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Cover the Springfield Cardinals and Cardinals minor league pipeline for The Cardinal Nation | Freelance sports writer

Jordan Walker’s Play Speaks for Itself, but his Prep Coach Adds More

photo: Jordan Walker (Perfect Game Baseball)

Do not ask him to boast about the next school that offered him a baseball scholarship or about his feats coming off a night in which he went 4-for-4 including two home runs.

Jordan Walker will not do it.

“We used to have to brag for him when we would go back to school,” said Jaxson Sprull, Walker’s best friend and former teammate at Decatur High School in Georgia. “It’s just not in him to talk about himself at all.”

Bulldogs head baseball coach Robby Gilbert said the St. Louis Cardinals first-round pick is “almost embarrassed” by the accolades at times.

But as scouts would say, that is just a part of his makeup.

“At this day in age to be that high-caliber of a kid athletically where everybody knows who you are — he’s just extremely humble,” Gilbert said. “He loves his teammates. There is nothing beneath him.

“He is just that humble of a kid that he just wants to go play the game of baseball and he wants to be his teammates’ biggest cheerleader when he is not up to bat.”

Jordan Walker

Becoming Georgia’s top prospect

Legend has it that Walker found his power in tee ball, when he hit a home run that broke a window in his grandmother’s car, parked well beyond the outfield fence.

Walker’s father, Derek, told the St. Louis media he has video for proof.

The story grows as Jordan has grown, but there is no question about his power potential.

Sprull said Walker has always had the ability to crush the ball, but it wasn’t until his seventh grade year when his power started becoming evident.

“He wasn’t that huge kid that he is now, but he could just swing it like nobody else I had ever seen,” Sprull said. “He just kept getting bigger and hitting the ball harder.”

During their freshman year, Sprull realized that perhaps his friend could be drafted and play professional baseball one day after Walker jumped from junior varsity to varsity in a week and hit a home run in his first game at the higher level.

The Cardinals saw a lot of Walker last summer on the showcase circuit. Last year as a junior he hit .519 with 17 homers.

Jordan Walker (MLB Prospect Development Pipeline League)

It was Walker’s junior season that Gilbert remembers with home run tales.

Decatur was at Maynard Jackson High School on March 11 — a region game. Gilbert said the night was bizarre in that everything was not going the Bulldogs’ way.

First, the umpire showed up an hour and a half late. Gilbert said the team went through a lot of adversity, but suddenly, Walker was up with a runner on and a chance to do damage.

“And he absolutely hits a missile to right-center,” Gilbert said. “It was a ball that barely lifted off the ground — it felt like. It was still going up as it crossed the fence. For him to pull a baseball and hit a home run, it’s easy. A lot of that stuff we talked about, ‘Hey man, you have to be willing to go the other way when the pitcher is throwing you away.’ You have to adjust to what they are giving you.

“That was a perfect example. He stepped up to the plate and everything was away, away and away. He just said, ‘You know what, I’m going that way.’ I’m telling you — he changed the whole dynamic of that game.”

Coach Robby Gilbert, Decatur High School, Georgia

The second home run that Gilbert remembers was at Grayson High School on February 18 — the season had just started and the temperature was at 40 degrees at first pitch.

“It’s brutally cold and fairly windy,” Gilbert said. “It’s one of those things — if you are a pitcher, it’s a great day. If you are a hitter, you are like, ‘Please don’t let me get jammed.’ You don’t want the bat to be tingling your hands. But again, he comes up and hits one to left-center on that kind of evening, not ideal conditions, but it was the same thing.

“Same trajectory, a line drive that was going up as it crossed the fence. You just sit there and go, ‘Wow, this kid is different.’”

Walker was unable to complete his senior season at Decatur because of the coronavirus pandemic, but in May he was named Georgia’s Gatorade Player of the Year after hitting .457 with four home runs in 16 games.

According to Baseball America, Walker was one of the high school players who managed to get seen by scouts early and often before all play was halted.

Would he have benefited further from a full 2020 spring season?

“I firmly think if he had a whole season to play — I could easily see him being a top 10 pick,” Gilbert said. “He is very disciplined. He is a student of the game. He wants to learn to get better. He is a kid that is not scared to be challenged.

“He doesn’t get fooled easily (at the plate).You may sneak one by him or catch him a little bit off guard one time, but you’re not going to catch him twice. A lot of times pitchers think, ‘Oh man, I got this pitch by him. I’m going to do it again.’ And then he’s hitting one 400 feet.”

Gilbert said that Walker has not fully tapped into his full hitting and power potential, especially as he starts to understand how to utilize his whole body and further matures physically.

“Then he is really going to hurt some baseballs,” Gilbert said.

Walker is 6-foot-5, 220 pounds, earning comparisons to the Chicago Cubs’ Kris Bryant, which Sprull said is an accurate comparison because they are of similar stature and have athleticism to go with height.

“Another good one (comp) to me would be Scott Rolen, because he’s a big power-hitting third baseman with the hands of a middle infielder that can really move for his size,” Sprull added.

Gilbert said he believes Walker can stay at third base down the road despite concern expressed by some scouts.

“My thing is, tell Jordan Walker he can’t do something and he will go prove you wrong,” Gilbert said. “He works extremely hard. He is going to continue to get better with his lateral movements and he is just so smooth and solid.”

Outside the game

Walker has also excelled in the classroom, earning a 3.98 GPA and a scholarship to Duke. His father is a graduate of Massachusetts Institute of Technology and works for a computer software company.

His mother, Katrina, earned her undergraduate degree from Harvard and a master’s degree from Washington University in St. Louis. She is a teacher at the same school Walker attended.

Walker is expected to sign with the Cardinals and chase his dream of becoming a major-league player.

“I think St. Louis is getting a steal,” Gilbert said. “The Cardinals are getting a kid who is as great as he is on the field — he is even better off the field. He is going to be involved in the community, where he is at. He is every coach’s dream.”

Away from the game and the classroom, Gilbert said he has never been around someone that consumes as much food as Walker.

“I give him a hard time,” Gilbert said. “I always keep snacks in my classroom and of course baseball kids come in my room all the time. He loves fruit snacks. If he is going to sign a sponsorship deal, it better be with fruit snacks.”

Asked where Walker would sign a sponsorship deal first, Sprull said 100% with the cereal Cocoa Puffs.

“He has come to my house and eaten a whole box of my mom’s cocoa puffs in one sitting,” Sprull said. “She told him she owed him a lifetime supply now. For his birthday this year, I brought him four boxes and he finished them in about two days.

“I could definitely see a lucrative deal there.”

Related article

Cardinals Select Jordan Walker in 2020 MLB Draft’s First Round

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Where are they now? St. Louis Cardinals Pitcher Mitch Harris

photo: Mitch Harris (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

Editor’s note: This is the next installment of our series in which Derek Shore catches up with former St. Louis Cardinals players, both major and minor leaguers. Many more interviews are coming soon, but to follow all of them, you must be a member The Cardinal Nation. Join today!

Mitch Harris is one of the great stories of St. Louis Cardinals baseball.

From graduating from the Naval Academy in 2008, Harris served in the United States Navy for four years, eight months and eight days, earning the rank of Lieutenant. He was also drafted by the Cardinals in the 13th round of the 2008 draft.

After serving his time in the Navy, Harris became the first graduate from the Naval Academy to graduate and pitch in the big-leagues in over 90 years.

But he endured his share of trials and tribulations before making his major-league debut in 2015.

From not being able to condition his arm while in service to returning to baseball and throwing 80 mph in a big-league spring training game, Harris’ story is a tribute to his hard work and dedication.

In this edition of “Where are they now Cardinals?”, Harris discusses his service in the Navy, his time with St. Louis and where he is now.

Derek Shore: Mitch, I have a variety of subjects I’d like to talk about, but let’s start with your career with the Cardinals. Now that you’ve been out of the game for a few years now, how do you look back on your time in the organization?

Mitch Harris: “For me, it was an absolute honor to wear the Birds on the Bat. For them to give me an opportunity after everything I’ve gone through, they are always going to have a special place in my heart just because they are the organization that allowed me to fulfill that dream.

“They gave me that shot. It was an honor to play for them. Looking back at the overall career, I think everybody would say when they are done, they would have loved to have played longer. The takeaway for me is we’re just proud that we did it the right way and we accomplished it.

“Man, of course, there are some things I would change both on and off the field. But ideally, I’m proud of what we did and accomplished. I’ve got no regrets.”

