2012 Springfield Cardinals team review

Welcoming the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals to town provided inspiration for the Springfield Cardinals to claim their franchise-first Texas League crown.

The 2012 season at Hammons Field started with as much excitement and anticipation as a Double-A team could expect. The World Champion St. Louis Cardinals returned to Missouri for their first game since their historic run to the World Series title last fall. It was a exhibition game that had been cancelled due to snow the previous year, leaving the great fans of Springfield eager for their Cardinals, especially now crowned as champions, to return to the city.

The two skippers
Although the exhibition game itself did not provide a lot of excitement for the fans at Hammons Field, there was still considerable electricity that surrounded the stadium as nearly 10,000 fans lined up to see their World Series heroes like David Freese.

Trevor Rosenthal started the game for St. Louis, which proved to be a sign of things to come. Rosenthal later became one of four Cardinals to wear the uniform for both Springfield and St. Louis in 2012. Rosenthal received the call on July 16th to make the jump directly to St. Louis after lefty Sam Freeman had already made the progression from Springfield to Memphis and then St. Louis. Major Leaguers Matt Carpenter and Brian Fuentes also appeared in limited rehab games for Springfield in 2012 before rejoining St. Louis.

Before making the jump directly from Springfield to St. Louis, Rosenthal seemed to be on the fast track. He joined top position prospect, 19-year-old Oscar Taveras, and first-round pick, Kolten Wong, in making the leap over Palm Beach from Quad Cities to Springfield.

With several exciting players in place to start the season, the expectations for Springfield were high. However, the season didn't quite get off to the start that they had hoped for in April.

Ending the regular season at 16 games above the .500 mark at 77-61, the Cardinals had put together an exciting run in the second half of the season that culminated in the franchise's first Texas League Championship.

The regular season

Although the season brought a lot of excitement, it did not start out so with a rough stretch in April. Manager Mike Shildt, managing for the first time at the Double-A level, had the team off to a slow start during a April that included two ejections for the manager and a 10-game losing skid.

Finishing April with an 8-16 record, and coming off a losing season, the outlook for the Cardinals season was questionable at best entering May. With the longest losing streak in team history to close April and sitting 10 games out of first place, the Cards didn't look to be much of a challenge for the first half division playoff spot.

However, the team bounced back and put together a solid May at 17-11. They pulled to within a game on June 10 before they slid to finishing five games back as the first half came to a close.

The second half was a very different story as team chemistry took hold and the Cards caught fire. Jumping out to a division lead on the first day after the break, the surging team never relinquished that lead as they cruised to a second half playoff berth by 7 ½ games over the Drillers. With their impressive second half, the Cards finished above the Drillers for the top overall record in the Texas League North, just behind Frisco and Corpus Christi for best overall in the Texas League.

The semi-finals

The team needed more than the regular season to prove they were tops in the Texas League as they found themselves matched up against the Tulsa Drillers in the first round of the playoffs.

The series provided a lot of excitement as the Drillers included Major League rehabber Troy Tulowitzki on the post-season roster. The rehabbing shortstop wouldn't be enough to best the Cardinals though as veteran Chris Swauger caught fire and slammed three home runs in the game one win over the Drillers. Swauger later added two doubles and another RBI in game five of the series earning him Top Offensive Player of the Texas League's postseason by Minor League Baseball despite him missing the Texas League Championship Series.

Swauger was forced out of the Texas League Championship Series after breaking his collar bone while diving for a ball in the outfield of game five of the division series. The ball Swauger dove for would have tied the game and potentially have changed the outlook if not the outcome.

The Cardinals also received a brilliant pitching performance from Boone Whiting, who threw seven innings, allowing a hit and a run in the game five clincher.

Losing Swauger would have been a big blow for the Cardinals in the championship series but he stuck around despite his injury and brought a calming clubhouse presence for his teammates.

The finals

The Cards were matched up against the Frisco RoughRiders for the championship in a Double-A affiliate rematch of the 2011 World Series between St. Louis and the Texas Rangers.

Much like the Drillers with Tulowitzki, the Rangers included Major League rehabber Mike Napoli on their championship roster. With the exception of a two-run bomb in game two, Napoli had little effect in his appearance with Frisco.

Springfield jumped off to a quick 2-0 lead in the series. It included timely home runs from Greg Garcia and Mike O'Neill in game one and a epic six-run comeback after being down 4-0 in game two. After dropping game three in Frisco, the Cardinals got a tremendous pitching performance form Scott Gorgen and a season-saving throw from Adam Melker to claim their first ever Texas League Championship.

Hitting standouts

Along with the title, the Cardinals had plenty of star power to provide excitement for the fans as well. Much of it came from Oscar Taveras, who was among top five considered for Minor League Player of the Year. Taveras claimed Texas League Player of the Year honors with the title going to a Springfield Cardinal for the second straight season, following Matt Adams in 2011.

