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.
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.
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.
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.”
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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.
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.
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.
“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.
#stlcards pitching coaches Mike Maddux and Bryan Eversgerd checked in with Hicks on his progress in person in Jupiter earlier this week. All were smiling. https://t.co/tpaqbEEieq
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Derek Shore discusses six top St. Louis Cardinals prospects who missed our new 2020 Top 50, including a pitcher who was working his way into St. Louis consideration before injury, Anthony Shew, and concludes with a deep sleeper to watch in 2020.
The top relief pitcher on the St. Louis Cardinals’ Double-A affiliate, Kodi Whitley, started 2019 at Palm Beach. The right-hander is now refining his game in the Arizona Fall League and may enter the St. Louis mix in 2020.
photo: Dylan Carlson and Joe Kruzel (Springfield Cardinals FANatic Photos)
The 2019 campaign marked another down season for the Springfield Cardinals.
For one, the Cardinals missed the Texas League playoffs for the third consecutive season, which has happened only one other time since the franchise moved to Springfield in 2005.
At 60-80, Springfield finished with the second-worst record in the league for the second straight year as well.
Despite that, the S-Cards had many new arrivals earn a chance to develop at Double-A and featured the clear-cut best player in the Texas League. Dylan Carlson was the club’s first Player of the Year since Oscar Taveras and Matt Adams won it in back-to-back years in 2011 and 2012, respectively.
First-year manager Joe Kruzel sees positives from 2019.
“The biggest thing that I witnessed this season is there has been more individual growth by some players than team growth as far as wins and the record,” Kruzel said.
Kruzel said a number of players made “big strides and progress in their careers,” which he hopes will translate into more success in 2020.
“There has been a tremendous amount of individual growth, but it hasn’t translated into winning games this year,” Kruzel said. “Hopefully, next year it will.”
In a season that was more forgettable than memorable, Springfield will definitely remember the season 20-year-old sensation Dylan Carlson put together for years to come.
One of the youngest players in Double-A in 2019, on August 27, Carlson became only the ninth Cardinals prospect to win the Texas League Player of the Year honors. The switch-hitter exploded onto the scene, ranking among the league leaders in average, home runs, RBIs, OBP, slugging, OPS, hits, doubles, triples, walks, extra-base hits, total bases, runs and stolen bases.
He became The Cardinal Nation’s top overall prospect in the process and his breakout year culminated into a late-season promotion to Triple-A Memphis, where he continued his success.
“I was very fortunate to have been in the same city as he was for most of the season this year,” Kruzel said. “I always thought every time Dylan comes to the ballpark he expected to play and wanted to play. You never knew if he was doing well or not. He just acted the same every night. The best thing I did for him this year was I stayed out of his way, let him play and let him grow.”
The 2019 edition of the Cardinals featured more valleys than peaks, mostly due to a roster that was the youngest in the league (23.1 average age).
With a 30-40 first half and second half, the club ended a combined 60-80 on the season, a dismal .429 winning percentage. That is the second-worst mark in the division and league, ahead of NW Arkansas (KC, 57-81), which posted a .413 winning percentage.
Springfield finished in last-place in the first half, trailing Arkansas by 14 games. They played good ball at Hammons Field (22-15), but struggled mightily on the road (8-25).
The second half proved to be similar.
The Cardinals had a winning record at home (17-16), but scuffled away (13-24), finishing 11 games back of Tulsa (LAD, 41-29), in third place.
Springfield welcomed 328,217 fans through the turnstiles at Hammons Field, with their per-game average 4,757, fourth-highest in the Texas League. That was down from 4,871 in 2018 and 4,801 in 2017.
The Texas League is a full-season league made up of a 140-game regular season, which began April 4 and concluded on Sept. 2. The eight-team league is divided into two divisions with the Cardinals Double-A club placed in the North.
Springfield started off very poorly, dropping their first seven games of the season. They went 8-17 overall in April.
Both the offense (.235 average) and pitching (5.97 ERA) struggled early on.
The Cardinals showed some improvement in May with their hitting and pitching on their way to a 14-15 record.
Springfield finished the first half splitting the final 16 games. Arkansas won the first-half title.
Kruzel took away a lot from his club in the first half.
“I think at times there was some really good things going on out there,” Kruzel said. “We went through some stretches where it wasn’t that we were playing really, really bad. We just weren’t winning. We weren’t finding ways to win. Something would happen that would create a loss for us instead of the other way around.”
