All posts by Paul Ivice

Gulf Coast League official scorer and TCN reporter.

2021 Florida Complex League Cardinals Season Review

photo: Roberto Espinoza (center) and FCL infielders (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

Despite a second consecutive last-place finish in the five-team East Division, the rookie-level Florida Complex League Cardinals had some bright spots in their 2021 season.

Roberto Espinoza (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

Like most others in the Cardinals’ player development department, FCL manager Roberto Espinoza emphasizes that especially in these lower levels of the system, the results are less important than the process.

Even so, the Cardinals’ 24-29 record was better than the 20-34 record posted by the 2019 team.

The 2019 team had a losing record against all four division opponents, but the 2021 team won more games than they lost against the Astros and Nationals. This year’s Cardinals finished 7 ½ games behind the division-winning Mets.

Scoring at a premium

With 20 of the Cardinals’ 53 games scheduled for just seven innings, either because of doubleheaders or pitching shortages, it was even more important to score early, and often.

The following scoring analysis illustrates how crucial it was to get runs on the board in the first four innings. In the first two innings, the Cardinals were outscored 88-70.

                                     Runs per inning
                             Total runs in first 4 innings
Opponent        W-L      for-against for-against            
vs. Mets 3-9 42-61 0.58-0.67
vs. Astros 7-6 63-61 0.60-0.52
vs. Marlins 3-10 36-74 0.29-0.60
vs. Nationals 11-4 94-70 0.90-0.72
Totals 24-29 235-266 0.63-0.65

In their seventh and eighth innings, the Cardinals scored a total of 37 runs, but 25 of them were against one team – the Nationals. Similarly, the Cardinals gave up 55 runs to opponents in the seventh inning or later, but 30 of them were to the Marlins.

Because there are five teams in the division, one team is idle every day from Monday through Saturday, and all teams were off each Sunday.

Espinoza observed that all but one of the games between Cardinals and Mets followed an idle day for the Cardinals on the schedule. The Cardinals were 3-8 in those games. Espinoza said that especially with games starting at noon or 10 a.m., a team that was off the day before takes a little longer to get back into the rhythm of the game, so that was an advantage for the Mets, however slight.

In a quick scan of the schedule, the Astros offer data that supports Espinoza’s point. The Astros regularly played the Mets after the former’s day off. The Astros went just 5-9 against the Mets.

Offensive stats

The Cardinals were not only last in the East Division in runs per game (4.43) and OPS (.659), they were 15th in the 18-team league in runs per game and 16th in OPS.

Power was the biggest deficit. The Cardinals’ 367 hits were only 11 below the league average, though all four of their division opponents were above the average. Their .320 batting average ranked 15th, and though the Cardinals batters drew walks at slightly above the league average rate, it didn’t push their ranking for On-Base Percentage any higher.

But their .325 slugging percentage was 17th in the league, far below the .380 league average. In the East Division, only the Mets were above average. The Cardinals’ 19 home runs tied for last in the league, which averaged 33.8 per team. Despite the big park, they were also 10 below the league average of 80.4 doubles.

Though their 12 triples were close to the league average of 14.6, in the other key speed barometer — stolen bases – their 48 was well shy of the 68.6 league average. However their 22 caught stealing total was barely shy of the 23.4 team average.

Total runs per game Off Def
FCL Mets 4.78 4.48
FCL Nationals 4.88 4.88
FCL Marlins 4.67 4.56
 FCL Astros 4.45 4.29
FCL Cardinals 4.43 5.02

Pitching stats

In the 18-team FCL, the Cardinals were below average performers with a 4.62 ERA that ranked 10th. They were last in the five-team East Division. Their strikeout total of 466 is 11th overall and again last in the East. The Cardinals’ batting average against of .267 tied the Nationals for 11th in the league and was highest in the division.

On the positive side, Cardinals pitchers walked 190, the fifth-lowest total in the league and best in the division.

New draftees prevalent

On a roster that swelled to over 40 players once the 2021 draft picks were signed, this group of newcomers made up almost a third of the team.

The Cardinals drafted 12 pitchers this July and all signed. Of them, only fifth-rounder Gordon Graceffo, did not open his professional career in the FCL. Most threw an inning at a time in recognition that they had already played a full spring schedule. Yet by the end of the summer, Michael McGreevy (1st), Austin Love (3rd), Andre Granillo (14th) and Andrew Marrero (18th) were promoted to join Graceffo at Low-A Palm Beach.

The story on the position player side was just the opposite. Of the eight signed position players, only former high school outfielder Joshua Baez (2nd) was assigned to the FCL  The 18-year-old remained all summer, roaming in center field.

In this clip from an August intrasquad game, McGreevy and Baez faced off.

The step up to Palm Beach, while close geographically (both are located in the Jupiter complex), was tall in terms of the difference  in competition. With the 2021 loss of two levels that were previously in between, some of the younger players who showed they weren’t quite ready for Class-A were backed off to the FCL.

In conclusion, the players can build upon their first game action since 2019 (or first as a pro) and 2022 will bring increased familiarity with the new minor league structure for players and coaches alike, leading to increased hope for the future.

(Brian Walton also contributed to this report.)

What is next?

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The Cardinal Nation’s Team Recaps and Top Players of 2021

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2019 Gulf Coast League Cardinals Team Review

By Paul Ivice with Brian Walton

A much-younger St. Louis Cardinals’ entry team in the US dropped from 40 wins in 2018 to just 20, their worst record since 2008.


