2015 Springfield Cardinals Team Review

Though they finished under .500, the Double-A Cardinals’ second half playoff push went until the final day of the season.

The Springfield Cardinals, the Double-A Texas League Northern Division club of the St. Louis Cardinals, entered their 11th season with a completely new playing surface at Hammons Field. Under the supervision of head groundskeeper Brock Phipps and his assistant Derrick Edwards, the ballpark won its fifth consecutive Texas League Field of the Year award, announced earlier this month (September 2nd).

The Cardinals also added new sections to the ballpark with the unveiling of The Nest and Homer's Landing in their first full seasons. The manual scoreboard, in operation by late 2014, was also in its first full season. All three were driving forces to continue improving Hammons Field’s overall reputation in minor league baseball.

All that aside, the 2015 Cardinals finished their season with a 64-76 overall record, the third straight losing campaign since the franchise won its first and only Texas League championship in 2012. Springfield got off to a historically bad start by losing 26 of their first 36 games, but manager Dann Bilardello, his fellow coaches, and players remained loose and stayed the course. They won 19 of the final 34 games in the first half for a 30-40 mid-term mark, 10 games back of the first-place champion NW Arkansas Naturals (KC).

The Cardinals continued that late first-half push, positioning themselves as one of the second-half mainstays atop the Northern Division. The second-half champion wasn’t crowned until the final game on September 7th, when the Arkansas Travelers (LAA) prevailed over NW Arkansas to clinch. At 34-36, the Cards won four more games than in the first half, but improved from 10 games out before the break to just one back as the second half ended.

This improvement was guided by a relatively new coaching staff, with two holding significant positions - Bilardello (manager) and Jason Simontacchi (pitching coach) – with playing experience, but without any prior coaching experience in the upper levels of the minor leagues. Another former major-leaguer, Erik Pappas, was in his second full season as hitting coach.

Even without a post-season berth, Bilardello was more than satisfied with his team’s stance at season's end. “We’ve battled hard all year to put ourselves in this position. It was in our hands. We had three games against Tulsa, and we knew that we probably had to win two, then if (Arkansas) sweeps, you give them credit,” Bilardello told the Springfield News-Leader, “To Arkansas’ credit, they did what they had to do. I don’t have a problem with that. Our guys didn’t give up, so I don’t have a problem with how this whole thing ended up.”

Rehabbing MLB players

It was not necessarily a good thing for the big-league club (St. Louis Cardinals), but last year’s crop of rehabbing players are a part of St. Louis’ current and growing core. Kevin Siegrist, Michael Wacha and Yadier Molina were among the notable major leaguers rehabbing at Springfield in 2014. Also appearing was Jason Motte, now with the Chicago Cubs.

The 2015 group of big-league rehab individuals was much smaller in size. No MLB position players were active in Springfield at any point this season. Two big-league pitchers appeared briefly for the Double-A Cardinals - Jaime Garcia and Jordan Walden. Garcia made one start while Walden pitched twice in relief. Though he was not on a major-league rehab assignment, 2014 St. Louis postseason star Marco Gonzales made two starts while working his way back to Memphis from a shoulder injury.

Big-league promotions

In the past, the Cardinals dipped down to Double-A in attempt to provide a spark. Recent examples include Carlos Martinez, Maikel Cleto, Trevor Rosenthal and Marco Gonzales. However, no pitcher or position player accrued a day of service time on the parent-club roster this season, but former closer and the Miami get in the Steve Cishek trade was Kyle Barraclough, who has excelled in a relief role for the Marlins. Barraclough has upper 90s velocity with a darting slider.

The offense

Under second-year hitting coach Erik Pappas, the Cardinals were an improved, but still middle-of-the-pack caliber offense in the Texas League, finishing fourth in batting average (.259, improved seven points from 2014), third in runs scored (629, 76 more than 2014), fourth in total hits (1221, 43 more than 2014), fourth in extra-base hits (370, 58 more than 2014), tied for third in runs batted in (577, 75 more than 2014), drew the third-most walks (536, 83 more than 2014), second fewest strikeouts (933, 55 less than 2014), and ranked fourth in OPS (.729, 44 points higher than 2014).

