photo: TVA Credit Union Ballpark (Johnson City Cardinals)
Tuesday, June 18 marks the start of the Appalachian League regular season and for the Johnson City Cardinals, 2019 has brought a sense of optimism for this proud franchise. After finishing with a disappointing 31-37 record last season, Johnson City is looking to bounce back and win its seventh division title and ninth league championship, the first since going 39-29 overall in 2016.
Returning manager Roberto Espinoza is excited for the start of the 2019 season, but notes that his job is not just about winning games and securing the Appalachian League Championship.
“It is important to develop their mindset in terms of winning games, but we won’t sacrifice their development for a win,” Espinoza said. “For example, many times to win the game, we could pinch hit a guy. But that’s the part we need to understand, leaving that lefty in to face that left-handed pitcher, because he needs to understand how to deal with that.”
This week, the Johnson City Cardinals finalized their initial 35-man roster, which includes a variety of new faces and top prospects. Headlining the roster are two players ranked in the top-20 of the Cardinals farm system by The Cardinal Nation: 19-year-old outfielder Jhon Torres and 18-year-old third baseman Malcom Nuñez. Both are expected to bounce back after short and unsuccessful trials in the Class-A Midwest League last month.
Last season, Torres, a native of Sincelejo, Columbia, and the No. 17 ranked prospect in the Cardinals organization according to TCN, hit .397 with four home runs and 14 RBI in 17 games in the Gulf Coast League after being acquired in a trade with the Cleveland Indians. Nuñez, a native of Havana, Cuba, and TCN’s No. 7 ranked prospect, hit .415 with 13 home runs, 16 doubles and 59 RBI and won the Triple Crown of the Dominican Summer League just weeks after signing.
This year’s Johnson City roster includes 12 members of the St. Louis Cardinals’ 2019 draft class, including ninth-round selection Todd Lott, who hit .332 with eight home runs and 48 RBI at Louisiana-Lafayette this spring and 10th-round selection Jake Sommers, a promising young right-hander who struck out 37 batters in 30 innings of work at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee this season.
Johnson City’s 2019 squad also features four players who played for the club last season. Left-handed pitcher Enrique Perez, catchers Brandon Purcell and Zach Jackson, and infielder Liam Sabino are all returning from the 2018 team. Espinoza believes that a lot of turnover though will ultimately make the entire organization successful.
“It means we developed really good talent last year and we have just a few guys that repeat this league,” the manager said. “Everybody else is upper levels, so that’s really good and that’s why we have new faces. Our expectations every year is to make sure we develop these guys as much as we can prepare them for next year, prepare them for the big leagues. That is our goal every single year.”
The Johnson City Cardinals kick off the 2019 season against the Pulaski Yankees on Tuesday, June 18, 2019 at TVA Credit Union Ballpark.
The Cardinal Nation has the full Opening Day roster for Johnson City here, including photos and player bios.
Starting this Sunday and every Sunday all season long, catch local reporter Cole Sams’ weekly Notebook with all the news and notes straight from Johnson City – exclusively for members of The Cardinal Nation.
Also, all Johnson City game recaps will be included in our free daily Minor League Notebooks, posted every morning here at TCN.
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