As the records reset, the Cardinals could not find early momentum, dropping 14 of its first 26 games. Springfield followed a down June with a much-improved July (16-12) and entered the dog days of August in first-place with a 20-18 record.
The key behind their success was due to improved play in all phases – hitting, defense and pitching.
That said, the S-Cards lost that momentum and finished a disappointing 10-22 over the final 32 games.
The pitching and offense
As an organization, the Cardinals have traditionally been known for their pitching. This year’s Double-A version was led by the offense, however.
A key reason behind Springfield’s struggles in 2019 was the 4.79 team ERA, dead-last in the league.
15 different pitchers started for Springfield this season, including Johan Oviedo with 23, Evan Kruczynski with 20, Angel Rondon with 20, Tommy Parsons with 14, Austin Warner with 14, Williams Perez with 13 and Alex FaGalde with 11.
The 2019 pitching staff, tutored by second-year pitching coach Darwin Marrero, logged the already-mentioned 4.79 ERA. The league average was 4.02 and the next-worst club finished at 4.35.
On the offensive side, first-year hitting coach Brandon Allen spearheaded a powerful group, ranking third in the league with 140 homers.
Although Springfield was fifth in runs per game (4.35), compared to the most prolific offense in the league at 4.83.
The Cards were dead-last in batting average at .237 with the seventh-worst on-base percentage (.313). Though, the offense was fourth in slugging percentage (.379).
Fielding was a strong suit for the 2019 Cardinals.
The club’s fielding percentage was tied for the best in the league at .985 and they turned the fourth-most double plays with 290.
The catching was also a strength as they were tied for the least amount of passed balls (12) on the season. The catching corps threw out 30% of attempted baserunners, which is exactly league-average.
The 25 players on the active Opening Day roster included an experienced pitching staff and a youthful group of position players.
From among those returnees, Kruczynski was expected to anchor the rotation and Seth Elledge and Connor Jones were looking to lead a much-improved bullpen from 2018.
Anthony Shew, Casey Meisner, Austin Warner and Williams Perez rounded out the S-Cards Opening Day rotation.
Funky lefty Jacob Patterson was the lone southpaw in the bullpen. Elledge, Jones, Will Latcham, Jesus Cruz, John Fasola, Harold Arauz and Roel Ramirez were the right-handed relievers on the Opening Day roster.
On the position player side, almost every position player stepped up from High-A. The headliners were a pair of 20-year-olds – top prospects Carlson and third baseman Elehuris Montero.
The Cardinals Opening Day roster also featured Jose Godoy, Brian O’Keefe, Chris Chinea, Kramer Robertson, Irving Lopez, Alberto Triunfel, Stefan Trosclair, Shane Billings, Conner Capel and Scott Hurst.
As the season progressed, the Cardinals added a number of players who contributed from Triple-A and High-A – position players Evan Mendoza, Johan Mieses, Yariel Gonzalez, Rayder Ascanio, Lars Nootbaar, Juan Yepez, Zach Kirtley, Julio Rodriguez and Justin Toerner.
Pitchers joining during the season include Rondon, Oviedo, Parsons, Kodi Whitley, Ronnie Williams, Bryan Dobzanski, Junior Fernandez and Mitchell Osnowitz.
40-man roster outfielders Randy Arozarena and Justin Williams also played with Springfield this season as both were working their way back from hand injuries.
In total, Springfield made 155 player transactions this season.
The S-Cards had a down season in Texas League All-Star recognition. A year after nine Cardinals were named to the mid-season classic, just two were selected in 2019 – Carlson and Warner.
In the more elite post-season selections, Carlson was the lone representative, with the count of one the same as in the year prior.
As a team, the 2019 Springfield Cardinals had a young team with a struggling pitching staff, powerful, but inconsistent offense and superb defense. From a development perspective, the club provided many battle-tested players to Triple-A and two players who contributed to the Double-A club and made their big-league debuts.
Kruzel reflects on 2019 as a whole.
“The way the crowds supported us all year and the community,” Kruzel said. “Those are the things you are going to look at. These kids went out there for the most part every night battled and competed. Sometimes we came up short, but you can’t fault their effort on a day in and day out basis.
“I’m proud of that. Most of it is how the fans and the community supported us. That is one thing that will really stick out in my mind.”
Link to master article with all 2019 award winners, team recaps and article schedules for the remainder of this series. Next up will be our Peoria Chiefs Team Review.