DS: Do you still get goosebumps thinking about being the first graduate from the Naval Academy to pitch in the big-leagues in over 90 years?

Mitch Harris (USA TODAY Sports Images)

MH: “Yeah, of course. Even from that, people point out the difference of having to serve first and then go play. It’s something I don’t take lightly and something I’m very proud of. I wouldn’t say it gives me chills. It’s something I don’t think about often, when I do and am reminded of it – it’s an honor to think that’s something I get to tell my kids and grandkids.”

DS: Is baseball out of your system? How much do you miss playing?

MH: “Baseball will never be out of my system. I love it. I miss it. I also know that this dad bod cannot maintain the rigors of baseball life. I’m enjoying being a dad. I’m enjoying the new line of work I’m in. I still am around the game because of the line of work that I’m in.

“Now, I can kind of see it from both perspectives. I’m really having a lot of fun.”

DS: Where are you at with the military? Are you completely done?

MH: “Yes. I am completely out.”

DS: Some who were at the Naval Academy in various sports were allowed to bypass their service to go play professional sports. Was that frustrating for you?

MH: “It definitely was. The frustrating part was trying to let the higher-ups know, I wanted it to work out to where I could do both. I don’t think that point ever got across because I was willing to do literally anything to be able to play and serve.

“Obviously, we would have had to get creative to see what that looked like. But then to see them just blatantly let people out – that was the frustrating thing for me because I was basically saying, ‘I’m willing to both serve and play,’

“That would have been difficult enough, but the fact that I wanted to make sure that I could still do both, was important to me. We just couldn’t make that work.”

DS: What was the experience like keeping your arm in shape during your time in service?

MH: “I have to be honest and frank with you – I didn’t. I kept my body in the best shape as I could knowing when I had the opportunity – I could work on my arm. You just can’t keep your arm in shape when you are on a ship and deployed. You can only throw on the flight deck so many times and you can only get long toss to a certain length.

“Basically, I just told myself, ‘If I just stay in great shape that when the opportunity presents itself, I knew I didn’t have to worry about my body breaking down.’ I could really push the arm back to what I knew it could do.”

DS: After serving those five years in the Navy, I remember watching you in a big-league game in spring training. The Cardinals brought you in and you were just coming back. You were throwing about 80 miles per hour. Were there ever any doubts coming back playing baseball and even reaching the highest level?

MH: “Oh, of course. I think with the first year or so coming in max-effort 82 or 83 – realizing I’m 10 mph from what I used to throw – that was very disheartening and disappointing. But it was also a challenge to figure out, ‘What am I made of here? Can I really get back to what I know is there? And can I prove to the people that doubted I can do this?’

“There were definitely times when I thought I wasn’t progressing like I wanted and not living up to the expectations I have for myself. I was definitely nervous a few times, but I didn’t give up. I wanted to make sure I was told to go home, not that I choose to go home.

“On the worst days, I told myself, ‘Tomorrow is another day. I’m going to show up to the park the next day.’ That’s what we did. Fortunately enough, we did that enough to where the arm finally turned the corner. We were able to really progress about the second or third year.”

DS: By the time you earned the call-up to the big-leagues with St. Louis, were you nervous in your big-league debut with your background and all that?

MH: “I get that question a lot. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous. I think the difference was I knew how to control the nerves. It was definitely new scenery for me, but having gone through the things I have gone through up to that point, I understood how to control that nervousness and utilize that for good, not detriment.

“I tried to take that nervous energy and use that to propel my talents and efforts in everything I could to focus on my job at hand.”

DS: How much did life change for you after you made your debut and had success with the Cardinals?

MH: “Personally, really not a whole lot. In terms of notoriety and things of that nature, it definitely changed a little bit. I also didn’t have a long career, so it wasn’t like I was walking down the street and people would stop you. I think it definitely opened doors in terms of what I was going to do next.

“I think down the road it may lead to some speaking, a possible book and movie stuff that has been talked about. Things of that nature have changed. It has brought some opportunities. Other than that, that’s kind of it.”

DS: What is the latest with the movie and book situation?

MH: “The movie piece, we had a guy approach us and asked if we were interested in allowing that to run its course and to see about the possibility of it taking off. I’m kind of stepped away from that to let it go the direction it wants to go. If they need me, I will get involved. Otherwise, I’ve kind of backed off.

“The book is all me in terms of I have control of everything. We should see a book proposal within the next few weeks, meaning we will be taking it to publishers probably within the next month or so. I’m excited about that.

“My thing is I just want to get the story out there. Not just the one you can just pick up on Google, but the one you can see behind closed doors and understand not only my mindset, but the struggles I went through on the field and off the field both physically and mentally. I think that can relate to a lot of people, especially now with what everybody is going through and what we go through on a daily basis or things in life in general.

“If I can inspire others or encourage others, that’s the whole point of it.”

DS: Do you feel like an inspiration when people tell you that?

MH: “I hope so. I think everyone wants to have a legacy. I think for me now that I have two young kids – I think back to what is everyone’s purpose? What is our why? I feel like God blessed me with a really awesome story. Something that is unique. And if I don’t use that for good, it’s just kind of wasted away.

“I try to think, ‘How can I utilize my story to encourage and impact others?’ That’s how the book came about. I thought about different ways to write it. What we are thinking about doing is telling a story, but also giving it a message as you’re reading that, ‘Man, this is just a normal guy that really got to do some interesting things.’

“But like everybody else, he goes through struggles and life challenges. And he has to overcome these things and has to face adversity. I want to talk about that and be very vulnerable and open about that. Hopefully as people read that and get the story, they are motivated, inspired and encouraged to accomplish whatever it is they are wanting to do. But they also understand along the way they are going to face trials and you are going to have to figure out how to handle that adversity.

“Hopefully, that is what the book can do and give people tools and ideas of how to combat that.”

DS: On Instagram, you released a statement in support of George Floyd and the situation with racism right now. What is your perspective on this and what is happening in the world today?

MH: “It’s funny. I’ve had a lot of conversations with people I’ve served with in the military recently and talking to them about perspective on things, one thing that just keeps coming up to me as I’m thinking about it all is compassion. You think about the Golden Rule and things of that nature. It’s frustrating to me when you sit back and think about life in general and how you treat people and how you want to be treated and how you want your family to be treated.

“The fact in 2020 we are still having a conversation about the color of people’s skin doesn’t make sense to me. I don’t understand how that’s still a topic. The fact that it’s a human being, who has a heart and has a soul. We should be compassionate to each other. If we have differences, we can stand up and say, ‘Let’s have a conversation on things we have differences about and let’s be adults and have those conversations.’

“To me, I don’t understand that. It’s the frustrating part that I just wish we can all come together and say, ‘Let’s have a dialogue.’ Until we do that, we are not going to see change. I think that is what is so nice to finally see is these higher-ups in police organizations actually stepping out to the crowd and saying, ‘Look, I’m not here to just be a barrier and stand in front of you. I want to have a dialogue. I want to have a conversation.’

“That’s great to see. We need more of that. That’s what my whole post was about. If we can be compassionate to each other and show respect and understanding other people are going to have a difference in opinion yet we can still coexist with each other and still love each other, that’s what it’s all about.”

DS: Now that you are out of baseball, what keeps you busy?

MH: “Having two kids under three right now definitely keeps us busy. Obviously, working as a financial adviser keeps me busy. I enjoy it. I have several clients that are still in baseball. It keeps me around the game. I’m anxious as anybody else to get this season started.

“Having nothing to do on a summer night was great initially, but man, it is frustrating now not being able to turn on a baseball game.”

DS: Do you still keep in contact with some of your former Cardinals teammates?

MH: “I do. And it’s great to keep in touch with those guys. Again, several of those are clients. It’s nice to stay involved and be of service however I can to some of those guys. It’s awesome to keep those relationships. I think that’s what I miss most about is the clubhouse piece and the brotherhood.

“That is the part you will never really replicate no matter what you do. That is the part I probably miss most.”

Not yet a member?

Join The Cardinal Nation for the most comprehensive coverage of the St. Louis Cardinals from the majors through the entire minor league system.

Annual members may purchase the new 2020 Prospect Guide for less than half price. In addition, our new, limited edition printed and bound Guide is now available.

Follow Derek Shore on Twitter @D_Shore23.

© 2020 The Cardinal Nation, All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Where are they now? Cardinals Minors Pitcher Corey Baker

photo: Corey Baker (Springfield Cardinals FANatic Photos)

Editor’s note: This is the first of a new series in which Derek Shore catches up with former St. Louis Cardinals minor leaguers. To follow all of them, join The Cardinal Nation today!

