photo: Cardinals Dominican Academy (St. Louis Cardinals)
The Dominican Summer League (DSL) is at the rookie level within baseball’s minor league system. The DSL is a gateway into affiliated professional baseball for players 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.
Here is the link to our 2022 DSL Cardinals Team Preview providing an overview of both the league, its current construct and the team as it stood on the cusp of the 2022 season.
St. Louis’ History in the League
After 13 seasons with one team in the DSL, 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 shared the Baseball Oasis facility with one team home while the other was on the road. Except for the 2020 season, wiped out by the worldwide pandemic, this arrangement held through the 2021 season.
During that off-season St. Louis contracted its Dominican Summer League organization back to one team, the only one of 30 major league organizations to so do. As a result, instead of up to 70 players active, the 2022 maximum was 35.
The 2022 Season
The 2022 season was comprised of 60 games running from Monday, June 6th through Tuesday, August 23rd. The season length was identical to the 2021 season but 12 fewer contests than in 2019. Sunday was a league-wide off-day with Wednesday off-days scheduled intermittently.
The DSL Cardinals were one of 19 teams playing 59 of 60 contests, their only cancellation occurring in last game of the season, schedule against the Mariners on August 18th. 17 teams played all 60 games with the 13-team balance playing from 50 to 58 games.
The 35-man roster remained almost entirely intact for the season’s entirety. For the first time in my memory there were no promotions to the Florida Complex League, very likely due to fewer opportunities stateside because of the US minor league contraction. The sole roster change was the unexpected release of middle infielder Maycol Justo, The Cardinal Nation 2021 Cardinals Blue Player of the Year, on July 29, 2022, an action that became public in early September.
The roster consisted of 17 position players and 18 pitchers, 11 of them in their rookie campaign, 22 with one year prior professional experience and two being two-year veterans. The latter two were both relievers.
Marking each player’s age as of midnight of June 30th of the current season, per Baseball Reference, the 11 rookies consisted of one 16-year-old, nine 17-year-olds and one 19-year-olds. Of the 22 players for whom the 2021 campaign was their rookie season, two were 17, nine were 18, 10 were 19 and one was 20. Both players with two years of pro ball experience were 20.
Overall, five countries were represented: the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Mexico, Cuba and Aruba. 60% hailed from the Dominican Republic, 10 from Venezuela, two from Mexico and one each from Cuba and Aruba. The 60% Dominican representation was down from 72% last season.
The story of the 2022 season was absent players. The 2022 iteration of the DSL Cardinals included 47% of its position players missing significant time. Eight players were out a total of 93 contests, six of the eight being Opening Day starters. Those six missed a collective 60 games.
This information was a by-product of tracking players by position played, batting order and whether they got a hit (to see hitting streaks more easily). All players not seeing action for six plus consecutive games, one full week of action, were coded as absent. A return to the field ended said coding. Players not seeing action for less than six consecutive contests were considered to be part of regular player rotation.
While the reason(s) for those absences are unknown since the flexibility inherent in the 35-man roster means players are not officially placed on the Injured or Temporary Inactive Lists, those absences cannot help but impact both the player’s development and the team’s momentum.
Overall, the DSL Cardinals went 33-26, finishing in fourth place in the nine-team South Division. They trailed the Division-winning Rockies by 7 ½ games.
The team performed better on the road. They broke even, 14-14, at home but were 19-12 away. The Dominican Birds went 8-10 in June, 15-8 in July and 10-8 in August. (Note on month-by-month records: There were two games suspended in one month and completed in a different month. This report uses actual real time results and not retroactive adjusted records.)
Their longest winning streak was five games from July 11th through the 15th, a span in which the team had only one of the aforementioned eight long-term absentees missing time. The team never lost more than two games in a row.
18 different hurlers took the mound with starter Alexandre Beltre and reliever Yordy Herrera representing the southpaws. The average age of the staff was 18.3 years old, placing them a bit under the league average age of 18.6. That 18.3 average age put them in a three-way tie for 15th in the 49-team league.
