Kruczynski was expected to anchor the rotation and Seth Elledge and Connor Jones were looking to lead a much-improved bullpen from 2018.
Anthony Shew, Casey Meisner, Austin Warner and Williams Perez rounded out the S-Cards Opening Day rotation.
Funky lefty Jacob Patterson was the lone southpaw in the bullpen. Elledge, Jones, Will Latcham, Jesus Cruz, John Fasola, Harold Arauz and Roel Ramirez were the right-handed relievers on the Opening Day roster.
On the position player side, almost every position player stepped up from High-A. The headliners were a pair of 20-year-olds – top prospects Carlson and third baseman Elehuris Montero.
The Cardinals Opening Day roster also featured Jose Godoy, Brian O’Keefe, Chris Chinea, Kramer Robertson, Irving Lopez, Alberto Triunfel, Stefan Trosclair, Shane Billings, Conner Capel and Scott Hurst.
As the season progressed, the Cardinals added a number of players who contributed from Triple-A and High-A – position players Evan Mendoza, Johan Mieses, Yariel Gonzalez, Rayder Ascanio, Lars Nootbaar, Juan Yepez, Zach Kirtley, Julio Rodriguez and Justin Toerner.
Pitchers joining during the season include Rondon, Oviedo, Parsons, Kodi Whitley, Ronnie Williams, Bryan Dobzanski, Junior Fernandez and Mitchell Osnowitz.
40-man roster outfielders Randy Arozarena and Justin Williams also played with Springfield this season as both were working their way back from hand injuries.
In total, Springfield made 155 player transactions this season.
The S-Cards had a down season in Texas League All-Star recognition. A year after nine Cardinals were named to the mid-season classic, just two were selected in 2019 – Carlson and Warner.
In the more elite post-season selections, Carlson was the lone representative, with the count of one the same as in the year prior.
As a team, the 2019 Springfield Cardinals had a young team with a struggling pitching staff, powerful, but inconsistent offense and superb defense. From a development perspective, the club provided many battle-tested players to Triple-A and two players who contributed to the Double-A club and made their big-league debuts.
Kruzel reflects on 2019 as a whole.
“The way the crowds supported us all year and the community,” Kruzel said. “Those are the things you are going to look at. These kids went out there for the most part every night battled and competed. Sometimes we came up short, but you can’t fault their effort on a day in and day out basis.
“I’m proud of that. Most of it is how the fans and the community supported us. That is one thing that will really stick out in my mind.”
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 Peoria Chiefs Team Review.
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