Corey Baker (USA TODAY Sports Images)

As former St. Louis Cardinals prospect Oscar Mercado came off the shelf at Double-A Springfield on June 11, 2017, the accompanying roster move was the release of longtime organizational swingman Corey Baker.

The move was a bit of a surprise given the right-hander was a 2017 mid-season Texas League All-Star. The then 27-year-old had even been a non-roster invitee to big-league camp that spring before joining Team Israel in the World Baseball Classic.

But rest assured Baker had a successful career with the Cardinals considering he was drafted in the 49th round (a round that no longer exists) in 2011, first reaching Double-A in 2013. Baker finished his seven-season Cardinals career with a 30-30 record, 12 saves in 20 chances and a 3.80 ERA.

After his playing career, Baker went on to work with the Minnesota Twins as an assistant MLB advanced scout/replay coordinator in 2018 thanks to the recommendation of former Cardinal Jeremy Hefner.

Now, he’s pursuing a new passion.

Corey Baker (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

In this edition of “Where are they now?”, Baker takes us through his playing career with the Cardinals, his job with the Twins and what he’s now doing outside the game.

Derek Shore: First of all, you had a long tenure in the Cardinals organization. How do you reflect on your time in the system?

Corey Baker: “When I reflect on my time in the system, I generally do so in a positive light. While I have my memories of being out on the field and performing, I think I spend more time reflecting on the people I met and the relationships that came out of those years. Life in the minor leagues for most players can be really hard for a lot of reasons and I definitely had my struggles along the way, but I do tend to look back and reflect positively about my time with the Cardinals.”

DS: 2017 marked your final season with the Cardinals, but your release came just a few weeks after playing in the Texas League All-Star game. Two-part question: were you surprised by the sudden release? And did you think right away you had already thrown your last pitch professionally?

CB: “I was a little surprised by my release because of how well I was pitching, but I’d be lying if I said it caught me completely off guard. When there’s a roster move to be made, it’s never a secret. Players coming off the DL or someone getting promoted always reaches the locker room before the corresponding move is made so there’s always speculation.

“As someone who had less than a half of a season left with the Cardinals before becoming a free agent, being an older guy who was repeating the league I knew that my spot was always going to be in jeopardy. It was interesting because there were plenty of other times in my career where I would have been significantly less surprised had I gotten released because of performance, but it happened when it happened and that’s something I had no control over.

“I believed I’d get a shot with another organization so I didn’t think I threw my last pitch professionally. Again, I knew I was an older guy and that would hurt. But I did think I had proved myself at a high enough level that someone might take a chance on me. At the end of the day, I didn’t want to kick around in the minors forever. I always wanted to know if I could pitch in the big leagues. All 30 teams had a chance to sign me and they didn’t, so that was a clear sign it was time to move on and it was definitely for the best.”

DS: On a slightly off-topic note — paying minor leaguers has always been a hot topic, but now so more than ever. As someone who was in the minors for years, what’s your response about what’s going on in the game right now?

CB: “I’m glad that minor leaguers getting paid so poorly is continuing to be addressed. I think it’s terrible that all 30 teams have basically decided to pay a group of people horribly and scare them into doing anything about it because they are “chasing a dream” and don’t have any union representation. But honestly I don’t think it’ll change in the near future because they’ll always find enough bodies to fill rosters with.

“It’s super unfortunate that that is the reality of it. I chose to play all those years making little money – and while it doesn’t make it right, others are going to continue to do so. I can’t say enough good things about the big leaguers who have signed their deals and have given back financially to help minor leaguers. It would be great to see more of that.”

DS: Hundreds of players across MiLB have been released in the last couple of days due to something not performance-based. For someone who has been through something similar, what advice do you have for a minor leaguer affected by this?

CB: “I would say that if you still believe in yourself, continue to be a good self-evaluator of what you need to do to get better so if an opportunity comes you are ready. I would also say embrace the unknown a bit. Life after baseball goes on and there’s a lot of great opportunities for former professional athletes, so take it a day at a time and focus on constant self-improvement.”

DS: After your playing career, you joined Jeremy Hefner and the Twins as an assistant MLB advanced scout/replay coordinator. What was that job like for you?

CB: “First of all working with Jeremy was a great experience in itself. He’s extremely smart and his dedication to improving himself and everyone around him is unmatched. He’s going to continue to do great things in baseball. That job was a great learning experience for me in so many ways. It was my first job off the field and I got to experience a Major League locker room.

“I wished I had made it as a player, but getting to see what that was like even on a different side was really cool. Ultimately, that year gave me the finality in the game that I needed and I learned that baseball is not where I am meant to be.”

DS: Where and what are you doing now that you are out of baseball?

CB: “I currently live in Seattle. I moved out here with my partner, Jenna, last August and we bought a house shortly after. I work for a renewable energy company focused on solar distribution.”

DS: Do you ever think you will get back in the game again, albeit as a coach or scout?

CB: “I don’t see myself getting back into baseball. I can honestly say I don’t miss much about the game. I love having weekends and time with my family and friends. I am living a happier and more well-rounded life outside of the game. I love baseball and loved most of my time in it, but I feel very strongly that there are other things in my life I want to experience and I’m so happy I get to do that now.”

Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation

St. Louis Cardinals Minor League History Series – Best Level – 1963-2019

Not yet a member?

Join The Cardinal Nation for the most comprehensive coverage of the St. Louis Cardinals from the majors through the entire minor league system. Annual members may purchase the new 2020 Prospect Guide for less than half price. In addition, our new, limited edition printed and bound Guide is now available.

Follow Derek Shore on Twitter @D_Shore23.

© 2020 The Cardinal Nation, All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

The Two-Sport Star Named Jordan – Brian Jordan

Excuse Brian Jordan if he feels he has been shorted in the fame department. The former St. Louis Cardinals outfielder was the rare professional athlete who excelled in two sports and is still convinced that nobody has heard of him.

“I’m kind of like the Rodney Dangerfield of two-sport athletes,” Jordan said in a phone interview on Tuesday morning.

Michael Jordan’s baseball stint in the recent spotlight serves as a good reminder that Brian (no relation) arguably doesn’t get enough respect in the two-sport discussion.

It should be noted that Brian played strong safety for the Atlanta Falcons from 1989 through 1991, starting in 30 National Football League games and had five interceptions. He was voted as an alternate to the Pro Ball team during the 1991 season.

And that’s just his brief professional football career.

Brian Jordan

After deciding to focus on baseball full-time in 1992, Jordan made his major-league debut later that year with the Cardinals and broke through in 1993, slashing .309/.351/.543 in 242 at-bats. He went on to 31.7 career Wins Above Replacement.

That’s more than Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders combined in baseball.

It begs the question: why is Brian Jordan always in the shadow of Bo, Deion and even MJ in the two-sport conversation?

“It starts with I went to a smaller college at the University of Richmond,” Jordan said. “I really had to earn my way up. Nobody really knew who Brian Jordan was because I went to a smaller college and then the fact I got injured in the Senior Bowl when I was really making a statement of who Brian Jordan was.”

Out of college, Jordan was a projected third round pick. He then moved up NFL mock draft boards even further before the Senior Bowl, projecting him to go as early as the first round and to be the second safety taken in the 1989 Draft.

Future Hall of Famer Steve Atwater wound up being the first safety off the board, going to the Denver Broncos at No. 20 overall.

“I had a lot going for me until that injury in the Senior Bowl,” Jordan said. “I don’t think anybody expected me to return from a broken leg and dislocated ankle to one, play back in the NFL, according to a lot of the combine doctors that looked at my injury. And two, return to being a really good athlete.”

Torn between two sports

Like MJ, Brian was torn between two sports. But like Deion, he chose to play both for some time.

Former Cardinals scouting director Fred McAlister, who passed away in 2008, told Sports Illustrated in a feature story in 1996 he first spotted Jordan in April 1988 playing for the University of Richmond. It was an exhibition game against the Triple-A Richmond Braves.

Jordan cracked a home run, a double, a single and stole a base.

“He did everything a scout dreams of,” McAlister told SI. “I thought to myself, ‘If I could sign this guy, I’d jump off the Gateway Arch.’”

Two months later, the Cardinals selected Jordan in the first round of the 1988 draft, but he returned to college for his senior year and gained All-Yankee Conference recognition in football.

In April 1989, Jordan was chosen in the seventh round of the NFL draft by the Buffalo Bills. Buffalo was deep at defensive back and tried to slip him through waivers after the final roster cut, with the hope of resigning him.