This is the second of The Cardinal Nation’s monthly two-part series as we name our Players and Pitchers of the Month across the St. Louis Cardinals organization. While the Cardinals themselves recognize their top players as well, we undertake our own independent analysis unencumbered by the organization’s selection criteria.
Let’s get right to it with a look at the August system-wide hitting leaders.
Garcia claims TCN’s top August hitting honors
While a number of hitters in the Cardinals system had strong Augusts, one hitter distinguished himself from the rest, utilizing a terrific stretch of hitting to help Triple-A Memphis climb back into playoff contention.
Our August Player of the Month is Memphis slugger Adolis Garcia, who should have a strong case to claim the still-to-be-announced Pacific Coast League Player of the Month honors.
Among hitters across the Cardinals system with at least 75 at-bats, Garcia finished with the highest OPS (1.160). He also slugged a system-best eight homers and drove in the second most runs (21) in August.
Overall, Garcia slashed .338/.407/.753 and collected 14 extra-base hits through 25 games.
Memphis manager Ben Johnson explained where Garcia was in his game at the end of July.
“He’s had some ups and downs this year, but he hasn’t given in,” Johnson told The Cardinal Nation. “[Garcia] has worked diligently day-in and day-out, and now he’s finding his rhythm and staying in shape. He’s maintained his bat speed, strength and he’s taken off.”
While the strong finish to 2019 was not enough to earn him a September call-up to St. Louis, Garcia’s phenomenal month of August helped him cross the 30-homer and 90-RBI threshold.
“Thanks to God, everything has been coming out great this month,” Garcia told TCN reporter Frank Ramirez. “It took making various adjustments to make a better game plan, and thanks to that, everything has been better.”
His 95 RBI makes him the first Memphis batter since Nick Stavinoha (109 in 2011) to record 90-plus RBI in a year. He’s also the first Redbird since Rick Ankiel in 2007 to slug at least 32 homers.
Runner-up to Garcia is High-A Palm Beach first baseman Luken Baker, who posted a .346/.413/.654 slash line over 23 games in August. The 22-year-old collected a system-best 16 extra-base hits and produced 14 RBIs for the Beach Birds.
Baker’s OPS of 1.067 ranked second only to Garcia among hitters with at least 75 at-bats.
After the most robust month of his professional career, Baker is poised to open 2020 at Double-A Springfield, where he has a chance to blossom.
A trio of others who also received consideration are Memphis outfielders Justin Williams, Dylan Carlson and Randy Arozarena.
Finally healthy, Williams hit .353/.434/.576 in August and tied for a system-best with 21 RBIs over 27 games. The 23-year-old had an injury-plagued 2019, but goes into this offseason with offensive momentum.
Carlson’s breakthrough season continued into August, which earned him a taste of Memphis to conclude 2019. The 20-year-old, named Texas League Player of the Year this past week, slashed .311/.387/.594 in 28 games between Double-A Springfield and Memphis.
Carlson also collected 14 extra-base hits and swiped six bags in eight chances.
Arozarena, whose tremendous month of July powered him to his major-league debut in August, also performed well when with the Redbirds. The 24-year-old hit .314/.410/.643 with six homers and 12 RBIs for Memphis.
Memphis infielder Ramon Urias also put together a solid August, hitting .310 with a .912 OPS in 28 games. The 25-year-old tallied 13 extra-base hits and knocked in 21 runs. Infielder Edmundo Sosa also hit well down the stretch for Memphis, hitting .345 with a .894 OPS in 27 games.
Drafted in the eighth round in 2018, St. Louis Cardinals outfield prospect Lars Nootbaar has reached his third level this season and continues to grow at Double-A. Derek Shore interviews the former USC star.
After opening 2019 at High-A, St. Louis Cardinals right-handed relief pitching prospect Kodi Whitley has progressed to Triple-A. With his stronger offerings and higher velocity, the majors are nearing.
Kramer Robertson comes from strong bloodlines and a championship background, while continuing to refine his approach as he nears the Major Leagues. Derek Shore profiles the Springfield Cardinals infield prospect.
The Double-A Cardinals went 3-3 on the week to keep slim Texas League playoff hopes alive. Opposing scouts offer perspective on a number of Springfield standouts, including underrated starting pitcher Angel Rondon.
