The farthest level of competition away from the Major Leagues – in both distance and experience – is the Dominican Summer League. The St. Louis Cardinals’ club there opened its 11th season with some promise. Newly-signed players and a new three-field complex awaited its first official action.
“We came into the year with some expectations…,” said Cardinals director of international operations Moises Rodriguez. “…knowing that we were going to take our program to another level. We were going to have a new facility with improved conditions and more space to work with. There is always excitement surrounding players you signed from the previous year that you are looking forward to seeing on the field in uniform. Everybody was pretty excited coming into the year.”
After the 2014 club limped home at 22-48 (.314), their worst record since the Cards joined the rookie-level league in 2008, the 2015 team won a dozen more games, going 34-38 (.472). They finished in third place, 16 games behind first place Rangers1 in the six-team Boca Chica North Division after ending up 28 1/2 games out in their division the year before. It was the team’s best showing since 2010.
Still, Rodriguez warned not to put too much stock in the record.
“At the lowest level of ball, especially in an academy league, you don’t always measure success by wins and losses,” he said. “There is obviously a lot of factors – a lot of player development situations that you are trying to implement in different players and positions. You have a lot of inexperience. You have a lot of young players. So you don’t always try to measure - because there are so many factors involved – success in wins and losses.”
The DSL plays under a different calendar than other short-season leagues, opening their 72-game schedule at the end of May and finishing during the third week of August.
To ease travel, each team played exclusively in its division. Series were always of two-game duration – one at home and one away. That meant three series per week with Sundays off.
Other division opponents were Mariners2, Astros Orange, Nationals and Angels.
Following an opening day loss, on May 30, the Cards won five of their next eight. At 5-4, that would be the last time the 2015 club was over .500. The club encountered three and four-game losing streaks on the way to an 11-16 first-period start.
In July, the club would never string more than two wins or losses together until they dropped five in a row from the 20th through the 24th to the Mariners2, Angels and Astros Orange. The end result for the month was identical to June at 11-15.
Manager Fray Peniche, in his fifth year, and his staff got the Cardinals playing considerably better in August, including a pair of season-long four-game winning streaks. The club finished strongly, with a 12-7 record in the final month, but by then, they were too far back in the standings to threaten.
A historical perspective
Here are the DSL Cardinals records by year. Though division configurations have changed over time, before the 2015 rebound, the Cards’ absolute position in the standings had slid in each of the prior four years since second-place finishes in 2009 and 2010.
In recent seasons, the DSL Cardinals had relied in large part on their pitching. The results from the staff remained important in 2015. The team ERA was almost identical from last year to this – 3.54 to 3.55. That placed the Cards 15th in the 38-team league, up from 19th the year before.
The young staff, tutored by first-year pitching coach Giovanni Carrara, struggled to throw the ball past their opponents with regularity as their strikeout total of 513 was 24th. The staff was relatively stingy with free passes, logging the 16th fewest walks at 258, which aided their showing in baserunners allowed with a WHIP of 1.39, 19th in the league, smack in the middle.
Under second-year hitting coach Erick Almonte, the Cardinals offense had arguably its best showing ever, creating a more balanced attack than in recent years. The team was 17th in runs scored with 372, up 123 runs from 2014, when they were second to last. While the Cards were 20th in batting average this summer, the .253 mark was a whopping 42 points higher than the year before. It is also the team’s best BA since joining the league.
The Cards were just one double short of a share of the DSL lead at 130. They tied for fourth in home runs in 30. In OPS, they were fourth at .370. All are new highs for the Cardinals in their 11 DSL seasons.
When they did reach base, the Cards were not standouts. They stole just 46 bases, dead last in the league. On top of that, their success rate was just 55.4 percent.
In three-base hits, the power in the bats overcame the apparent lack of speed with the team’s total of 36 three-baggers ranking seventh in the circuit.
Rodriguez was especially proud of the improvement shown by the young hitters.
“We did really well offensively compared to the year before,” he said. “We did finish in the middle of the pack in batting average, but finished near the top, fourth I believe, in home runs. Second in doubles. We were in the top third in OPS. All three as team categories so we are very happy to see progress on that front – that we were offensively able to take a step forward.”
For the first time since 2011, the Cardinals featured three DSL All-Stars. What made this even more unusual is that all three are position players. My records go back to 2010, with this the first time since then that no pitchers were named.
In what may be an emerging trend, two 2015 DSL Cardinals players were promoted to the Gulf Coast League during the summer. They are left-handed pitcher David Oca and right-hander Ronald Medrano. Oca finished the season at State College.
As we move into the awards for the top position player, starting pitcher and relief pitcher on the 2015 DSL Cardinals, we will drill down into individual player stats and highlights.
Six 2015 DSL players have been invited to participate in the Cardinals fall instructional league camp that begins this month. They are Rodriguez, Ynfante and third baseman Elehuris Montero plus pitchers Oneiver Diaz, Enrique Perez and Alvaro Seijas.
The latter, a 16-year-old Venezuelan, has yet to make his official professional debut after signing a 2016 contract on July 2nd for a reported bonus of $762,500.
The other 2015 DSL Cardinals should compete in the Dominican version of instructs, which will commence at the Cardinals academy in October.
Expect a number of the more advanced members of the 2015 DSL Cardinals to be invited to extended spring training in Jupiter, Fla. starting in April 2016. That includes the aforementioned six at instructional league this fall.
The more-balanced DSL Cardinals will hopefully build on their improved 2015 experience and progress to an even better 2016 performance.
Rodriguez summed it up this way.
“Overall, we had 12 more wins than the year before,” he said. “We had some positive things on the offensive side and saw some good starting pitching - which we are used to around here - and have done well with down in the Dominican. I would say that overall, we were definitely headed in the right direction and we are satisfied with a lot of the things that we saw.”
Link to master article with all 2015 award winners, team recaps and article schedules for the remainder of this series. Of course, that will include our selections as the DSL Cardinals Reliever, Starting Pitcher and Player of the Year.
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