The youngest was starter Leonel Sequera who did not turn 17 until August 5th, making him the youngest player on the roster. He was one of six rookies. The remaining five rookies were all 17 as of June 30, 2022. 10 hurlers had one year of pro experience: two 18-year-olds, seven 19-year-olds and one at 20. Both two-year veterans were 20-year-old relievers.
Nine of the 18 started at least one contest but what proved to be the main rotation emerged by the season’s second week. Five right-handers: Darlin Saladin, Juan Salas, Ronny Oliver, Nelfry Ynfante and Sequera along with the lefty Beltre. At the season’s onset, Beltre and Ynfante were a tandem pair but by the season’s close both received their own starts while Oliver became the ‘floating’ starter.
Overall, the pitching staff was below league average in most pitching categories. Their efforts were compiled in 486 2/3 frames, sixth most. Their results ranked them from 12th to 40th in seven statistical categories. See the chart below.
|Innings Pitched (IP)||486.2||6th|
|Strikeouts per 9 IP||9.76||12th|
|Earned Run Average||4.46||23rd|
|Home Runs per 9 IP||0.50||23rd (t)||13-way tie|
|Strikeouts to Walks||1.72:1||29th|
|Walks per 9 IP||5.68||35th|
|Hits per 9 IP||8.70||36th (t)||2-way tie|
|WHIP||1.59||40th (t)||3-way tie|
However, those numbers were impacted by two main factors: a lackluster bullpen and defense. 23% of the season’s runs allowed were unearned. Five of the six-man rotation compiled a sub-3.50 FIP. None of the 12 relievers managed that.
17 position players took the field in 2022: five rookies and 12 one-year veterans. Their average age of 17.8 was right at league average, placing them in a nine-way tie for 22nd.
The five first-year players were comprised of four 17-year-olds plus 19-year-old Cuban signee Yaisel Ramos. The 12-veteran player balance included two 17-year-olds, seven 18-year-olds and three at 19. The youngest was bonus baby shortstop Jonathan Mejia who turned 17 in April. Mejia was six months older than catcher Luis Rodriguez, another higher-priced 2022 signee. Ramos was the eldest.
As outlined in the chart below, the offense was productive, placing in the upper 25% in most categories, and always in the top half. They did not place lower than 23rd out of 49 teams in any of the seven listed categories. (See Chart below). The Dominican Birds walked an average of once every 7.15 at bats and fanned an average of once every 3.15 at bats.
|Runs per Game||6.05||8th|
|On-Base Percentage||0.367||16th (t)||2-way tie|
Positions and Defense
Below is a chart listing all 17 position players and the number of games at each position played. The eight italicized names are those accounting for the 93 games missed as referenced in the first paragraph of the Team section. Additionally, the names of the six Opening Day starters in the group of eight are listed in bold.
Defensively, the Cardinals were in a three-way tie for 34th in the league with a .948 fielding percentage. In comparison, the league’s top defensive team for the second consecutive season was the North Division champion Red Sox Blue with a .969 fielding percentage and the worst was the Guardian Red’s .935, the latter finishing 26 ½ games in the rear of the Red Sox Blue.
There were no defensive standouts on the squad, right fielder Jose Suarez’s .982 fielding percentage in 31 games was the team high. The 17-year-old had one error and one assist with 55 putouts in 258 innings.
Backstop duties were shared among one-year vets Justin Guerrero and Alejandro Loaiza plus rookie Luis Rodriguez. The latter missed 26 games over two separate time spans. Rodriguez’ absence leaves a great deal to “What Might Have Been” for the talented prospect who received playing priority when available.
Of the two remaining catchers, Guerrero caught 153 2/3 frames to Loaiza’s 140 2/3. Guerrero had the better caught stealing rate, 40%, with 31 stolen bases in 52 attempts versus Loaiza’s 27% caught stealing rate (22 stolen bases in 30 attempts) and range factor, 10.10 to 8.40. Loaiza was charged with two miscues and seven passed balls while Guerrero committed seven errors with four passed balls.
The DSL Cardinals generated above average results, driven by their offense. The rotation was solid, by and large, but both the bullpen and defense were weaknesses. The substantial time missed by eight position players impacted the team but to what extent cannot be determined.
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. The Florida Complex League Team Review is next up.
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