Johnson City Cardinals Pre-Season Notebook

On Tuesday night, the Johnson City Cardinals begin their 37th consecutive season as an affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals. Our Shawn Kerrick met the team on Sunday and has the roster and much more news from the Appalachian League club.

The Johnson City Cardinals enter their 37th consecutive season as an affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals (55th year overall as the Johnson City Cardinals) and will begin play in the Appalachian League (founded 1937) at home against the Kingsport Mets on Tuesday night June 21 at 7 PM. Shawn Kerrick will be attending many of the games in person and will file reports and updates during the season.

Same Returning Staff from 2010 Championship Team

Johnson City won the 2010 Appalachian League Championship for the first time in 34 years after sweeping both rounds of the playoffs. They were the first of five different Cardinals minor league teams to compete in the playoffs in 2010 and they were the only team to win a post season championship. Johnson City beat the Burlington Royals in the first round by scores of 8-4 and 20-2 and then swept the Elizabethton Twins by scores of 7-2 and 6-2.

Johnson City (42-24, .636 win percentage) previously clinched the regular season title and the top seed in the playoffs in the five-team Western Division of the Appalachian League. Johnson City had the best record in the league and finished with a slim one-game lead over the second-place Elizabethton Twins.

Serving as Johnson City Manager for the third year in a row will be Mike Shildt. Shildt returns after leading the 2010 club to their best winning percentage finish since 1986 and their most wins since 1996.

Shildt was the hitting and fielding coordinator for Johnson City in 2008 and served in 2007 as a coach for the Batavia Muckdogs, the Cardinals New York-Penn League team in Batavia, NY. Mike served as a Cardinals area scout and in player development from 2004 to 2007. Prior to joining the Cardinals, Shildt worked three years as an associate scout for the Major League Scouting Bureau. Shildt, 42, has a total of five years of collegiate coaching between stops at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and the University of North Carolina at Asheville. He also owned and operated On Deck Baseball Academy in Pineville, NC.

The pitching coach for the third consecutive season is Doug White. White came to Johnson City after coaching the pitchers in Batavia in 2008. White is the founder of the "Passion for Pitching" program, which provides the tools necessary to assist pitchers in becoming effective and efficient in their movement patterns through drills and exercises. White has also coached for the Montreal Expos organization and for the Mid-Missouri Mavericks of the (independent) Frontier League.

White led the 2010 Johnson City Cardinal pitchers, the fifth youngest team in the Appy League (20.7 pitchers' average age), to near middle-of-the-pack finishes in most statistical categories. The major exceptions were walks, saves, and holds. The pitching staff allowed the fewest walks of the ten pitching staffs in the league.

The hitting coach for the second year in a row is Ramon Ortiz. Ortiz, 58, served as the hitting coach for the Batavia Muckdogs in the New York-Penn League in 2009. He was in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization from 2005-2007 and spent six seasons, from 1999-2004, as a coach with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays' organization. The Venezuela native spent nine seasons prior to that as a coach in the Cardinals' system. Ortiz, an outfielder, played five seasons of professional baseball with the Montreal Expos and Minnesota Twins.

Ortiz led the 2010 Johnson City Cardinals offense, the youngest team in the Appy League at 20.1 years average batters' age, to a first-place finish in the league in eleven different categories: batting average (.287), on-base percentage (.355), slugging (.438), on-base plus slugging (.793), hits, runs, runs per game, doubles, RBIs, walks, and total bases.

Same Playoff System for 2011

A four-team playoff structure was implemented in the 10-team Appalachian League last year. The new system replaced the two-team, best-of-three system used for years. In the first round of the playoffs, each division leader will face the second-place finisher of the opposite division in a best two-of-three series beginning August 31. The two winners of the first round series will play in a best-of-three Appalachian League Championship Series. The expanded playoffs mean that natural rivals could meet in the championship series as they did in 2010 when Johnson City beat Elizabethton for the Championship. In the past, only one team per division played after the 68-game regular season.

The Schedule

The Appalachian League will have ten teams again this year with one change to the team names and affiliations. After 53 consecutive years, the Orioles ended their participation in the Appalachian League in 2010. The Bluefield Orioles started in 1958 and were the oldest continuous affiliation with the same major league franchise in Minor League Baseball when it ended abruptly last July. Famous players such as Cal Ripken, Jr. and Boog Powell played in Bluefield for the Orioles.

Fortunately, it is not the end of Appy League baseball in Bluefield. The Toronto Blue Jays organization stepped in and took over the team. I will probably call them the Orioles more than once this year so let me apologize ahead of time for the typos. Bluefield (WV) will really be the Blue Jays this year.

