The Johnson City Cardinals baseball team has become accustomed to recognition and accolades over the years. With three championships under the club’s belt in only the last five years, including the most recent in 2014, it is easy to see why Cardinals players are proud to be a part of this team.
“We are all so proud to be in such a classy and professional organization like the Cardinals,” said returning left-handed pitcher, Sasha Kuebel. “The guys here are awesome, and everybody involved here from the top to the bottom is here to help you.”
Kuebel is one of seven returning players to the Cardinals roster for the 2015 season. That will hold a lot of responsibility this year, but Kuebel insists that that responsibility will not be taken lightly.
“We have to bring a lot of leadership because we know a little bit about how things work around here,” he said. “I just hope we can help out the new guys and be a positive influence for them this season.”
The Cardinals finished in second place during the regular season in 2014, but became the Appalachian League champs, winning out in post-season play.
“We [veterans] know what is going on, so we are being held to a different standard because we shouldn’t be messing up,” said Kuebel. “We are a year older, and we are just trying to continue to play well and feed off of what we did last summer.”
The final returning player on the Cardinals roster is Chris Rivera. Rivera joined the Cardinals halfway through the 2013 season after a stint in the Gulf Coast League, and sees his role as a veteran as a great responsibility to aid the team in winning another championship in 2015.
“I would consider my role as more of a ‘lead by example’ on this team,” said Rivera. “Leadership as a whole is going to be a very important component of my game this season.”
After an off-season transition from third base to catching, Rivera is now finding his way behind the plate, and he is anxious for the season to come.
“I just want to help out my pitchers; I want to help them out when they are in tough situations, and I feel like I am more in control from behind the plate,” said Rivera. “It’s a different role and a different view, but for the most part, I think the pitchers appreciate me behind the mound, and I appreciate them, so I am looking forward to a great season.”
Although Rivera is not necessarily considered a “veteran” catcher, he hopes that by having paid his dues in the Cardinals organization, he will be able to help out the two rookie catchers, Riley Drongesen and Ryan McCarvel, the only other backstops to open with the 2015 Cardinals.
McCarvel, who had an impressive collegiate career at Howard College in San Angelo, Texas, is highly anticipating his first professional season, but mostly, just wants to make the most of any opportunity he is presented.
“Coming into my rookie season, I am learning the ropes a little bit,” said McCarvel. “I’ve got to make the most of the minutes that I get.”
McCarvel, who was selected in the 15th round of the 2015 draft, describes his being drafted as a “dream come true,” and the fact that it was by the Cardinals makes it all the more sweet.
"After I heard my name called, it was definitely an exciting feeling and something that I have wanted for along time; it was my childhood dream,” he said. “I had heard such good things about the Cardinals organization - especially that they take care of their players - so I couldn't have picked a better team to be drafted by.”
Along with McCarvel and Drongesen, nine other rookies join this year’s Cardinals team, a team that is on the hunt for yet another Appalachian League Championship. They include infielders Paul DeJong (4th round), Luke Doyle (20th), Hunter Newman (22nd), Josh Swirchak (free agent); outfielder Craig Aikin (13th); and pitchers Ryan Helsley (5th), Chandler Hawkins (33rd), Harley Holt (FA) and Ben Yokley (29th).
Among The Cardinal Nation’s top 40 prospects on the initial Johnson City roster are shortstop Edmundo Sosa, second baseman-turned outfielder Malik Collymore, outfielder Magneuris Sierra, pitcher Ronnie Williams and opening night starter Bryan Dobzanski. All competed last season for the Gulf Coast League Cardinals, a talented club that fell just one win short of the GCL title.
Often times, playing for a team who is so successful is accompanied by the pressure to perform and excel, especially for the hometown fans, but this Cardinals team knows what must be done in order to continue the legacy of success.
“I feel like there’s always pressure from the home-crowd to bring another championship back here,” said McCarvel. “We just have to play our game, and we will succeed. We have to approach every series the same way and play the way that we know how to play.”
As a veteran, Rivera knows that no matter what is expected, no one wants to bring a championship back to Johnson City any more than the 29 players who make up this Cardinals roster.
“I think that we have nothing to lose,” he stated. “We all want to win, get another ring, and be a part of playoff ball in September. We all want to be a part of a winning team, and knowing that we’re all on the same page takes a lot of the pressure off.”
The Johnson City Cardinals are coming off of a spectacular year, and as of right now, show no signs of letting up. With a bevy of new talent, combined with a strong force of mature, dedicated veterans, and a team morale that is unlike any other, the Cardinals will undoubtedly be a force to be reckoned with during the 2015 season.
“Just judging by practice, everyone looks very good,” stated Kuebel. “The returning guys have progressed well, and the morale is great in the clubhouse. We really feed off of each other, and even though we haven’t truly played in a game together yet, I think that as a team, we are going to do some great things this season.“
Under the guidance of rookie manager Chris Swauger, pitching coach Bill Villanueva and hitting coach George Greer, the 2015 Cardinals will open regular season play on Tuesday, June 23rd, vs. the Kingsport Mets at Hunter Wright Stadium. The game is set to begin at 7 p.m.
You can view the entire Johnson City roster - as well as those from all Cardinals minor league affiliates - here at The Cardinal Nation. They are always just a few clicks away. On the menu bar underneath the site logo, click on “PROSPECTS”, then “MILB ROSTERS/PLAYER PAGES”, then select the team and player.
All summer long, check out The Cardinal Nation’s daily and in-depth weekly reports on the 2015 Johnson City Cardinals. Our morning Minor League Notebooks recap the previous day’s games and include links to the box scores.
Written by TCN’s local reporter Allison Jones, our weekly Johnson City Cardinals Notebooks will return - exclusively for TCN members - each Sunday morning for the entire regular season – and post-season if the Cardinals again qualify.
© 2015 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com and stlcardinals.scout.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.