The rookie-level Gulf Coast League is the lowest rung of the seven levels in the St. Louis Cardinals system in the United States.
Partially because of its location, at the Cardinals complex in Jupiter, Florida, the club ends up with an interesting mix of players – from non-drafted collegians to high school stars to first-time US players from the Dominican Republic academy, a few top draft pick ringers thrown in and even more experienced players on rehab assignments to complete the mix.
This edition of the Cardinals was the best in the eight years in which they have competed in the GCL. Manager Steve Turco’s club played .617 baseball, winning 37 and losing just 23. The Cards won their four-team East Division by four games over the Mets.
The GCL is a short-season league. The 60-game regular-season schedule began on June 20 and concluded on August 28. The 16-team league has four four-team divisions.
To ease travel, each team played exclusively in its division. That meant the Cards’ schedule included 20 games each against the Marlins, Mets and Nationals. With one exception, series were of three-game duration – with an interesting twist. Either one or two games in each set were at home and the remainder away. Clubs played two series per week and took Sundays off.
With the exception of the first three weeks of August, the Cardinals had a tremendous summer.
They got out of the gates quickly. By the end of June, the team was 7-2 and improved to 12-2 after taking the first five games of July to conclude a six-game winning streak. The Cards kept racking up wins, finishing with a 17-9 mark for the month of July.
August began with a rainout, all too common in Florida, but the losses soon started to pile up. Two four-game losing skids dropped the club to 5-12 by the 20th, but then the Cards pulled it back together.
The team entered the one-game semi-finals on the heels of a season-best eight-game winning streak. As the second seed, the Cardinals hosted the third seed, the East Division winner Red Sox, in the elimination contest, which they dropped, 7-4. The Sox went on to take the league title.
A historical perspective
Here are the GCL Cardinals records by year. The eight seasons are in two clear groups. In the first four years, the Cards never logged a winning record. However, since 2010, they finished above .500 three of four years, including two division titles in the last three seasons.
As an organization, the Cardinals are known for their pitching and with their focus on hurlers continuing in the 2014 draft, the GCL Cards delivered on the promise.
The staff, tutored by returning pitching coach Darwin Marrero, logged an aggregate ERA of 3.01, placing them second in the 16-team league. It was a major improvement over the 2013 club’s 3.73 mark, ninth-best.
Speaking of ninth, that is where their 2014 strikeout total of 401 placed them. The pitchers were very stingy with free passes, however, logging the fewest walks at 123. That was 23 less than the next-best club and under half the free pass count of two other teams. That miniscule walk total set up their GCL-low WHIP of 1.15.
Under first-year hitting coach Kleininger Teran, up from the Dominican Summer League, the Cardinals offense was equally impressive. They finished second in runs scored (299) and first in batting average (.283), 21 points better than the second-place team and 40 points higher than the 2013 GCL Cards.
The 2014 club was also tops in the league in on-base percentage at .365 and slugging at .391. It only follows that their .756 OPS was also first.
A common shortfall across the entire system, including St. Louis, is baserunning. The GCL Cardinals stole 55 bases, 12th in the league. Their success rate of 69.3 percent was below league-average. All was not lost, however, as the Cards legged out a GCL-best 33 triples.
The long ball was not a part of the Cards’ attack. They launched just 15 home runs as a team over 60 games, four off the lowest total in the circuit. Their doubles total of 96 was sixth.
28 members of the initial GCL Cards were system returnees. They were augmented by the organization’s four first and second-round picks, all pitchers – Luke Weaver, Jack Flaherty, Andrew Morales and Ronnie Williams.
As college hurlers, Weaver and Morales were on the Michael Wacha/Marco Gonzales plan - getting their feet wet in the GCL before making brief appearances in the Florida State League. However, both were shut down in early August and returned to the GCL roster.
Other draftees assigned to the GCL included 12th-rounder Jordan DeLorenzo (down from Johnson City), 28th-rounder Tyler Dunnington, 29th-round pick Bryan Dobzanski, 38th-round selection Sasha Kuebel (later promoted to JC), 40th-rounder Davis Ward, all pitchers, and 31st-round pick, third baseman Julian Barzilli.
As the draft signing season progressed, the GCL Cards picked up at least eight non-drafted free agents to augment the roster. They included outfielders Michael Pritchard (JC) and Derek Gibson (Palm Beach), pitchers Kevin Alexander (State College), Jery Then (JC), Andrew Reidt and Silas Bohannan and infielders Michael Massi and Jake Gronsky. At the end of the GCL season, the first four were promoted to the higher-level clubs noted in parens above.
With three GCL all-stars in 2014, announced at the conclusion of the season, the Cardinals exceeded their aggregate total earned over the last four years of just two.
Along with Pritchard and infielder Malik Collymore, outfielder Magneuris Sierra was recognized as part of the 13-man all-star squad. That is an impressive showing, remembering the league is 16 teams. Further, batting champion Sierra was named the circuit’s Most Valuable Player.
In addition to the free agents mentioned above, other players earning end-of-season promotions included Dunnington, pitcher Dylan Hawkins and infielder Edmundo Sosa to State College, plus Sierra and infielder Eliezer Alvarez to Johnson City.
Among the GCL Cardinals ranked in the most recent monthly prospect list compiled by The Cardinal Nation include Weaver (seventh), Flaherty (14th), Sosa (25th), Sierra (32nd), Dobzanski (36th) and Williams (40th).
As we move into the awards for the top position player, starting pitcher and relief pitcher on the 2014 GCL Cardinals, we will drill down into individual player stats.
The penalty box
On Tuesday, Minor League Baseball announced the suspension without pay of GCL reliever Yeison Medina for the first 50 games of the 2015 season. The 21-year-old tested positive for the banned stimulant heptaminol under baseball's drug program.
The right-hander, a native of the Dominican Republic, was 4-1 with a 1.64 ERA in 19 relief appearances. Medina fanned 31 and walked eight in 33 GCL innings.
Six 2014 GCL players have been invited to participate in the Cardinals fall instructional league camp that begins this month. They include five pitchers – Flaherty, Dobzanski, Williams, Frederis Parra and Ramon Santos plus infielder Collymore.
In conclusion, the Gulf Coast League Cardinals had the right mix of youth and experience and should provide a number of battle-tested players to higher-level organizational clubs in 2015.
Link to master article with all 2014 award winners, team recaps and article schedules for the remainder of this series. Of course, that will include our selections as the GCL Cardinals Reliever, Starting Pitcher and Player of the Year.
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