But the Falcons grabbed him off the waiver wire, and he wound up in the same defensive backfield as Sanders.

“I proved a lot of people wrong by coming back and playing in the NFL,” Jordan said. “I didn’t think I was going to get drafted after visiting with the doctors at the combine.”

Jordan finished third in the NFL in tackles in 1990 and the following season was a Pro Bowl alternate, all while playing baseball each summer in the Cardinals minor league system.

He said playing both sports at the same time wasn’t a challenge, but it was more of prioritizing his time that was the biggest issue.

“I had to figure out, ‘Ok, I’m going to play 35 minor league games and then I’m going to prep and get ready for football,’” Jordan said. “There are different muscles involved. I was not one of those guys like Deion, who was a cornerback and all I had to do was cover a guy and not hit hard.

“I didn’t really hit hard. I didn’t do a lot of tackling, but I knew at strong safety, I was like a linebacker in Jerry Glanville’s system. I had to really prepare myself and get strong, bulk up and prepare myself for the hits.”

After the 1991 season, Jordan’s contract with the Falcons expired and he said he wasn’t yet ready to specialize in baseball.

“I was starting to take off,” Jordan said. “People were starting to know who Brian Jordan was in the NFL. I learned a lot from Deion. One thing about Deion is he studied the game. He knew it was going to happen before it happened. That went great with his athletic ability. I was going to get to that point of learning the game.”

But Jordan said Atlanta “kind of dragged their feet on resigning me and the Cardinals came calling.” He signed a new contract with St. Louis to play baseball exclusively.

Brian Jordan (Getty Images)

“I decided, ‘Well, I played three years in the minor leagues when I was playing in the NFL. Let me give Major League Baseball a shot and see what a full-season feels like,’” Jordan said. “It’s funny because I used to call baseball players wimps compared to the NFL. I was like, ‘You guys got it easy.’

“When I played my first 162-game season with the Cardinals, I had a new respect for baseball.”

Adjusting to baseball full-time

Episode 7 of The Last Dance, the docu-series on Michael Jordan and the 1998 Chicago Bulls, shows MJ quitting basketball for minor league baseball after his father’s 1993 murder.

Michael played one season of minor league ball with the Chicago White Sox Double-A affiliate Birmingham Barons, where he hit .202 in 127 games after having not swung a bat competitively since he was in high school.

“I’m often asked, ‘Do you think Michael Jordan could have made it to the major leagues?’” Brian said. “I tell them, ‘Hey, if he didn’t start at 31 and maybe at 25 or 24, there’s no doubt in my mind he would’ve made it to major-leagues just by his competitive nature.’”

MJ’s hitting coach Mike Barnett said in the seventh installment of The Last Dance the thing he remembers about that season was Michael started the season with a 13-game hitting streak, but he knew a steady diet of breaking balls were on the way.

“Every night during that hitting streak, I’m kind of going, ‘When’s it going to happen? And finally it did,’” Barnett said. “He probably did not see a fastball in the strike zone for a month and a half. Now, they are trying to get him out with breaking balls. And it’s breaking ball after breaking ball after breaking ball.

“He’s swinging at every single one of them up there.”

After having struggled mightily with the breaking ball, Michael had to learn to make the adjustments at the plate, and prove he could hit the breaking ball.

“I have to play catch up, but I’m going to do it,” Michael said on the documentary.

Barnett said Michael would hit off the breaking ball machine early in the day before a night game, hit more after regular batting practice and then finish the day by working on the machine again.

“By August, you could see it building,” Barnett said. “He kept getting better and better and better.”

Brian Jordan said he laughed when he saw that part of the documentary because that describes his first three weeks in the big-leagues.

“I came in thinking the game was real easy,” Brian said. “They were throwing me fastballs and I was hitting them out of the park and running around the bases thinking, ‘Wow, I’m going to be the next Hank Aaron if it’s this easy.’”

Then all of a sudden, Jordan remembers playing a game on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Right-hander Doug Drabek was on the mound and threw him nothing but curveballs.

“I struck out four times against Drabek,” Jordan said. “That last time going up to the plate I felt hopeless. I remembered that feeling.”

Jordan said he worked diligently to learn how to hit the curveball. He remembers going down to Florida for a month to work with Cardinals coach Dave Ricketts, who threw him curveballs every morning.

“Next thing you know, I’m back really quick and that was my favorite pitch to hit,” Jordan said. “Just as I made adjustments – I feel like Michael Jordan could have been that type of player.”

Looking back on his dual-sport career

In the middle of his baseball career, Jordan told SI that when his baseball career is over — he will have proven himself in both sports — but his personality will always make him the invisible two-sport athlete.

When asked to expand upon that now, Jordan said he always had that humble, quiet personality.

“I just went about my business,” Jordan said. “I played hard. I did some good things. I wasn’t really heavily marketing myself to the public. I was never that Nike guy or Adidas. For me, it was about being a family guy, working hard and being quiet about it.

“That’s just me. That’s always been me. I get excited when I’m on the field. I want to pump my teammates up and I’m that clubhouse leader. Nobody ever saw that in the clubhouse. If you talk to coaches and managers, they saw that I wanted to win. And I wanted those guys to speak up, but it was in a quiet way.”

Sanders told SI that he believes his buddy will never receive the same recognition as his two-sport predecessors.

Brian Jordan (via Twitter @TwoSportman)

“Bo was the first one, so he had the marketability,” Sanders told the publication in 1996. “And I was the second, but I had my own style that made me different. I think Brian’s just Brian. He’s just a good dude.”

Jordan now spends his days on air as an Atlanta Braves pre- and post-game analyst for Fox Sports South. He also just completed writing his fourth children’s book.

And he said he misses playing football the most because that’s always been his favorite sport, but he has no regrets as he looks back on his two-sport career.

“I look back and I say, ‘Sometimes, I wish I would’ve played that next year,” Jordan said. “I didn’t know four years at the time would get you a full pension for the NFL. I stopped at three years. I was just reaching that peak in football. I knew if I played that fourth year, I would’ve made the Pro Bowl and you would’ve seen my name in lights.

“That’s the only thing. I have no regrets. I was happy to be able to play 15 years of major-league baseball. My body feels great right now. I’m still playing basketball and running around with the kids. I made the right decision.”

Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation

St. Louis Cardinals Draft Recap 2009-2019 – Second Round

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© 2020 The Cardinal Nation, All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Fans Feel Sting of Pending Loss of the Cardinals State College and Johnson City Affiliates

photo: Williams Rojas

For many, Minor League Baseball has cemented their fandom for life, and it has remained a gift that has kept giving for decades.

Parents, children, grandparents, siblings, colleagues, friends and significant others share special memories from attending a minor league game.

But the expectation around baseball is there will not be a 2020 minor league season for 160 teams in their home cities across the US due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It doubly stings for those fans in 42 towns in line to lose their affiliated teams next year, as it appears they will not even get a chance to say goodbye.

The St. Louis Cardinals are expected to shed two affiliates in the reduction – the Class-A short-season State College Spikes and rookie-level Johnson City Cardinals.

Fangraphs estimates the contraction of 42 minor league teams will leave 14 million Americans with no source of affiliated professional baseball within 50 miles of their homes.

“When I think about the potential fans who will lose access to such games, it saddens me greatly,” Fangraphs’ Jay Jaffe wrote recently. “It’s a shortsighted strategy for a sport that desperately needs to find inroads to younger demographics, no matter how laudable some of the goals of the proposed contraction are.

“A sport with nearly $11 billion in annual revenue can certainly afford to pay minor leaguers a living wage without salting the earth in the communities that are growing the next generation of fans.”

The communities of many of the 42 cities are not going down without a fight, starting petitions in response to Major League Baseball’s proposal to cut about 25% of minor league teams.

For a snapshot of how this plan is affecting fans, The Cardinal Nation reached out to four residents of the State College, Pennsylvania and Johnson City, Tennessee areas.

Hearing from local fans

Meet Williams Rojas.

He is originally from Brooklyn, New York and moved his family to State College in 1995 to help his ailing father. Rojas works at the Courtyard by Marriott and his love for the Spikes began in 2013 when the hotel started receiving complimentary tickets to distribute.

“We started going to games and taking a lot of tickets because a lot of people didn’t want to go,” Rojas said. “I was like, ‘I gotta get me some tickets. I love these guys.’ I became friends with some of the players. I met them after the game in the back to talk. That’s how we became fans.”