28th-round outfielder Justin Toerner reached Double-A quicker than any other 2018 St. Louis Cardinals draftee. With Springfield, he hit his stride after an adjustment period before being injured. Derek Shore talks with the prospect, his manager and his hitting coach.
In what is a big surprise timing-wise, the St. Louis Cardinals organization’s No. 1 prospect Dylan Carlson has been promoted to Triple-A Memphis with just three weeks left in the 2019 season. Carlson all but mastered the Double-A level, slashing .281/.364/.518 through 108 games and he led the league with 21 homers and 51 extra-base hits.
When he makes his debut, the 20-year old switch hitter will immediately become one of the youngest players in the Pacific Coast League and puts him right on the doorstep of the big-leagues.
To put his season in perspective with Springfield, Carlson was two steals away from becoming the youngest player in the Texas League of 20 years of age or less to accomplish a 20-20 season in the last 32 years.
Carlson will also join a crowded outfield of Harrison Bader, Justin Williams, Adolis Garcia and Rangel Ravelo at Memphis. It’s one that could potentially see Randy Arozarena and Lane Thomas back in the near future once Tyler O’Neill and Jose Martinez return from injuries in St. Louis.
After the promotion, I asked a professional scout if he was surprised that Carlson was promoted to Memphis given all the outfielders currently at the level.
“Not really surprised,” the pro scout said. “I think he has had a really good year. I think they want to see if one of those outfield bats can take off. Arozarena’s success and promotion kind of laid the groundwork for this. I don’t believe Carlson is the answer for this year but I do believe they want to see what he can do and likely bring him up once rosters expand.
“I would think it’s likely they move on from Ozuna if they don’t get into the playoffs and possibly start the rebuild.”
In the corresponding move for Carlson, infielder Kramer Robertson rejoined Springfield after his second stint with Memphis. Robertson is hitting .235 with a .719 OPS in 66 games at Triple-A this season.
Overall for 2019, the Cardinals 2017 fourth round pick is slashing .244/.371/.406 with a career-high 11 home runs and 48 RBIs between Springfield and Memphis.
Announced late-Thursday, Springfield outfielder Justin Toerner landed on the injured list with an undisclosed injury. This injury was likely caused after he make a catch at the wall to rob a possible home run on Wednesday night.
Toerner was in obvious pain after the play and finished out the second inning before being lifted for a pinch-hitter. It looks like a leg injury, possibly a knee.
So far with Springfield this season, Toerner is hitting .211 with seven homers and 18 RBIs in 49 games.
Springfield lost two players to the injured list on Thursday. The second player was second baseman Irving Lopez.
Lopez, 24, left Wednesday’s game early as well with an undisclosed injury. The Cardinals 2017 19th round pick is slashing .254/.331/.434 with 10 homers and 30 RBIs in 82 games for the S-Cards this season.
After surging into first place in the Texas League North in July, the Springfield Cardinals have fallen off, dropping nine of their first 13 games in August. Inconsistent starters Evan Kruczynski and Johan Oviedo had strong outings during the 3-4 week.
When Bryan Dobzanski was called into manager Chris Swauger’s office in June 2017, he assumed the worst.
The St. Louis Cardinals’ 29th round draft pick from 2014 was struggling in his first season with Low-A Peoria, going 1-5 with a 4.86 ERA and just 37 strikeouts in 52 2/3 innings as a starter.
In those moments before heading into Swauger’s office, Dobzanski was left wondering if a demotion was in his future, or worse, a release.
“It didn’t turn out to be a release or anything,” Dobzanski said.
Dobzanski didn’t exactly suffer a demotion either, but he said it felt like one – he was getting sent to the bullpen.
“You kind of feel your stomach drop a bit,” he said.
Dobzanski had a 1.98 ERA the rest of the season as a reliever, and he has only continued to get better with more experience.
“At that point, it was the right direction,” Dobzanski said. “I wasn’t too upset after that point. It worked out to be the best for me.”
Dobzanski’s issue as a starter was about a pursuit of perfection. At 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, the two-time New Jersey state wrestling champion has athleticism few baseball players possess, yet his fastball sat in the high-80s.
“As a starter, you feel like your responsibility is to go pretty deep,” Dobzanski said. “You pace yourself and not giving everything you have into every pitch. That was the wrong thing to do.”
When Dobzanski was told he would be used in a relief role, Swauger said the next time he was on the mound, “throw as hard as you can.”
“As a reliever, it’s a different mentality where you get three to six outs or whatever they are asking,” Dobzanski said. “The night after (I moved to the bullpen) my velocity was higher and it seemed like everything was playing a lot better.”
