photo: Cardinals Dominican Academy (St. Louis Cardinals)
The Dominican Summer League (DSL) is at the rookie level within baseball’s minor league system. The league is a gateway into affiliated professional baseball for players who are not eligible for Major League Baseball’s annual First-Year Player Draft. The lack of eligibility is mainly due to not meeting the residency requirement.
The DSL is comprised of 46 teams representing 29 organizations with Atlanta not participating. Those 46 squads are split between six divisions, the Cardinals Blue assigned to the eight-team South Division. The South Division is one of five containing eight teams with the final division having six squads. All teams play exclusively within their own division (other than the Cardinals Red and Blue facing each other every Saturday).
After 13 seasons with one team in the league, St. Louis expanded to two squads for the 2018 season, becoming one of 17 organizations fielding two teams. The original team became the Cardinals Blue and a second team was created, the Cardinals Red. Both teams share the Baseball Oasis facility with one team always home while the other is on the road.
Subsequent to losing the entire 2020 season due to a worldwide pandemic, DSL baseball resumed on July 12th, nearly six weeks later than prior years, with a restructured baseball calendar running through October 2nd. The modified schedule contained a maximum of 60 games, 12 games fewer than 2019. No team played the full 60 games with the completed games totals ranging from 52 to 59. The Cardinals Blue played 59 contests so comparisons of the team’s raw numbers versus the league will not be addressed in this article.
Although the schedule still included Sundays off as in prior seasons, Wednesdays were added as an additional off day. Each week all teams played one home-and-away series versus two other affiliates and the same squad every Saturday. St. Louis’ two teams faced each other on Saturdays.
36 players were part of the Cardinals Blue team in 2021 with five – three position and two pitching – also seeing action on the Cardinals Red. Four of the five spent more time with the C-Blue than C-Red. For the purposes of this article, the stats of those five remain in the cumulative team totals in which they were generated.
Another player, pitcher Juan Peralta, was returned to the DSL from the Florida Complex League on August 6th, after which he generated the majority of his 2021 work. However, each of the six players’ 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
Overall, the Cardinals Blue represented seven countries. 57% hailed from the Dominican Republic, seven came from Venezuela, four from Mexico and one each from Cuba, Panama, Aruba and the Bahamas.
In terms of experience, the squad had 27 rookies versus eight players with one year of experience. Marking each player’s age as of midnight of June 30th of the current season, per Baseball Reference, the 27 rookies consisted of one 16-year-old, nine 17-year-olds, 14 18-year-olds, two 19-year-olds and one who was 20. Of the eight players for whom the 2019 campaign was their rookie season, one was 18 and the rest were 19.
The Cardinals Blue went 21-38 which landed them in a tie with the Twins for the bottom slot in the South Division, 16 games behind the Rockies. That .356 winning percentage was better than just one DSL squad, the Orioles1, who went 13-39, although the Athletics joined the Twins and C-Blue with a .356 winning percentage. The Cardinals Blue’s Home-Road splits were 9-20 at home and 12-18 away.
Note on month-by-month records: Two games were suspended in one month and completed in another. This report uses actual real time results and not retroactive adjusted records.
The team got off to a solid if unremarkable start, going 7-7 in July, but that was the team’s high-water mark record wise. The C-Blue unraveled in August, winning just five of 21 contests but were minimally impacted by the weather with one postponement and one cancellation. The Cardinals Blue fared a tad better over the season’s final four plus weeks, posting a 9-15 mark.
Breaking down their record by run differential, the C-Blue’s defeats fell into two categories: squeakers or blow outs. Their 6-12 mark in one-run decisions represented 30.5% of their decisions whereas nearly 46% were determined by four or more tallies. The team went 6-21 in the latter category.
Head-to-head versus the Cardinals Red, the C-Blue won four and lost eight, with two of their victories coming in the last three contests.
The staff had 18 hurlers take the mound with rookie reliever Alexandre Beltre the sole lefty. The average age of the staff was 18.5 years old, placing them a bit under the league average age of 18.7 years and .6 of a year younger than the C-Red staff. That 18.5 average age placed them in a five-way tie for 15th in the league.
The youngest was Ronny Oliver, who just turned 17 in January and was one of 13 rookies. The remaining 12 rookies included nine 18-year-olds, two who were 19 and one 20-year-old. Five hurlers had one year of pro experience, one of them 18 and the balance were 19.
