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2019 Memphis Redbirds Team Review

photo: Ben Johnson and Justin Williams (Frank Ramirez/The Cardinal Nation)

2019 was a tale of two halves for the defending Triple-A National Champion Memphis Redbirds (69-71), a club that was 21 games under .500 (38-59) on July 17, but picked up the slack tremendously to conclude the year with a 31-12 burst. Still, the losing record overall was a huge difference from last year’s 84-57 squad.

The Cardinals’ Triple-A affiliate fell just short of beating out the Iowa Cubs for the division title, still alive heading into the last series of the year. To clinch the division, they needed a four-game road sweep, after having done the same at home the week before, but the fairy tale comeback fell short.

Ben Johnson (Memphis Redbirds)

While it was an unfortunate ending for the ‘Birds, who were looking to defend the National Championship on their field at AutoZone Park (Memphis hosted the game on September 17 with the Sacramento River Cats defeating the Columbus Clippers 4-0), first-year Memphis skipper Ben Johnson’s primary goal for the season was to develop players for the next level.

That was successful despite 67 different players donning a Redbirds jersey this year (matching the franchise record set in 2018), and 22 of those individuals made their Triple-A debuts.

Johnson did not seem as fazed during the team’s first-half slump as he noted that everybody wants to win, but what matters was for St. Louis to have players ready for “The Show.” 20 players were promoted to the Major Leagues, including bullpen stalwart Giovanny Gallegos, and eight of those made their St. Louis debuts, including Cardinals spark plug Tommy Edman.

By the Month

The Redbirds finished April with a respectable 13-12 record, going 6-5 at home and an even 7-7 on the road. That is also the only time during 2019 that the ‘Birds did not have a losing record at home or away.

Austin Gomber (Steve Mitchell/Imagn)

The live Triple-A baseball was the Redbirds’ friend in 2019. It began with 28 home runs in the month, tied for third-most in the month of April in team history.  Memphis was just six dingers shy of matching the 2000 team, which bashed 36 long shots in the opening month.

LHP Austin Gomber was stellar in his five April starts (3-0, 2.54 ERA), and he earned PCL Pitcher of the Week honors in the week of April 15-21.

May was the start of the turmoil for the Redbirds as they barely finished with double digit wins (10-21). It was their second time posting a losing record in a month since 2017 (also in August 2018). Not even home runs could lead the team to wins as they hit 35 long balls, tying for second-most in franchise history in the month of May.

Rangel Ravelo turned things around in the second month with a .384/.460/1.066 mark after he batted just .173 in April.

John Nogowski (Memphis Redbirds)

Memphis earned an 11-16 record in June with a 3-12 record at AutoZone being the major downfall. Again, home runs were the main highlight with 39 (second-most in June in franchise history)

John Nogowski was Mr. June, batting .410 alongside a .479 OBP and 1.081 OPS, and the 26-year-old first baseman ended the month with a career-best 15-game hitting streak.

July marked the beginning of the turnaround for the ‘Birds, as they posted a 13-13 record. The major factor that led to the change of direction was the improved bullpen. The relievers outperformed the starters in the month despite just 4 2/3 less innings pitched. They had an overall 3.16 ERA (6.02 by starters), gave up 38 earned runs (89 by starters) and struck out 121 batters (95 by starters).

August was a historic and exciting month for the Memphis Redbirds. They set a franchise record with 22 wins and became the second team in Redbirds history to accomplish the feat in any month (along with July 2017). Memphis led the PCL in various categories throughout August, including on-base percentage (.393), slugging (.527) and on-base plus slugging (919). They were nearly in the top with home runs (second with 54) and were third in batting average (.307).

On the mound, the Redbirds were first in various categories including ERA (3.25), hits (200), runs (96), earned runs (91), home runs allowed (22), WHIP (1.25) and batting average (.216).

September concluded the season with two games in Des Moines, where Memphis faced the Iowa Cubs. The Redbirds lost both as they were already out of the playoffs, but also missed their chance at a .500 season.

Team Pitching

The pitching staff continued to be one of the strengths throughout the year as they ended with the fourth-best overall ERA (4.87) in the Pacific Coast League. This was down from last year, however, as the 2018 Redbirds posted a league-best 3.54 ERA.

Memphis was one of the better staffs in not allowing home runs with the second-fewest in the PCL (167), but they did issue the most walks in the league with 607. The Redbirds were in the middle of the strikeout pack, ranked eighth with 1228.

Team Hitting

It was an up-and-down year swinging the bats for the Redbirds as they finished in the middle of the pack in most categories. Ninth place was their home as they were ninth in average (.278), walks (509), runs (803), hits (1,314), triples (30) and RBI (761).

Despite being ranked 11th in the league in home runs with 200, they broke their 2004 franchise record (174) in that category soundly, in large part due to the juiced baseball across Triple-A.

Team Defense

The Redbirds were a strong third in the 16-team PCL with a .983 team fielding percentage. The catchers, led by Knizner and Joe Hudson, stood out with just four passed balls all season long, second-fewest in the league. Their caught-stealing percentage of 37 percent placed them third.