The schedule for each team has 22 three-game series (11 at home and 11 on the road) and two "one-game" series (one at home and one on the road). The "one-game" series are with one of their geographically closest rivals. All home games scheduled Monday through Friday will start at 7 PM EDT. Home games scheduled Saturday and Sunday will start at 6 PM EDT. Doubleheaders scheduled due to rainouts usually start one hour earlier. The schedule also includes three league-wide off-days.

68 scheduled games over 71 days
Starts June 21
Eleven games against the Kingsport Mets (four at home and seven on the road)
Nine games each against the Bristol White Sox, Greeneville Astros, and Elizabethton Twins: 6 road games at Elizabethton
6 home games vs. Bristol and Greeneville
Six games each, three home and three away, against the East Division (Bluefield Blue Jays, Burlington Royals, Danville Braves, Princeton Rays, and Pulaski Mariners)
Three scheduled off days:
July11 (Monday)
July 27 (Wednesday)
August 15 (Monday)
Ends August 30
Top two in each division (Johnson City is in the West) begin a best-of-three series Aug 31

The Roster

I met the team Sunday afternoon and talked briefly with the coaches and 30 players about the upcoming season. The 2011 roster includes just four of 31 players returning from the 2010 Championship team. The 2011 team has less returning Appy League experience than any team I can remember. CF Steven Ramos has the most experience of the returnees and that totals just eight games and 15 at bats. 3B Roberto De La Cruz (two games, six at bats) and OF Anthony Garcia (two games, three at bats) round out the returning hitters. The lone returning pitcher is 2010 supplemental first round draft pick Tyrell Jenkins. Jenkins appeared in just two games (three innings pitched) last year.

Of the 31 active players on the opening day roster, 12 were drafted in the June 2011 First-Year Player Draft and three were undrafted free agents. All 15 will begin their professional baseball careers in Johnson City. The rest are from previous year drafts and Latin America.

Johnson City will utilize a six-man starting rotation that includes seven different pitchers. One position in the six-man rotation will include a "piggyback" or "tandem" of two pitchers. The six lone starters will have 85-pitch limits while the two tandem starters will have 60-pitch limits.

Starting Pitchers (7):
RHP Tyrell Jenkins (1) – Tuesday vs. Kingsport Mets
RHP Josh Lucas (2) – Wednesday @ Kingsport Mets
LHP Kyle Hald (3A) and LHP Ryan Sherriff (3B) – Thursday @ Kingsport Mets
RHP Eduardo Hiraldo (4) – Friday @ Greeneville Astros
RHP Jose Pasen (5) – Saturday @ Greeneville Astros
LHP Ben Freeman (6) – Sunday @ Greeneville Astros

Relief Pitchers (10): RHP Tyler Mills, RHP Heath Wyatt, RHP Roberto Canache, RHP Michael Santana, LHP Manuel De La Cruz, RHP Dyllon Nuernberg, LHP Nick Gillung, RHP Kyle Deese, RHP Eric Binder, and RHP Logan Billbrough.

NOTE: Gillung, Deese, Binder, and Billbrough will all need to undergo further evaluations (medical, coaching evaluations, etc.) before being cleared to appear in a game. They could be ready in anywhere from a few days to as long as two weeks.

Catchers (3): Jesus Montero, Kolby Byrd, and Jonathan Keener.

Infielders (6): Roberto De La Cruz (3B), David Washington (1B), Matt  Williams (SS), Neil Pritchard (2B, 3B), Trevor Martin (UT), and Tyler Rahmatulla (2B).

Outfielders (5):Steven Ramos (CF), Ronald Castillo (LF), David Bergin (LF), Gary Apelian (RF), Anthony Garcia (RF).

Roster Statistics

2011 Draft Picks: 12 of 31
2011 Undrafted Free Agents: 3 of 31
2010 Draft Picks: 6 of 31
2010 Free Agents (from Latin America): 1 of 31
2009 Draft Picks: 3 of 31
2009 Free Agents (from Latin America): 3 of 31
2008 Free Agents (from Latin America): 1 of 31
2007 Free Agents (from Latin America): 2 of 31
Tallest: Josh Lucas and Eric Binder – 6'6"
Shortest: Jesus Montero and Tyler Rahmatulla – 5'10"
Oldest: Eric Binder – 24 years, 9 months (born September 15, 1986)
Youngest: Tyrell Jenkins – 18 years, 11 months (born July 20, 1992)
Heaviest: David Bergin – 235 lbs.
Lightest: Ben Freeman – 150 lbs.
Longest in the Cardinal organization: Jose Pasen – signed March 28, 2007
Highest 2011 draft pick: Tyler Mills – 9th round, 290th overall
Highest 2010 draft pick: Tyrell Jenkins – 1st supp. round, 50th overall



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