Reviewing signing dates, seven were signed to 2020 contracts in July 2019 but did not take the mound until July 2021, a span of just over two years. One pitcher, Victor Herrera, was signed in September 2018 but is among the 13 rookies. Just three of the 13 were signed after the 2020 season would have finished.
The rotation was comprised of four right-handers getting regular work with the fifth slot rotating among four others. Two of the rotating four swing men made five starts apiece. It was a more stable situation than on the C-Red staff.
Overall, the pitching staff was below league average in most categories, placing at or near the bottom in several. They compiled a 5.33 Earned Run Average (ERA) and 1.625 Walks plus Hits per Innings Pitched (WHIP) which put them 44th in ERA and 41st in WHIP as compared to their counterparts on other squads. No squad allowed more hits per nine Innings (H9) than did the Cardinals Blue’s 9.3, tied with Oakland for last place. They gave up 0.5 home runs every nine frames, which put them in a 10-way tie for 30th. The category in which they had their highest ranking was strikeouts per nine innings (9.1), for which they were in a four-way tie for 20th. The C-Blue averaged 5.3 walks every nine innings which was another four-way tie, this time for 31st. The Cardinals Blue’s strikeout-to-walk ratio of 1.79:1, tied for 29th in the league.
18 players took the field for the 2021 offense. One, catcher Alejandro Loaiza, played more for the Cardinals Red and is not part of this age and experience breakdown.
The average age of Cardinals Blue hitters was 17.6, a bit below the 17.9 league average, placing them in a nine-way tie for sixth place, along with the Cardinals Red. Despite the long wait for some debuts, the 2021 average is a tad younger than the 2019 average of 17.7.
The Cardinals Blue’s offense was a bit more experienced than the C-Red with three Blue players having one year of pro knowledge to the Cardinals Red’s one. The three C-Blue veterans were all 19 years old. In comparison, the 2019 team had seven veterans among 14 position players.
Hence, 14 of the Cardinals Blue’s 17 position players were rookies. Eight of the 14 or nearly 62% were signed after the 2020 season would have concluded. The youngest was corner outfielder Jose Suarez, who did not turn 17 until early August. The remaining 13 rookies included eight 17-year-olds and five 18-year-olds.
The offense was in the league’s bottom third in all but one category, compiling a line of .223/.327/.323/.651 in 1,775 at bats. Compared to the league, the C-Blue tied for 33rd in batting average and 38th in on-base percentage. The sole area in which the team was near average was slugging percentage at 26th. The Cardinals Blue’s .651 OPS was 33rd best as was their runs per games average of 4.31.
Collectively, the Cardinals Blue were 29th in the league with a .951 fielding percentage, just behind the Cardinals Red’s .952. In comparison, the league’s top defensive team was the Red Sox Blue with a .970 fielding percentage and the worst was the Pirates Gold’s .927.
The individual with the highest fielding percentage was 18-year-old outfielder Jose Cordoba who compiled a .989 fielding percentage in 40 games. He was the second choice for playing time in center and left field behind Luis Pino and Robelyn Lopez, respectively.
Cordoba’s combined outfield stats, however, placed him at the top of outfield chart in games, putouts and assists. The Venezuelan was flawless in 24 games in center with 49 putouts and one assist with a Range Factor of 2.08. Cordoba’s final fielding percentage was pulled down by his 16 left field games in which he committed one miscue with 32 putouts and four assists for a .973 mark. He had a 2.25 Range Factor and took part in two double plays.
The primary recipient of pitches behind the dish was 17-year-old Leonardo Bernal, one of five catchers over the season’s course – along with Justin Guerrero (nine games), Loaiza (seven games), Diego Velasquez (six games) and veteran Juan Sanchez (four games). Sanchez did not finish the season, given his unconditional release on August 26th.
Bernal, who was signed out of Panama on January 15, 2021, caught in 33 games with 279 putouts and 32 assists versus six errors and five passed balls. That works out to a .981 fielding percentage. The opposition ran pretty freely on the rookie and he caught only 18 of 62 or 29%. Bernal had a 9.42 Range Factor. Offensively, Bernal generated a line of .209/.298/.373/.671, 33-for-158.
The DSL Cardinals Blue were in the bottom third of the league in statistical performances in 2021 with a record that barely kept them from the cellar. Like the Cardinals Red, however, individual bright spots existed which will be discussed in future articles.
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