The Hitters

Rangel Ravelo (Steve Mitchell/Imagn)

The late season surge was powered by many, including later arrival outfielders Randy Arozarena (1.028 OPS in 64 games), Justin Williams (1.045 in 36 contests) and Dylan Carlson (1.098 in 21 games), who helped boost the team in its playoff chase.

Among qualified batters, Rangel Ravelo led the team with a .299 average and had a 16-game hitting streak from May 8-24. Ravelo (.856 OPS) and Andrew Knizner (.821) were mid-season Pacific Coast League All-Stars.

John Nogowski came a close second in the team batting race with a .295 mark while playing in 22 more games than Ravelo. His .413 OBP and .889 OPS also stood out for the right reasons.

Adolis Garcia (Steve Mitchell/Imagn)

Infielder Ramon Urias led the Redbirds in doubles with the relatively small total of 24. The PCL leader had 41.

Adolis Garcia was inconsistent most of the year, but his powerful swing gave him the team lead in both home runs (32) and RBI (96), eighth and 10th in the league, respectively. The 26-year-old right fielder did so while posting a .253 batting average, including team-best six triples and 14 steals (and also team high 10 caught stealing). He was the organization’s Player of the Month in August, following Arozarena, who was the June and July winner.

Of particular concern, however, is Garcia’s strikeout rate, up seven percent over 2018 at Memphis, to 30.1 percent this season. His walk rate was just 4.2 percent.

Pitching Staff

Jake Woodford (Steve Mitchell/Imagn)

Jake Woodford posted a 9-8 record and a 4.15 ERA and was named the 2019 Triple-A All Star Game starter for the PCL in the mid-season contest. His nine wins lead the club. 2019 should be looked at a learning period for the 22-year-old right-hander,, who should be considered as a starting pitcher candidate for the Cardinals sometime in 2020.

Daniel Ponce de Leon had a strong season, and an even better finish. His 8-4 record included wins in his last four starts in Triple-A, and he ended the 2019 year in Memphis with a 2.88 ERA in 84 1/3 innings pitched. Ponce de Leon did all of this after being one of the best pitchers in the PCL a year ago when he had a league-low 2.24 ERA.

Austin Gomber made only eight starts with a solid 2.98 ERA before injuries scuttled his season. Former top prospect Alex Reyes struggled to a 7.38 ERA in 10 appearances before his 2019 ended prematurely, as well.

Later arrivals Junior Fernandez (1.48 ERA in 18 games) and Kodi Whitley (1.52 in 16 contests) help to spark the bullpen revival. No Redbirds reliever had more than six saves, with Chris Beck and Mike Mayers both reaching that total.


The Redbirds were a team many scratched off from the playoffs early on in the year but finishing strongly, as was the team’s goal throughout the year. Manager Ben Johnson knew his team had the work ethic to continue pushing through despite the rough start.

While Memphis saw the Sacramento River Cats win the National Championship on their field, if Johnson can help lead his team to a late season surge in his first year as manager despite tying a franchise record of 67 different players on the roster, it would not be shocking to see a 2020 Redbirds team to return to the playoffs and win back their titles. To do so, however, will require a number of players from the disappointing 2019 Springfield team to step up their level of play to that of the expected returnees.

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 DSL Cardinals Red Relief Pitcher of the Year, with individual player award articles exclusively for TCN members.

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

Bonus for Members of The Cardinal Nation

Walton’s 2019 Cardinals NLDS Roster Predictions

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Follow Frank Ramirez on twitter @ramirezfrank17.

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

Memphis Redbirds Notebook – 2019 Week 21

An unlikely late season surge has Memphis (68-68) just a four-game sweep away from being division champs and returning to the playoffs. The 6-1 week was led by Justin Williams, hitting .434 in his last seven games with four home runs. Adolis Garcia crossed the rare 90-RBI threshold.

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Memphis Redbirds Notebook – 2019 Week 20

The Memphis Redbirds (62-67) continued their late season surge, going 6-1 this week and winning of 11 of their last 13. Dylan Carlson, TCN’s No. 1 prospect, has not skipped a beat in Triple-A as he is slashing .529/.579/.941/1.520 in eight games, including seven consecutive multi-hit performances.

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Memphis Redbirds Notebook – Week 19

The Memphis Redbirds (56-66) lost their first series after winning five-straight, but finished the week strongly, at 5-1. The pitching staff continues to excel and Daniel Ponce de Leon’s 20 strikeouts in his last 14 innings underlined his PCL Pitcher of the Week honors. Dylan Carlson and others comment on his Triple-A debut.

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Memphis Redbirds Notebook – 2019 Week 18

The Memphis Redbirds (51-65) finished 3-3 this past week, dropping their first series after winning five straight. Randy Arozarena has reached base in 35 consecutive starts, with his consistency a big reason why he was the Cardinals Minor League Player of the Month in both June and July, and Yadier Molina’s rehab visit drew rave reviews.

