photo: Cardinals Dominican Academy (St. Louis Cardinals)
The newest of the St. Louis Cardinals’ two Dominican Summer League teams was young in experience but the 2021 Cardinals Red finished just three games under .500.
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 among six divisions, with the Cardinals Red assigned to the eight-team San Pedro Division. The San Pedro 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 Cardinals Blue and the second team Cardinals Red. They share the Baseball Oasis facility with one team home while the other is on the road.
Subsequent to losing the entire 2020 season due to the 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 Red played 57 contests so comparisons of the team’s raw numbers versus the league will not be addressed in this article.
Although the schedule included Sundays off as in prior seasons, Wednesdays were added as an additional off day in 2021. Each week all teams played one home-and-away series versus two other affiliates and the same squad every Saturday. All 17 organizations fielding two squads played each other on Saturdays.
38 players were part of the Cardinals Red team in 2021 with five of them, three position and two pitching, also seeing action with the Cardinals Blue. 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 William Miranda, was reassigned to the DSL from the Florida Complex League in August where the majority of his 2021 work was done. However, each of the six 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 cancelled 2020 season impacted the team’s composition, age and experience, particularly the age and experience components. The ‘Age versus Playing Level’ rule of thumb lost much of its relevance since players stagnated for an entire season. But a deeper dive into the numbers revealed interesting differences between the Pitching and Offense make ups which will be enumerated in their sections below. Overall, only three countries were represented in 2021 versus five in 2019. 71% hailed from the Dominican Republic, one came from Columbia and the balance from Venezuela.
When it comes to experience, the squad had 23 rookies versus eight players with one year of experience and only one with two prior professional seasons. Marking each player’s age as of midnight of June 30th of the current season, per Baseball Reference, the 23 rookies consisted of one 16-year-old, seven 17-year-olds, 11 18-year-olds, three 19-year-olds and one who was 20. Of the eight players for whom the 2019 campaign was their rookie season, one was 18, three were 19 and four were 20. The sole player with two years of pro ball experience was 20.
The Cardinals Red went 27-30 (.474) for a sixth-place finish in the San Pedro Division, 9 ½ games behind the Phillies White. Their Home-Road splits were 17-12 at home and 10-18 away.
While the 2019 C-Red (.451) also finished in sixth place, the 2021 team posted a better record. In fact, their .474 winning percentage was just .001 behind Triple-A Memphis for the best mark in the system this season, albeit a down year.
A note on month-by-month records: The C-Red had a game suspended in one month and completed in a later month. This report uses actual real time results and not retroactive adjusted records.
The team generated steady results on a month-by-month basis, remaining at or near the .500 mark each month of the season. The C-Red generated a 7-7 mark in July before encountering a challenging August schedule in which they went 8-10. The first three weeks of August included four postponements plus three cancellations due to weather-related issues, resulting in 44% of their contests being played in the last four plus weeks of the season. The team compiled a 12-13 mark over that span.
Breaking down their record by run differential, the Cardinals Red went 9-4 in games decided by one run, 4-9 in two-run contests, 3-5 for games decided by three runs and 11-12 in contests determined by four or more tallies. That 11-12 mark comprises over 40% of the season’s games and the C-Red showed different results as the season wore on. After going 5-9 in July and August, the team went 5-4 in September and early October.
The Cardinals Red dominated their contests with the Cardinals Blue. The organization’s ‘junior’ squad won eight and lost four. (It should be noted that in terms of roster composition, the organization balanced the two teams, rather than create “A” and “B” squads.)
19 hurlers took the mound with starter and one-year veteran Diorys Guerrero the sole lefty. Two of the 19, Marlyn Almonte and Victor Herrera, pitched more for the Cardinals Blue while the vast bulk of William Miranda’s 2021 work was in the Florida Complex League, so their age and experience levels are not included here.
The average age of the remaining 16 staff was 19.1 years old, placing them over the league average age of 18.7 years. Two other DSL teams had an identical average and only seven staffs were older. The youngest C-Red hurler was Juan Severino who just turned 17 in June and was one of eight rookies. The remaining seven rookies included four 18-year-olds, two 19-year-olds and a 20-year-old.
Another seven had one year of pro experience, three of them 19 and four were 20, including Americo Lugo who turned 21 in August. Lugo’s August birthday made him about 5 ½ weeks older than Augusto Calderon who was the only member of the C-Red with two years of pro experience.
A big factor in the staff’s average age was the signing dates of the rookies. Only two of the eight were signed after the cancelled 2020 season would have finished, with 18-year-old Samuel Fabian joining Severino in that category. Five were signed in 2019 with the final rookie signed in January 2020. For example, now 18-year-old Darlin Saladin had to wait nearly two years before taking the mound. Although their ages elevated the staff’s average, none had the mound experience they would have gained in normal times.