Rojas said his favorite memories as a Spikes fan were when State College hosted the New York-Penn League All-Star Game in 2018 and in 2013, when former Cardinals farmhand David Washington hit two grand slams.

(Williams Rojas)

“Those are some of my favorite memories since I bought season-tickets — I sit right behind the Spikes dugout in seat 1-2 row three,” Rojas said. “That’s how big of fans we are. After making friends with them, they say, ‘Man, you have a big mouth. We can hear you down in the dugout.’

“I support them and they appreciate that. Being a big fan. I got a tattoo a couple of years ago of the logo and baseball around with it with the championship years underneath. Every year, I want to get another one. I want to keep adding and adding.”

There’s avid Johnson City Cardinals fan Neill Murphy, who has been a Cardinals fan since 1967. He has been attending Johnson City games since the late-1990s. Although he lives closer to Knoxville, Tennessee, Murphy loves to make the hour drive to Johnson City to check out the Cardinals next wave of prospects.

Murphy said seeing first-rounders like Delvin Perez and Nolan Gorman kept him at the ballpark during the summer over the last few years.

“Delvin’s got a good arm,” Murphy said. “I don’t know if he can hit. He can play shortstop, for sure. He can run. And then Nolan Gorman. I got to see him play. That’s the fun part. I like to project what they are going to look like in a few years and how they look against opponents at this age-level.”

A favorite memory for Murphy was when he caught a triple from Perez on video in 2017, extra special because he hadn’t seen him run yet. Murphy shared the feat on social media.

“I came up there specifically to see him,” Murphy said. “Everybody said this kid has got great physical ability with the possible exception of strength. He lined a shot to the right field wall and I just happened to be videoing the pitch. He got from home to third base in 11 seconds.

“That’s pretty good.”

State College Spikes season-ticket holder Victoria Raish and her family have been Spikes fans since 2012.

The Spikes Kids Club program is what attracted them to become regulars at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.

Raish said her favorite time to go to the ballpark is on a Sunday when kids can run the bases or for the fireworks show following a Friday evening contest.

“Our kids love staying for those types of things,” Raish said. “They love sitting behind the dugout and picking out whatever food they are going to get.”

Chris Arnold and his family instantly became Johnson City Cardinals fans after attending a home game at TVA Credit Union Ballpark in 2015. Arnold’s daughter had just started playing fastpitch softball and he used baseball to help “stoke her fire”.

“She’s motivated and learns from seeing the intensity and skill of these players,” Arnold said.

“I’d looked into attending a game and always guessed it to be overpriced. I was surprised at the ticket cost compared to the spectator experience.”

Responding to MiLB contraction

On Jan. 16, the Spikes announced their “Save Our Spikes” campaign to fight back against MLB’s plan and encourage community members to visit On the Spikes official site, people can find information on how to help, including writing to elected officials to advocate for the team to MLB.

Raish started a petition on in November, which has over 1,000 signatures in support of the Spikes. She said she started the petition for multiple reasons.

“We go to a lot of games during the summer,” Raish said. “We don’t want that to go away for our kids. For the community, it’s good for the economy, it’s good for tourism, and people coming up for maybe like an hour where they don’t have many things going on in their local community.”

When Raish investigated why the teams were getting cut, she learned that MLB’s key reasons appear to be sub-par facilities and poor attendance.

“Neither of those things apply,” Raish said. “We have good attendance and a really nice field. I felt that way and I knew my friends felt that way. I wanted to try and get more support.

“And then I wanted to share that information with Scott Walker (general manager of the Spikes). I wanted them to see like, ‘Yes, they have community support and all of these people cared enough to sign the petition.’”

Johnson City is more likely to be cut than State College because  Appalachian League teams are owned by their MLB parents. As such, they can all be easily contracted.

However, community members of cities in the Appalachian League have also started a petition on called “Save The Appalachian League”. The petition has over 2,500 signatures currently.

Murphy said if Johnson City loses the Cardinals in the contraction — the city would lose its link to baseball – a partnership that began with St. Louis in 1938.

“It’s really sad because to me that is a piece of Americana,” Murphy said. “The minor league ballpark and the experience. All of the food and beverages are reasonably priced. The baseball is good. It’s just a nice little slice of America.”

The closest major-league city to Johnson City is four hours driving distance. If people want to see a game in-person in the corner of east Tennessee, the two closest franchises are the Cincinnati Reds and Atlanta Braves.

The next closest minor league team is the Tennessee Smokies (CHC), which is an hour drive each way.

“If they don’t have (the Cardinals), they don’t have any baseball,” Murphy said. “It’s a shame because you see a lot of kids at these games. You don’t want to lose the exposure to the next generation. That is the other thing. It’s a family atmosphere. You get families that come to the games. They can afford it and revel in all of the excitement.

“It’s a generational thing. Fathers passing that on to their sons. It’s a way to bond. It’s a timeless experience and they are going to be missing out on all that.”

Arnold said it is “surreal even thinking about” losing the Cardinals in Johnson City. For him. the thought is “sickening” that a single MLB player’s salary could save and improve the minor league teams that are to be cut.

“These large city MLB teams rake in the cash, but the hometown minors are the heart and soul of the game,” Arnold said. “The love of the game is the feeder for MLB. The minors make the game more personal for the rest of the population and provide everything that watching MLB on TV can’t.”

If State College loses the Spikes, Rojas said it would be a big loss for the town not only economically, but for entertainment as well.

“That is one thing we don’t appreciate because it’s entertainment for the town,” Rojas said. “It brings a lot of people.”

The future of local fandom

While State College will still have Penn State baseball if the Spikes are disbanded, Raish believes that it will not be the same.

“People are pretty apathetic to Penn State baseball because they are not very good,” Raish said. “It’s just not a sport of Penn State that is popular. Football is the most popular at Penn State.”

And losing the Spikes would cause a lowering of interest in baseball in the community, according to Raish.

“The Spikes do a lot of work with little-league players and softball players,” Raish said. “They have the Pennsylvania State Championships, which are at the Spikes ball field for high school. I think it would negatively impact people’s interest in baseball around here (if the Spikes lost their minor league affiliation).”

Among regulars who attend Johnson City games, Murphy said the Cardinals will be missed if they are indeed cut from minor league baseball.

Murphy believes the interest in baseball would drop dramatically if Johnson City added an independent team or summer college wood bat league because it is not going to be as competitive as affiliated baseball.

Arnold said Johnson City will not be the same without the Birds on the Bat in town. He said his family’s attention will be on local college, high school and travel teams, which play for the “true love of the game instead of big money deals.”

“It’s a huge let down from MLB,” Arnold said. “I watched the 2019 World Series with my kids and after Game 1, I watched it alone. It’s just not the same. If televised World Series can’t hold the attention of a young ball player and a minor league stadium experience does, the decision makers aren’t in it for the love of the game.”

Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation

Two St. Louis Cardinals Who May Benefit Most from MLB’s Delay

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Join The Cardinal Nation for the most comprehensive coverage of the St. Louis Cardinals from the majors through the entire minor league system. Annual members may purchase the new 2020 Prospect Guide for less than half price. In addition, our new, limited edition printed and bound Guide is now available.

Follow Derek Shore on Twitter @D_Shore23.

© 2020 The Cardinal Nation, All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Watch the Springfield Cardinals’ Top Seven Games of 2019

photo: Dylan Carlson and Joe Kruzel (Springfield Cardinals FANatic Photos)

2019 was the year of Dylan Carlson in Springfield, Missouri.

The then 20-year old sensation is a must-watch talent. From his eye-opening home runs onto the roof of Bill Rowe Training Facility to big hit after big hit – he will be remembered as one of the greatest Springfield Cardinals ever.

Now, you can relive all those Carlson moments and more.

On Monday, March 27, Minor League Baseball announced it is offering a free preview of MiLB.TV, its subscription-based streaming service, to all fans during the delay of the 2020 season.

The MiLB.TV archives include over 18,000 hours of content, including every Triple-A and Double-A game from 2019 and more than 1,500 games from other classifications. The 6,500 games streamed on MiLB.TV can be accessed online at MiLB.TV or on Apple and Android devices with the MiLB First Pitch app.

“We all miss baseball, and by providing a free preview of MiLB.TV, we hope to help fans engage and stay connected with the game they love,” said Minor League Baseball’s Senior Vice President of Digital Strategy and Business Development Katie Davison in a statement.

“We know fans are coping with a lot of change in their lives these days and hopefully this will enable them to re-live the countless memories and highlights from last season in the comfort of their homes.”