Taveras not only grabbed top honors but also beat his teammate Jermaine Curtis for the Texas League batting title, finishing at .321. Taveras proved he can handle that bat as his average dipped below the .300 for just one game during the 2012 season. Combining average with power, Taveras also clubbed 67 extra base hits including 23 home runs, 37 doubles, and seven triples during the regular season and added four more doubles during the nine games of the postseason.

Improved power is just one part of Taveras' game that saw improvement during a season which saw the young slugger turn 20 years old midway through. The youngster proved he was pretty good with the glove, too. He continued to improve throughout the year in centerfield, even making some outstanding plays to save runs during the postseason.

Taveras and Kolten Wong both grabbed national attention during the year after being named to the MLB All-Star Futures Game in Kansas City. Taveras clubbed a single and was robbed of a double in the game after slamming a double and a home run in the Texas League All-Star game in Tulsa just a week earlier.

Wong excelled in the leadoff role for the Cardinals for much of the 2012 season, maintaining an average above .300 and even challenging Taveras for the team lead for much of the season until a late slide left him at .287 to end the year. Wong excelled in making things happen on the bases as he had a team-leading 21 stolen bases. While Wong did have 17 errors at second base, overall he had an outstanding year at the position, making some tough plays that proved crucial to the team's success.

Overall the Cardinals had many honors during the 2012 season. Taveras, Wong, Xavier Scruggs, and Chris Swauger all earned Texas League Player of the Week honors at different points throughout the summer. Taveras and Wong, along with Jermaine Curtis, Audry Perez, Trevor Rosenthal, and Keith Butler were the six Cardinals named to the Texas League Mid-Season All-Star roster. Texas League Postseason All-Stars included Taveras, Wong, Butler, Rosenthal and Seth Maness.

Pitching standouts

Pitching had its ups and downs throughout the season but overall there was a very strong crop of arms at the farm in Springfield. Lefties John Gast and Tyler Lyons both had very strong performances in Springfield before heading to Memphis before the season's midpoint.

Trevor Rosenthal excelled in his starting role with Springfield, but after making 17 starts and posting a 2.78 ERA, Rosenthal was promoted directly to the St. Louis Cardinals bullpen.

A bright spot in the rotation emerged from the early season promotion of Seth Maness. After an outstanding start to his season at Palm Beach, Maness made 20 starts for Springfield after his promotion. Maness posted an 11-3 record with a 3.27 ERA while climbing his way into pitching prospect conversations.

Keith Butler excelled in the closing role for the Cardinals. He earned 25 saves in the regular season and five more in the postseason while logging a 5-1 record and a 2.76 ERA in 53 appearances. Butler did seem to tire a little late in the season though, as he posted nearly double the ERA in the second half of the season as he did in the first. Reliever Eric Fornataro was also outstanding in the setup role.

Also emerging onto the scene for the Double-A Birds in 2012 was top pitching prospect Carlos Martinez, who joined Springfield after a stint on the disabled list. The hard-throwing righty emerged onto the scene with high expectations and wowed the Hammons Field crowds with a fastball that topped 100 mph multiple times. At first, it was difficult to gauge Martinez as the Cardinals limited his innings. In the end however, Martinez ended up making 14 starts for Springfield ending with a 4-3 record and a 2.90 ERA.

Overall, Martinez lived up to the excitement and put together a solid year in his first stint in Double-A. In his first taste of playoff baseball with Springfield, Martinez had a rough outing in game one of the division series, allowing two runs in each of the first three innings. However, the righty came back with composure in the championship series and delivered a seven-inning performance in game one, surrendering no runs on just four hits and striking out seven.

The reinforcements

Every team needs some late-season additions to provide a surge toward the end of the season and into the playoffs. Springfield had three late season adds that proved to be just what they needed.

On August 18, first-round pick Michael Wacha arrived on the scene at Springfield. Wacha threw eight innings in four relief appearances for the Cardinals and struck out 17 batters while allowing just one run.

Just a few days later, outfielder Mike O'Neill arrived at Hammons Field. After locking up the Florida State League batting title, O'Neill hit .563 in 13 games at Double-A.

Finally, after missing most of the season and making a few limited starts in the Gulf Coast League and Midwest League, Boone Whiting arrived on August 28 to make two starts for Springfield. Whiting threw 12 innings allowing just two runs and came up big in game five of the division series, throwing seven innings allowing a run and a hit.

In closing

Overall, it was an outstanding year for the Springfield Cardinals. They brought home their first Championship, welcomed the World Champions to Hammons Field and saw five top prospects pass through the gates.

It will be exciting to see how many of the players continue to perform this fall as the Cardinals will be sending eight players to the Arizona Fall League including Kolten Wong, Mike O'Neill, Boone Whiting, and Kevin Siegrist, all to represent Springfield for the Surprise Saguaros.

Link to master article with all 2012 award winners, team recaps and article schedules for the remainder of this series.

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