Nine pitchers started at least one game, necessitated in part by multiple September twin bills but also reflecting changing priorities as the season progressed. The same starting five handled the season’s initial three weeks with all five getting regular work. That changed in August when available starts were at a premium and only nine games were completed over the first 20 days.
Still, the same rotation started the initial 22 contests, but an additional four hurlers were added into the mix over the season’s balance of 35 games. Those additions were not limited to double-header starts. Some starters moved to the bullpen and others were given a starting opportunity.
Overall, the pitching staff compiled a 4.52 Earned Run Average (ERA) and 1.503 Walks plus Hits per Innings Pitched (WHIP) which put them 28th in ERA and 35th in WHIP as compared to their counterparts across the league. Only two squads allowed more Hits Per 9 Innings (H9) than did the Cardinals Red, who averaged 9.0. They gave up just 0.3 home runs every nine frames which tied them for ninth place. Their Strikeouts Per Nine innings (8.1/41st(tie)) and Walks Per 9 Innings (4.5/11th (tie)) rates are likely a factor of the high H9 rate. You do not either walk or strike out many batters when they are teeing off on you. The Cardinals Red had a Strikeout-to-Walk ratio of 1.79:1, tied for 21st in the league.
18 position players took the field in 2021. Two of them, Bryan Encarnacion and Justin Guerrero, played more for the Cardinals Blue, thus they are not part of this age and experience breakdown.
The average age of Cardinals Red hitters was 17.6, below the 17.9 league average, placing them in a nine-way tie for sixth place. They were a tad younger than the 2019 average of 17.7.
Reviewing the age and experience of the group, one aspect sticks out in almost glaring fashion: the lack of experience. The C-Red had one just player, 18-year-old outfielder Jose Rodriguez, who played in 2019. Contrast that with the six veterans among 15 position players on the 2019 squad.
15 of the Cardinals Red’s 16 position players were rookies. Eight of the 15 or 53% were signed after the 2020 season would have concluded. The youngest was center fielder Carlos Carmona, who turned 17 on July 1st, the day after the age cutoff. The remaining 14 rookies included six 17-year-olds, seven 18-year-olds and one 19-year-old.
The offense compiled a line of .233/.347/.351/.697 in 1,644 at bats. Compared to others in the league, the C-Red tied for 26th in batting average and 22nd in on-base percentage. When they did make contact, however, the ranking went up as their slugging percentage was good for 14th place as was their OPS. They generated an average of 4.86 runs per games, good for 19th.
The Cardinals Red were 28th in the league with a .952 fielding percentage. 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 first baseman Francis Reynoso at .996. The 18-year-old committed just one error in 35 games with 233 putouts and 15 assists. Reynoso took part in 19 double plays and had a Range Factor of 7.09.
Catching duties were shared by four players: Maikel Hernandez (22 games), Carlos Linarez (17 games), Alejandro Loaiza (12 games) and Justin Guerrero (10 games). Guerrero was moved to the Cardinals Blue on August 21st.
Hernandez and Linarez, the primary backstops, came to Opening Day 2021 via very different routes. Hernandez, an 18-year-old out of Venezuela, was one of six prospects signed on July 2, 2019 to 2020 contracts. He debuted over two years after signing.
Contrast his journey with that of fellow countryman Linarez. The 19-year-old was signed in mid-June 2021, just one month before the 2021 season got underway.
Linarez not only had a far shorter wait time to begin his pro career, but he also put up better numbers both behind the dish and at the plate than did Hernandez. The former had a .993 fielding percentage with one error and four passed balls versus 120 putouts and 18 assists. Linarez caught 18 of 33 who tried to steal or 55% and had a Range Factor of 8.12.
On the other hand, Hernandez compiled a .982 fielding percentage with three errors and six passed balls versus 134 putouts and 28 assists. His caught stealing rate was 46%, 23 of 50, with a Range Factor of 7.36.
Where Linarez really separated himself from his backstop competition was at the plate. The righty batter generated a sterling .305/.397/.407/.804 mark, 18-for-59 in 22 contests including five as the designated hitter. Switch-hitter Hernandez struggled offensively, going 14-for-63 or .222/.315/.333/.648.
The DSL Cardinals Red were an average team which lacked the results required for an upper level finish in the standings. There were, however, individual bright spots which will be outlined in future reports.
What is next?
Check out The Cardinal Nation’s annual article series highlighting team results and top hitters and pitchers across the entire St. Louis Cardinals system.
Now available at a 20% discount on the printed version – The Cardinal Nation 2021 Prospect Guide – back for a fourth year. It includes over 250 pages of in-depth commentary about the very best St. Louis Cardinals minor leaguers, including dozens of color photos.
Join The Cardinal Nation for the most comprehensive coverage of the St. Louis Cardinals from the majors through the entire minor league system.
© 2021 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.