The threat posed by Hurricane Dorian to Florida caused the 2019 Gulf Coast League to be shut down two days before the scheduled end to the season, which meant cancellation of the Cardinals’ final two games.

Considering that the Baby Birds had lost their last eight in a row by a combined score of 78-30, the early end to the season was merciful.

The Cardinals finished 20-34, 10 games behind the East Division champion Marlins, which finished percentage points ahead of the Mets. The last-place Cardinals were 6-1/2 games behind the fourth-place Astros, which at 25-26 was the only other team in the division under .500.

They were regularly and soundly beaten by all four of the other teams in their division.

The Cards had the most success against the second-place Mets, and the least against the third-place Nationals. Those two teams had the most potent offense in the East Division, but the division champion Marlins had the best pitching.

Runs Scoring in first
Opponent W/L for/against 5 innings
vs, Mets 6-8 61-86 26-57
vs. Astros 5-7 51-70 24-37
vs. Marlins 5-9 51-73 31-45
vs. Nationals 4-10 56-91 29-68

The league also canceled the playoffs because of the impending hurricane, so no league champion was crowned.

Though the Cardinals were the worst team in the East Division, they were not the worst in the league.

Four GCL teams had fewer than the Cardinals’ 20 wins, and one of them also had more than 34 losses. Two clubs had a lower winning percentage than the Cardinals’ .370.

That .370 mark is the Cardinals’ worst record in the GCL since the 2008 team went 17-38, .309. It is the lowest winning percentage for any St. Louis minor league club in a difficult 2019 overall for the system.

Team offense

The Cardinals offense, which at the halfway point of the season had a fifth-best OPS of .713, finished the season with a .672 OPS, which ranked 11th. To get their OPS to drop 41 points over their final 26 games meant they produced a .621 OPS in the second half, with a .214 team batting average.

Though they led the league in home runs, extra base hits and total bases for most of the season, they were overtaken in all three categories at season’s end, so the only offensive category in which they led the GCL at the end was strikeouts, with 510.

The Cardinals’ .384 slugging percentage through the first 28 games was second only to the defending league champion Tigers West team, but in the final 26 games, the Cardinals slugged .320.

They were also last in stolen bases with 32 and steal percentage (51%).

For the season, they were outscored by opponents 327-216, and almost all of that 111-run difference was in the first five innings, when they were outscored 209-105.

Though the offense was often slow to get going, at least it was middle of the pack statistically, 11th in OPS and 10th in runs scored.

Team pitching

The pitching staff produced the league’s worst ERA at 5.17, more than a quarter of a run worse than the next-to-worst Pirates, and nearly a run higher than the next-worst in their division (Astros’ 4.19).

The Cardinals pitchers walked the third-most batters in the 18-team league, and were below average in strikeouts at 10th.

Team defense

The Cardinals defense was responsible for the league’s highest total of unearned runs, 59. Their fielding percentage of .961 was just 14th.

The catchers were just a tick above the GCL average in caught stealing at 29 percent (vs. the GCL mark of 28 percent).

Age and experience change

The most notable difference between this season’s team and last year’s 40-win league championship club is that most of the players the Cardinals signed out of this year’s draft were assigned to higher classifications. Most of the few drafted players assigned to the GCL were signed out of high school.

At 19.0 years of age, the average age of Cardinals hitters was seventh-youngest in the 18-team league and under the league offensive player average of 19.4. Cards pitchers averaged 19.9 years of age, fifth-youngest in the league and under the 20.3 league midpoint. That compares to 20.2 for hitters and 20.8 for pitchers in 2018, so the 2019 Cardinals were considerably younger.

While 18-year old, second-round draft pick Trejyn Fletcher was promoted out of the GCL after only nine games, comparably drafted Dylan Carlson had played 50 games for the GCL Cardinals in his pro debut season and Nick Plummer played in 51 the year before Carlson.

Drafted players contributed 56 percent of at-bats and 51.5 percent of the innings pitched to the 2018 team, and most of those had college experience. This year’s team had 18.4 percent of at-bats and 18.1 percent of innings pitched from drafted (and non-drafted free agent) players.

The college players bring more experience not only to the field but the clubhouse as well. Draft position has nothing to do with it. Last year, Zack Gahagan, who was 23 and drafted in the 39th round out of a Division I university, was a steadying influence on the younger players.

For most of this season, all of the position players were teenagers, and the oldest member of the pitching staff was 21-year-old Anthony Green, a 33rd-round pick who was mostly a position player at Jefferson College, a community college in Hillsboro, southwest of St. Louis.


Making the GCL team essentially an extension of the Cardinals academy in the Dominican Republic and its two DSL teams there meant the team had much less experience that its competition or previous GCL Cardinals teams.

Add into the equation manager Josh Lopez, who has much less experience in professional baseball than his predecessors — Erick Almonte and Steve Turco – and you have a team overmatched by its competition.

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 Johnson City Cardinals Team Review.

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

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Seven of Nine Cardinals Minor League Teams Declined in 2019

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

Gulf Coast League Cardinals Notebook – 2019 Week 7

The Gulf Coast League Cardinals went 3-3 for the week, with not enough wins to escape the division cellar. Hits and runs are hard to come by for the offense while the Cards often have to play from behind. 18-year old lefty Nathanael Heredia is a bright spot on the staff, among league leaders in wins and ERA.

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