But which games from the 2019 season were the best of the best for the Springfield Cardinals? Here are seven games we consider a must-watch for Cardinals fans eagerly anticipating the return of baseball, with the links to take you straight to the action.

  1. Cardinals erase 4-run deficit in extras

There’s nothing like a comeback win – and this game certainly showcased that.

Yariel Gonzalez (Memphis Redbirds)

Springfield was playing catch up all night on July 13 against the Arkansas Travelers (SEA). Trailing 7-3 after the Travelers put four on the board in the top of the 11th, infielder Zach Kirtley quickly cut the deficit in half with a two-run home run to lead off the inning. After shortstop Rayder Ascanio grounded out, infielder Michael Perri reached on a single to right and advanced to third on a wild pitch and a passed ball. Shortstop Alberto Triunfel then popped out for the second out, but Carlson was hit by a pitch to keep the inning alive.

Next, outfielder Lars Nootbaar ripped a two-out single that scored Triunfel and brought the Cardinals within a run. The very next pitch ended up as the walk-off from infielder Yariel Gonzalez, which was a three-run homer to cap a 9-7 comeback walk-off win for the S-Cards.

Watch Game

  1. Shew outduels Kershaw, but Drillers walk off late

It’s not every day a minor league team gets an opportunity to face a three-time Cy Young Award winner and future Hall of Famer. Springfield received that rare opportunity on April 9 and made the most of it, facing rehabbing Dodgers star Clayton Kershaw in Tulsa.

Kramer Robertson (Memphis Redbirds)

In this game, right-hander Anthony Shew went toe-to-toe with Kershaw on the mound. At the plate, shortstop Kramer Robertson and Carlson both took him deep.

“I knew I got it well,” Robertson said later in the season. “I heard the fans kind of gasp because like, ‘Wow. That just happened.’ For me, I was just trying to take it as this is just another guy. My numbers are going to count today as they would against anybody else.

“When you look back on it, you’re like, ‘Wow, that is Clayton Kershaw. Cy Young Winner. Future Hall of Famer.’ It was a cool moment when I’m looking back on it. It’s something I can cherish forever.”

Watch Game

Irving Lopez (Springfield Cardinals FANatic Photos)
  1. Springfield completes sweep of Naturals thanks to third walk-off in four days

The 2019 Cardinals were known for their late-game heroics. On April 14, Springfield completed a sweep of NW Arkansas (KC) via the team’s third walk-off win in four days.

Second baseman Irving Lopez started the series with a walk-off home run and he ended it with one to conclude the set. Lopez’s two-run shot on April 14 came with one out in the bottom of the 10th with outfielder Scott Hurst at second.

Watch Game

Dylan Carlson (Springfield Cardinals)
  1. Carlson nearly cycles as Cards blow past Naturals

May 17 was perhaps Carlson’s best offensive game in 2019. With a solo home run, a three-run triple and a double, the precocious prospect helped power Springfield past NW Arkansas for a 10-4 win.

Carlson’s home run traveled 400 feet to right field. The center fielder missed the cycle by just a single, but finished with four runs batted in and one stolen base.

Performances like this one enabled the 20-year old to become the Texas League Player of the Year.

Watch Game

  1. Oviedo has career-best performance, K’s 11
Johan Oviedo (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

In another must-watch game from the 2019 season, Springfield received an outstanding performance from the dynamic right-arm of Johan Oviedo.

Oviedo tossed a career-high 11 strikeouts in the win. That was also the most by a Cardinals pitcher in 2019, and the most since right-hander Alex Reyes struck out 13 in a rehab start against the Northwest Arkansas Naturals on May 19, 2018 at Hammons Field.

Oviedo allowed just one run on six hits over seven complete innings. He issued no walks.

“I could see him in a big-league rotation as soon as next year if he keeps that up,” one scout said after his outing.

Watch Game

  1. Carlson delivers Cardinals 9th walk-off

The ninth and final walk-off of the season for the Cardinals occurred on July 28 and was Carlson’s only walk-off hit in 2019. Springfield entered the bottom of the ninth tied 5-5 after Connor Jones kept Corpus Christi (HOU) off the board in the top half of the inning. With Rayder Ascanio at second and Irving Lopez at first with two outs, Carlson hit a hard grounder that bounced off the glove of diving Seth Beer at first base and rolled into right field, allowing Ascanio to score standing up.

Watch Game

  1. Cards alone in 1st place after 12-1 romping over Sod Poodles
Tommy Parsons (Jasen Vinlove/Imagn)

On July 24, Springfield found themselves alone atop the Texas League North Division for the first time all season after a 12-1 win over Amarillo (SD).

While the bats got the attention, Tommy Parsons tossed a gem on the mound, allowing one run on six hits and a walk over eight innings and striking out eight. Five Cardinals finished with at least two hits, led by a 3-for-3 line by outfielder Conner Capel and a 3-for-4 night by Carlson. Yariel Gonzalez, catcher Brian O’Keefe and outfielder Justin Toerner had two hits apiece.

Springfield sat alone in first place for the first time since June 5, 2018.

Watch Game

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St. Louis Cardinals Release 10 Minor Leaguers

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© 2020 The Cardinal Nation, All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Two Cardinals in World Baseball Classic Qualifier

photo: World Baseball Classic 2021 Pool 1 Qualifiers (MLB Network)

The St. Louis Cardinals will have representation for Pool 1 of the 2021 World Baseball Classic Qualifier with rosters having been announced on Thursday.

Minor league infielders Liam Sabino and Brendan Donovan have been named to the 28-man rosters of Brazil and Germany, respectively.

Pool 1 of the WBC Qualifier will be played March 13-18 in Tucson, AZ.

The connection to Brazil for Sabino, 23, is through his mother, Fabiana Benitez, a native of the South American country. Sabino was selected by the Cardinals in the 35th round of the 2018 draft and made his professional debut with the Gulf Coast League Cardinals that summer.

Liam Sabino

Sabino finished with a .259/.346/.437 slash line in 42 games between GCL and short-season Johnson City.

The former Pitt standout returned to the Appalachian League in 2019, where he posted a .282 average and OPS’d .857 through 51 games. Sabino collected 19 extra-base hits (11 doubles, two triples and six homers) while driving in 33 runs for Johnson City.

Sabino concluded his first full season with the Cardinals organization with a cup of coffee at Low-A (short-season) State College. He is on track to open 2020 at Low-A Peoria.

Donovan, 23, was originally born in Wurzburg, Germany. The Cardinals selected him in the seventh-round of the 2018 draft but his professional debut was cut short due to a wrist injury.

Brendan Donovan

The former South Alabama star opened his first full season at Peoria in 2019 and made up for lost time. Donovan slashed .266/.377/.405 through 113 games. He also showed considerable power, smacking 26 doubles, three triples and eight homers while producing 53 RBIs. Donovan was given a final weekend cameo with Triple-A Memphis

Donovan is a player to keep an eye on if he is able to sustain his production as he moves up to higher levels. He should open 2020 at either High-A Palm Beach or Double-A Springfield.

The fifth installment of the World Baseball Classic, which will be played March 9-23, 2021, will be hosted at venues in Taiwan, Japan, Phoenix and Miami. Marlins Park will host the championship round.

Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation

Six Cardinals Top Prospect Acceleration Candidates – 2020

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Annual members may purchase the new 2020 Prospect Guide for less than half price. In addition, our new, limited edition printed and bound Guide is now available.

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© 2020 The Cardinal Nation, All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Springfield Cardinals Sue over Stadium Renovations, Parking Increase

photo: Hammons Field (Springfield Cardinals)

The Springfield Cardinals celebrated their inaugural season at Hammons Field in 2005 – at which time, the new stadium was considered to be one of the crown jewels of minor league baseball.

Over the last 15 years, though, the St. Louis Cardinals Double-A affiliate believes the facility has fallen behind in comparison to other Texas League ballparks.

The highest average home attendance was achieved in the franchise’s first year at 7,523. The all-time low occurred in 2016 at 4,731 followed by 4,801 in 2017, 4,781 in 2018 and 4,757 in 2019.

And the Springfield Cardinals allege their landlords have not made necessary updates to keep Hammons Field a “first-class” baseball facility. On Feb. 20, they took their grievances to court.

The Springfield Cardinals LLC filed a lawsuit in Greene County claiming the John Q Hammons Trust breached its contract with the club to keep its stadium among the nicest in the Texas League and instituted parking prices that the Cardinals believe are “gauging fans”.

Following Hammons’ death in 2013 and subsequent bankruptcy proceedings, JQH Trust Fund and the investment firm, JD Holdings, took over as landlords for the stadium and parking lots.