2018 marked Dobzanski’s first full season as a reliever. He returned to Peoria, where he became one of the best relievers in the Midwest League.
Combining an eight percent jump in his strikeout rate with a two percent drop in his walk rate, Dobzanski cut his ERA down nearly a full point from 2017. A big part of his improvement began with a change in how he went about his offseason workouts.
Since he has been in professional ball, Dobzanski had always done football and wrestling workouts in his high school gym. In the offseason of 2017, he instead went to California and trained with Jack Flaherty for a couple of months.
“It showed me how an elite level athlete should be training for that specific sport – obviously baseball for me,” Dobzanski said.
Dobzanski has continued his refined plan ever since, working out at Maplezone Sports Institute. After revitalizing his workout routine, he has experienced considerable success this year in his second full season as a reliever.
He started the year at High-A Palm Beach and was bumped up to Double-A Springfield in June. Across those two levels, he has a 2.61 ERA in 39 games with 56 strikeouts in 48 1/3 innings.
Dobzanski’s experience as a starter makes him an extremely valuable reliever.
“He has been good since he has come up from Palm Beach,” Kruzel said. “He has done a couple different things for us. He has pitched in middle relief. Sometimes I have asked him to go two or even three innings at a time. We have asked him to start one time and he took the ball and ran with it.
“He has also pitched at the back end of the game, so he gives you versatility out of that bullpen to do a couple of different things. He has responded well to each and every one of those challenges. He competes. He throws strikes. He has three quality pitches and makes quality pitches.”
Dobzanski had been losing faith in himself before the change, which is unusual for someone who has dominated in athletic situations.
Take his wrestling career, for example. Dobzanski was 158-8 as a high school wrestler and he can still remember stirring fear in opponents when they saw who they would be up against.
Dobzanski has gotten that same edge back, but as a reliever now.
“Being the top dawg – that is always what I looked forward to during the wrestling season,” Dobzanski said. “I try to take that one-on-one mentality out there – pitcher versus hitter – because that is what it feels like when you are out there on the mound. The ball is in your hand every single play.
“Everybody loves success, so when your snowballing with success, your confidence is through the roof.”
That increase in confidence has allowed Dobzanski to trust his stuff and throw his fastball and slider with conviction.
Springfield pitching coach Darwin Marrero has noticed that change compared to when he had him as a starter in State College in 2016.
“He is very aggressive,” Marrero said. “He has always been very competitive. His stuff has been growing. He has been maturing. His body is maturing right now. He can coordinate much better than years ago. You can see right now how the ball is coming out of his hand.
“He looks a lot better right now.”
When Dobzanski was starting during the early stages of 2017, his secondary repertoire consisted of a curveball and he picked up a slider in his transition to the bullpen. After tinkering with a few grips, Dobzanski has found one this year and stuck with it.
But there have been some growing pains with his slider as a result.
“It’s really just not trying to manipulate it,” Dobzanski said. “When I go out there, I’m trying to get this big break and trying to manipulate the pitch. It doesn’t do what you want it to, but I have to let the grip do the work and throw it like a fastball as hard as I can.
“That is when it has been the best for me.”
In addition to his coaches, Dobzanski has also piqued the interest of scouts as well.
He has an above-average heater that sits 95-97 and his slider has the potential to be an above-average offering as well. With good control and command, scouts say he has the upside of a seventh-inning major-league reliever.
With confidence and conviction on his side, Dobzanski’s vision for the future has never been clearer.
Obviously, I want to finish this season strong,” Dobzanski said. “Attack the offseason and get in the weight room right away, and lift some pretty heavy weight around. Get stronger and build that lower half. Hopefully, I’ll come back with some more mph on my fastball and a sharper slider.
“Hopefully, I’ll show out in spring training. Whatever happens there or wherever I start, next year my main goal is to end up in the big-leagues at some point. That is the target for me.”
Check out Derek Shore’s in-depth Springfield Cardinals Notebook, exclusively presented for members each Thursday here at The Cardinal Nation.
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The Springfield Cardinals’ playoff hopes faded with a disappointing 1-6 Week 18. The S-Cards are now four games back in the Texas League North with 25 games remaining. The offense stalled and the pitching was inconsistent this week. After an IL stint, Alex FaGalde has resumed leading the rotation with a 1.29 ERA at Double-A.