As Greg Maddux once said, “Chicks dig the long ball.” Well, the Cardinals had six hitters with 10 or more home runs in 2015. Plus, Bruce Caldwell was a home run short, as the middle infielder slugged nine home runs for Springfield. Since the inaugural 2005 season, this has been accomplished four other times.

The most recent was the 2012 championship over-the-fence-swinging offense. A few names from that lineup who had 10 or more home runs include three big-leaguers: the late Oscar Taveras, Greg Garcia and the franchise's all-time home run leader, Xavier Scruggs. Current Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong was also an integral part of that offense, but fell one home run shy of 10 in 2012.

In mid-July, Pappas outlined the simplified approach he stresses with his hitters. “It’s always about getting a good pitch to hit,” he said, “I don’t try to think too much and put so much in their head, to be honest with you. It’s really about getting a good pitch to hit and putting a good swing on it.” Later in the season, Pappas said of his offense’s ability to fight back in games, “We can come back. We’re more than capable of it and have done it over and over again this year,” he said. “I don’t even worry about it when we’re down early, because this team is resilient.”

The pitching

First-year pitching coach Jason Simontacchi was put to the task of working with familiar faces from his previous stop with the Peoria Chiefs, arms that had limited experience at the Double-A level, however. His challenge was to guide his pitching staff through the smoothest of possible transitions into the offensive-oriented Texas League.

Growing pains were experienced along the way, but Simontacchi’s staff remained durable and tossed the second most innings in the league (1235 2/3 IP). The unit as a whole ranked seventh of eight teams in earned run average (4.36 ERA), allowed the most hits (1296), but issued the second-fewest walks (451). Overall base-runner rate was high (1.41 WHIP), second-worst in the league. The lack of strikeouts was a clear weakness, as the staff ranked sixth in strikeouts (989), the Cardinals’ lowest total since the 2011 season.

In early July, Simontacchi spoke of his pitching staff over the course of three full months, “Improving. We didn’t start off too hot in the beginning, but I think our pitchers have settled into who they are. They are definitely improving, and realizing who they are as pitchers. I think it’s just come to fine-tuning some stuff and blossoming.”

All-Star Representatives

Eight Springfield Cardinals were named to the Texas League Midseason All-Star Game for the North side. Cardinals’ representatives included quartets of position players and pitchers: outfielders Charlie Tilson, Nick Martini and Jeremy Hazelbaker while Michael Ohlman was the North starting catcher. Arturo Reyes, Chris Thomas, Joey Donofrio and Kyle Barraclough were the pitchers.

In late August, the Texas League named its annual Postseason All-Stars with three Cardinals named. Tilson, Ohlman and right-handed starter Arturo Reyes made the league-wide team.

The Cardinals are sending eight prospects to the prestigious Arizona Fall League which begins on October 13th. Six of them were active at Springfield during 2015 and “will finish school” this fall. Those headed to Arizona as Surprise Saguaros are Tilson, a taxi-squad player, Ohlman, Aledmys Diaz the former regular shortstop, two-year third baseman Patrick Wisdom, and the live arms of Alex Reyes and Robby Rowland. The latter was utilized in the back-end of the Springfield bullpen in his brief time up.

In conclusion… with a sneak peek ahead

The Springfield Cardinals showed glimpses of potential throughout the first half before becoming second half playoff contenders in the Texas League North - until they were eliminated on the last day of the season. The main goal is players “moving out of the clubhouse”, as Bilardello once noted. The Cardinals continued the trend of development that benefited a number of prospects at the Double-A level, ones we will hopefully see contribute at the highest level (St. Louis) sooner rather than later.

With the next wave of talent on the rise from the lower levels, the Springfield coaches should be even better prepared as the 12th season of Cardinals baseball comes into the foreseeable future.

In 2015, the average attendance at Hammons Field was the lowest in the team’s 11-year history, but the 2016 schedule will include the Texas League All-Star Game at Hammons Field, planned for June 28th. The Cardinals will open the season on the road, playing at San Antonio Missions (SD) on April 7th. The home opener is scheduled a week later, April 14th against the Missions.

For more

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 Springfield Cardinals Reliever, Starting Pitcher and Player of the Year.

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© 2015 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com and scout.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

© 2015 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com and scout.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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