The lawsuit alledges the JQH Trust hasn’t held up its end of the bargain. The club believes it has a right to terminate its lease on Hammons Field, but the Cardinals “do not currently seek to exercise that remedy.”

The suit also indicates that the Springfield Cardinals provided the JQH Trust with lists of requests to improve Hammons Field the last two seasons, but none of those renovations have been implemented.

The requests include dugout renovations, lighting and audio improvements, lightning suppression protection, Wi-Fi for the stadium, a walkway that would allow 360-degree stadium access, an interactive water feature, a destination bar in the outfield area and an additional clubhouse.

According to the lawsuit, the cost of the list of improvements for which the Cardinals have been requesting from their landlords total $8.3 million.

The filing also highlights a widespread fan concern from last season surrounding JQH Trust’s decision to increase parking prices in the lot adjacent to Hammons Field from $7 per space up to $20 per space for weekend games. The Cardinals believe the price increase is unreasonable and does not comply with the terms of the lease.

As part of the legal action requested, the team wants to lock in the parking price at $7.

The lawsuit states as part of the bankruptcy agreement, the plan was for the JQH Trust to transfer Hammons Field to a charitable trust, which was then supposed to put Hammons Field up for sale to the highest bidder.

Fast forward two years later, and the ballpark has not been sold. The Cardinals claim that it is the responsibility of JD Holdings and JQH Trust to keep up with the terms of the lease until a sale is made.

The Springfield Cardinals believe the lack of funds might explain why parking prices were increased and the requested ballpark renovations have not occurred, according to the filing. The ballpark’s current leasing agreement ends in 2025.

The Double-A Cardinals’ 2020 home-opener is scheduled for April 13.

Regarding the possibility of the team leaving, the parent club says it is unlikely. The organization hopes to quickly resolve these issues with JQH Trust.

But if no improvements are made to the ballpark, they may have to consider relocation.

“That’s a tough one,” Mike Whittle, senior vice president and general counsel for the St. Louis Cardinals told the media. “We probably would have to look at our options but we have no current intention of relocating the team from Springfield. We love our fans in Springfield and we’re committed to bringing a first-class experience.

“Unfortunately, the landlord for Hammons Field has, since the end of the 2018 season, consistently fallen short in its own obligations. We hope for a swift resolution to these ongoing issues with the landlord.”

Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation

Rangel Ravelo’s St. Louis Cardinals Future is Now

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© 2020 The Cardinal Nation, All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Cardinals Extend Line of Female Coaches

photo: coaches Rachel Balkovec and Darwin Marrero (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

Diversity has grown throughout sports and the St. Louis Cardinals are no exception, having employed hundreds of minor league coaches of varying ages and ethnic backgrounds.

But the common theme is they were almost all male coaches.

The Cardinals continued to make inroads by increasing the diversity within its organization. St. Louis has hired Christina “Tina” Whitlock as a “fourth” coach for one of its minor league affiliates, as first reported by Mark Saxon of The Athletic this past Monday.

Christina Whitlock (St. Louis Cardinals)

Whitlock will become the second female coach to work in the Cardinals’ system. The hiring is part of the team’s ongoing fourth coach program, with the goal to develop future coaches and scouts by exposing participants to both jobs daily over the course of a season.

She will be with one of the full-season affiliates to open 2020, but her assignment hasn’t been disclosed as all four fourth coach positions have not been locked down yet.

Whitlock was a two-time All-American softball player as a catcher at South Carolina and has scouted under Cardinals scout Charlie Peterson. The holder of a Master’s degree also has extensive experience coaching Division I and Division II level softball since 1999.

Most recently, Whitlock has served as the national baseball and softball director for Stars and Stripes Sports, which is a youth athletic development organization. Prior to that, she was the pitching coach for the Great Britain Women’s National Softball Team.

Saxon labeled Whitlock as the Cardinals first female coach, however, while she is the first fourth coach, she is not the first overall.

That distinction is held by Rachel Balkovec. The first female coach in the system was strength and conditioning coach at Johnson City in 2012 under manager Oliver Marmol.

Balkovec was named the top strength coach in the Appalachian League that year. She later moved up to strength and conditioning coordinator for the entire Cardinals farm system. Balkovec is now a hitting coach in the New York Yankees system after working for the Houston Astros and most recently, Driveline Baseball.

As a fourth coach, Whitlock will participate in batting practice and pre-game workouts for her assigned club, but sit with the scouts in the stands in street clothes during games. It’s a hybrid training role.

Participants in the fourth coach program, which was started by the Cardinals in 2014, only serve one year in that job. Whitock may have the opportunity to move into a regular coaching spot in 2021 or head in the scouting direction instead.


The Cardinals have hired another female coach for 2020, as well. Back in January, Jacqueline Gover was formally announced as the new strength and conditioning coach for Johnson City, following in Balkovec’s footsteps.

Cardinals Name 2020 Minor League and Player Development Staffs

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Hicks, Thomas and Fernandez Lead Cardinals Caravan into Springfield

image: Springfield Cardinals

The 2020 Cardinals Caravan made its annual stop at Hammons Field in Springfield, MO on Friday, January 17, featuring many household names to St. Louis Cardinals fans.

Broadcaster Rick Horton served as the team’s emcee and was joined by former Cardinals players Tom Pagnozzi and Al Hrabosky. Hard-throwing right-hander Jordan Hicks headlined the contingent of current players while outfielder Lane Thomas and right-hander Junior Fernandez also participated.

Giovanny Gallegos was listed among those to appear in Springfield, but he was not in attendance.

Before signing autographs for fans, Hicks, Thomas and Fernandez spoke to members of the media in Springfield and shed some light on their offseason plans and expectations going into 2020 spring training.

Progression of Hicks

The Cardinals closer is nearly seven months removed from Tommy John surgery after undergoing a full UCL reconstruction on June 26.

Hicks said he’s progressing “very well” post-surgery in his rehab process, which typically takes 12-14 months. The organization’s expectation is for him to be back around the All-Star break, barring any setbacks.

For now, Hicks is building up his arm strength. He was cleared to start his throwing program on Jan. 6 and has progressed to throwing 60 feet.

He said everything is on schedule for a normal recovery.

Jordan Hicks

“It’s about getting healthy and taking it day-by-day,” Hicks said. “I’m not pressing to get back, but whenever my body is ready and whenever the team is ready, we will come together and make a decision.”

Hicks said he’s focused on progressing to throwing bullpens during spring training with the hope to start throwing live batting practice after the spring.

Through the rehab process, Hicks said he has learned a lot about himself both physically and mentally. He’s working out five days a week and he’s seen his body transform.

“I’ve gained like 10 pounds,” Hicks said. “From the mental side, I know I’m young and eventually I will be back. I try not to think about the negative things. I’m keeping it all positive.”

From a team perspective, Hicks called the Cardinals bullpen “arguably the best” in the big-leagues and believes that once he gets back, it will only enhance the quality of the relief corps.

After watching the team reach the NLCS last October, Hicks wants to feel the energy of the postseason on the mound this year. He likes who the Cardinals have coming back and thinks they could go further.

“We have to put it together this year,” Hicks said.

Thomas excited to compete for an OF spot

Thomas’ 2019 season was cut short when he was hit by a pitch on his wrist in consecutive games on Aug. 26-27. The outfielder had been productive, even with a lack of playing time and the Cardinals saw enough to value his potential.

President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak said Thomas could be an impact player in 2020 during the Cardinals end-of-season press conference in October.

“He’s part of that (outfield) group that we’re trying to create opportunity for,” Mozeliak told the media. “In the month of September, we missed him. He was someone who was coming into his own.”

Lane Thomas

Thomas said Friday that the broken bone in his wrist is fully healed. He has completed his rehab and enters spring training with a chance to win a starting outfield job in the Cardinals’ outfield.

“I think it’s going to be fun this spring,” Thomas said. “Most of the guys I’m pretty close with. Everybody kind of makes each other better. It’s a good group of guys. It should be a fun.”

Come February, Thomas predicts he will be ready to show he is ready to fill at least one of the outfield roster openings.

“My injuries have been broken bones and stuff – it’s not something I could have prevented,” Thomas said. “At the same, health is a big thing. If you are not healthy, there is not much you can do about it. I should be good and ready to roll for the season.”


Fernandez looks to build on 2019 success

Fernandez has certainly gone through his trials and tribulations over his professional career with the Cardinals.

The right-handed pitcher had health issues. Inconsistencies. Troubles throwing strikes. A role change.