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Memphis Redbirds Notebook – 2019 Week 17

The Memphis Redbirds (48-62) maintained their recent momentum, going 5-1 this week. Organization Player of the Month Randy Arozarena continues to shine, hitting .379 and reaching base safely in 30 straight starts. Marcell Ozuna and Harrison Bader discuss their Triple-A assignments and more.

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Memphis Redbirds Notebook – 2019 Week 13

The Memphis Redbirds went 2-5 this week and have the worst record in the PCL at 35-52. Randy Arozarena talks about being named the organization’s Minor League Player of the Month and slashing .400/.458/.588/1.047 in 22 games with the Redbirds. Andrew Knizner reacts to being selected to Wednesday’s Triple-A All- Star Game.

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Memphis Redbirds Notebook – 2019 Week 7

The Triple-A Redbirds were swept in a five-game series for the first time since 2006 and fell to one game under .500 (23-24). Despite the team winning only two of seven games this week, Rangel Ravelo extended his hitting streak to 18 games, two shy of Adam Kennedy’s franchise record.

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“Battle of the Birds” a Major Success

photo: Yadier Molina and Paul DeJong (Memphis Redbirds)

It was an energetic night for baseball and its fans Monday evening in Memphis, Tenn. as The Battle of The Birds exhibition was played for the 10th time. It was the first match-up between the St. Louis Cardinals and their Triple-A affiliate, the Memphis Redbirds, since 2017 when St. Louis prevailed, 9-3. The Cardinal Nation showed their excitement as a sell-out crowd of 10,442 watched a preview of both 2019 teams at festive AutoZone Park.

The proceedings began with autograph signings followed by a ceremony during which the 2018 Triple-A National Champions received their rings.

After the home team seized to an early 1-0 edge in the first inning, the major leaguers took the lead for good via Marcell Ozuna’s three-run home run to left field against Adam Wainwright in the third. That led to 6-3 victory to conclude St. Louis’ spring schedule. St. Louis now leads the all-time series 7-2-1.

It was a homecoming for area resident Stubby Clapp, now first-base coach for the St. Louis after a very successful two-year stint managing the Redbirds. Clapp is fifth on the Redbirds all-time list with 174 wins, and his .619 winning percentage is the best in team history.

Welcomed to an array of applause was Memphis’ new manager Ben Johnson, who is a nearby Germantown native. The former outfielder was drafted by St. Louis out of high school in the fourth round of the 1999 First-Year Player Draft and later reached the majors with the Padres and the Mets.

The Redbirds played full steam ahead right off the bat as Adolis Garcia launched an RBI double off the first pitch he saw from Michael Wacha. Max Schrock scored.

Wainwright was the starting pitcher for the home team and was solid through two innings, yielding just two walks and striking out two. It flipped in the third inning, however, when Andrew Knizner and Paul DeJong walked, and Ozuna’s monster three-run homer on a line-drive to left field gave the Cardinals the lead they would never lose.

Yadier Molina had unfamiliar head-to-head at-bats against Wainwright, since Molina wasn’t catching his pitches, rather he was trying to get a hit against his long-time teammate. The pitcher prevailed, as Molina grounded out in the second, and flied out in the third inning. The pair have been a starting battery for 242 career games, most all-time for St. Louis.

Both had history in the Battle of the Birds matchup with Wainwright starting the April 3, 2004 game for the Redbirds in a 5-1 defeat when he was a 23-year-old. Molina went 1-for-2 (HBP) in a 7-3 win playing for the Redbirds in the April 2, 2004 game.

St. Louis starter Wacha had a strong showing in four innings, allowing two hits, one run and adding five strikeouts, the latter a game-high.

Memphis showed signs of life in the bottom of the seventh after accruing only two hits in the first six innings. It started with Lane Thomas being hit by an Alex Reyes offering. Ramon Urias reached via a fielder’s choice against new pitcher Connor Jones as Thomas scored to make it 5-2. Jones later threw a wild pitch that enabled Brian O’Keefe to dash home from third base.

The game ended with smiles from both teams.

Link to boxscore

What is next

St. Louis looks to build from its strong spring finish as they head to Milwaukee to open the regular season in a Thursday afternoon matchup at 1:10 p.m. (CT). Meanwhile, Memphis has a 10-day wait until its home opener against Omaha. Redbirds manager Johnson is keen to work out the fundamentals with his team, while awaiting the final roster for opening day.

Frank Ramirez will be back each Friday this season with his weekly notebooks from AutoZone Park, covering the 2019 Memphis Redbirds, exclusively for members of The Cardinal Nation.

Stay tuned for the final roster details for Memphis and all four Cardinals full-season minor league affiliates over the next week here at The Cardinal Nation.

Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation

The Cardinal Nation Spring Prospect Interview – Infielder Tommy Edman

Get TCN’s New 2019 Prospect Guide

Order The Cardinal Nation’s 190-page 2019 Prospect Guide now – available in PDF and printed book form, with a special 50% off deal for annual members.

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