In 2019, it all clicked.

Junior Fernandez

Fernandez was a breakout prospect, starting at High-A Palm Beach and was promoted to Springfield on May 1. The Dominican spent only a month and a half with the Double-A club before another promotion – to Triple-A Memphis – from where he pitched his way to St. Louis.

“It was an unbelievable year,” Fernandez said. “It was amazing getting to the big-leagues and helping them get into the playoffs and win the division. It was really fun.”

Fernandez said he’s worked hard on “staying on top of his shoulder” this offseason, which he’s had issues with in the past. His biggest focus is making the big-league club out of spring training.

With Hicks out, Fernandez could also get opportunities to pitch late in games coming out of the bullpen. He’s open to contributing in any role the Cardinals need.

“I’m going to spring training to fight for my team,” Fernandez said. “Anything they want me to do or any situation they want me to pitch – I will do it. That’s my job. I’m going out there to throw zeros up on the board and help my team win.”

This Caravan crew, one of six traveling the area this weekend, is heading on to Joplin and Rolla on Saturday. Then the players will join the festivities associated with Cardinals Winter Warm-Up in St. Louis. The Cardinal Nation will be there with our annual coverage, so check back Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

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Comparing and Ranking Cardinals Lefties Liberatore and Thompson

photo: Matthew Liberatore

Preface from the editor – Change is good

We here at The Cardinal Nation take pride in our process of ranking St. Louis Cardinals prospects, now 15 years tested. It is an ongoing activity, not a once- or twice-per-year effort, with one example being our monthly in-season re-ranking of the entire top 50, with explanations why. Every day, there is more to learn and consider.

Our new 2020 Cardinals Top 50 has been unveiled, but there is a new event. As of Thursday, January 9, number seven prospect Randy Arozarena is gone, replaced by left-handed pitcher Matthew Liberatore, acquired from Tampa Bay.

This is not a problem for us, but instead an opportunity to look at an exciting new prospect, both on his own merits as well as in the broader context of the Cardinals system. All the work shared before provides that backdrop and retains just as much value as when it was published.

Today, Derek Shore begins with a comparison between Liberatore and another first round-drafted pitcher, Zack Thompson. Making this even more interesting is that the new Cardinals’ fellow lefty Thompson came in at no. 6 in our initial 2020 rankings, just one spot ahead of Arozarena.

After comparing the two hurlers, Derek explains where Liberatore lands in our updated 2020 top 50. As a result, several players will slide down one spot until no. 7 is re-filled, while those prospects at no. 8 and beyond remain the same as before.

And if the Cardinals make further deals affecting prospects, we will be back with more analysis. That is what we love to do – and hopefully what you expect from us. Thank you for reading!

– Brian Walton

The Cardinals struck a blockbuster deal with the Rays on Thursday night, trading from their excess of outfielders to acquire one of the best young lefthanders in the minors, who immediately becomes the organization’s top pitching prospect.

Liberatore will be ranked ahead of the Cardinals’ 2019 first round pick Zack Thompson, who initially was No. 6 in TCN’s Top 50 prospect rankings for 2020.

Before announcing where I will rank Liberatore, I’m going to compare and contrast the two talented southpaws that have similar pitch offerings yet some differences.

The similarities

According to scouts, both have four pitches. Liberatore and Thompson throw a fastball, curveball, changeup and slider.

Liberatore’s fastball velocity was down from his draft year, when he was throwing consistently in the mid-90s, but he is still sitting comfortably at 90-95 and showed he could reach 96-97 on occasion.

Matthew Liberatore

His fastball receives 55 grades among scouts, but it has a chance to grow into a plus pitch with more maturity.

In his final season at Kentucky as a junior, Thompson featured one of the best swing-and-miss rates among 2019 college pitchers in part because of his 91-92 mph fastball that can reach 94 when he needs it.

Thompson also earns 55 grades for his heater, with a few scouts willing to call it a true plus pitch.

The differences

And now it’s time to dissect the differences. Despite throwing the same secondary offerings, the quality of those pitches are not the same.

This is also what separates Liberatore as a better prospect than Thompson.

The newest Cardinal is two years younger and his secondary stuff is extremely advanced for his age. Liberatore mixes his fastball with a potentially plus curveball that is above-average right now. It is the kind of curve that has a chance to be a lefty hammer, generating easy swing-and-misses.

Liberatore’s changeup and slider are both average offerings at the moment, but project to be above-average with continued growth as well. That speaks volumes as Liberatore just added the slider to his arsenal in 2019.

While Thompson’s secondary stuff doesn’t get as much praise by scouts, his 84-85 mph slider is a high-spin rate, above-average pitch and has power to it, although it gets loopier and slower at times.

Zack Thompson

His slower mid-70s curveball is less consistent, ranging anywhere from fringe-average to above-average depending on the day. Thompson doesn’t throw his changeup all that often, but when he does, it is an average pitch.

Thompson also has more durability concerns than Liberatore, although the latter did miss some time this past summer due to back spasms.

The reason I give Liberatore the recognition of being the Cardinals top pitching prospect is because he throws all his pitches for strikes, commands the ball to both sides of the plate and I think has more of a natural feel to pitching than Thompson.

Liberatore has the size (6-foot-5, 200 pounds), delivery and command to be a mid-rotation starter at least, with many thinking he could be a No. 2 starter in the majors.

TCN 2020 St. Louis Cardinals Prospect #6 – Zack Thompson

Thompson’s delivery is sold and he has made significant strides with his slider, making it average even with shaky command at times. Scouts like him as a No. 4 starter, but it is not a sure-bet as Liberatore.

Thompson’s health and command will be something to watch in his first full season at Double-A Springfield.

The revised prospect rankings

I have Liberatore pegged as the Cardinals No. 3 overall prospect and top pitcher behind hitters Dylan Carlson and Nolan Gorman. He was the No. 3 prospect in the loaded Tampa Bay farm system, the best in the minors as of August 14, 2019, per Baseball America.

In fact, there can be debate over whether Liberatore should rank ahead of Gorman at No. 2, but going into 2020, he is The Cardinal Nation’s No. 3 prospect.

Assuming he is not flipped in another trade – popular speculation but with no apparent basis – Liberatore’s most likely assignment is High-A Palm Beach to open this upcoming season. I think Springfield shouldn’t be out of the question if there is a need for another rotation arm. Receiving a quick promotion if all goes well is another formula followed by the organization previously.

Brian Walton’s wrap-up

There you have it. Liberatore becomes our new no. 3 prospect, with the following associated adjustments.

  • Elehuris Montero from no. 3 to no. 4
  • Andrew Knizner from no. 4 to no. 5
  • Ivan Herrera from no. 5 to no. 6
  • Thompson from no. 6 to no. 7, replacing Arozarena

As a reminder, the full TCN 2020 top 50 can be seen here.

50 Days, 50 Nights, 50 St. Louis Cardinals Prospects – 2020

Scouting grade

I assign Liberatore a scouting grade of “6.5 medium”. That puts his ceiling in between an upper-to-mid rotation starting pitcher and an All-Star, with moderate work still ahead to achieve it.

The only other prospect in the system with a grade as high is Carlson, at “6.5 low”.

Link to Liberatore’s career stats

Historical perspective

Liberatore’s no. 3 ranking is the best for a Cardinals lefty since Marco Gonzales placed no. 1 in 2015 and no. 3 the next year.

He and Thompson ranking in the top 10 is our first pair of lefties that high since 2014 when Rob Kaminsky was no. 5 and Gonzales was no. 6. Even then, right-hander Carlos Martinez was on top.

Related article

Cardinals Acquire Lefty Pitching Prospect Matthew Liberatore

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2019 Springfield Cardinals Team Review

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.

Joe Kruzel (Springfield Cardinals FANatic Photos)

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.”

MVP Dylan

Dylan Carlson (Steve Mitchell/Imagn)

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.”

Team Summary

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.

By month

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.

Johan Oviedo (Peoria Chiefs)

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).

The defense

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 roster

The 25 players on the active Opening Day roster included an experienced pitching staff and a youthful group of position players.

Evan Kruczynski (Steve Mitchell/Imagn)

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.

Chris Chinea (Springfield Cardinals)

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.

Austin Warner (Springfield Cardinals FANatic Photos)


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.

In conclusion

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.”

For more

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.

The Cardinal Nation’s Team Recaps and Top Players of 2019

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Youth a Factor in Rough 2019 across the Cardinals Minors

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© 2019 The Cardinal Nation, All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.