There is no way to perfume it.
The Palm Beach Cardinals of the Class A-Advanced Florida State League had a dismal 2016 season.
They finished last in the combined first and second halves and had the poorest showing in terms of winning percentage of any of the St. Louis Cardinals’ eight minor league affiliates in 2016. In fact, it was the worst record posted by any Cards’ full-season club in over a decade.
Of course, even amid the mounting losses, individual player development occurred as always.
The 2016 edition of the Cardinals echoed their major league parent in one way – an unusual inability to win at home. Not counting their showing as the visiting team at Roger Dean Stadium against Jupiter, Palm Beach barely won a third of their home contests at 24-45 (.348).
Yet on the road, the Cardinals played .500 ball at 34-34.
In the first half, Palm Beach had a competitive club. The 32-36 Beach Birds finished in fifth place, six games back in the standings of the FSL South Division.
The second half was a different story. In the full heat of summer, the Cardinals wilted, winning just 13 games at home and 13 away. Their 26-43 record (.377) put them a distant sixth (last place) in the South Division, 13 1/2 games out of first.
The FSL is a full-season league. The 140-game regular-season schedule began on April 7 and concluded on September 4. The 12-team league is made up of two six-team divisions with the Cardinals placed in the South.
Each team played division opponents 10 times at home and 10 away. That meant the Cards’ schedule included 20 games each against the Bradenton Marauders (PIT), Jupiter Hammerheads (MIA), St. Lucie Mets, Fort Myers Miracle (MIN) and Charlotte Stone Crabs (TB). The rest of the schedule was filled out against North Division foes Daytona (CIN), Clearwater (PHI), Brevard County (MIL), Lakeland (DET), Tampa (NYY) and Dunedin (TOR).
Interestingly, the FSL South may not change starting in 2017 despite the Astros and Nationals building their new complex nearby in Palm Beach, since neither organization has a team in the league. Washington has their high-A club in the Carolina League and Houston currently competes in the California League, but is rumored to be headed for the Carolina League as well.
The season began with great promise, as the Cardinals opened with seven wins in their first eight games. Palm Beach closed April with a 4-1 stretch for a 14-9 overall record. It would be their only winning month.
As well as April began, May started far worse. The Beach Birds dropped 10 in a row, scoring just 21 runs, as part of a 1-15 skid. By mid-month, the promising season was in a downward spiral with the club at 15-24 to date. However, the Cards showed fight by going 10-3 over the final two weeks of May to improve to 25-27.
In June, prior to the All-Star break, the Cards went 6-7 and also 6-7 after. They finished the first half at 32-36.
Mid-July brought another six-game skid that was part of a 2-10 stretch of poor baseball. The Cards finished the dreadful .250 month (7-21) on a seven-game losing streak as any reasonable chance of competing in the second half evaporated.
The Beach Birds won six of eight to open August, but endured another mid-month drought, with a seven-game run of losses as part of a 1-11 skid.
To close that latter losing period, a three-game sweep at the hands of Fort Myers was indicative of the season as a whole. Cardinals pitching allowed just four runs in 27 innings, but that wasn’t nearly good enough as the offense was shut out twice and scored a lone run in the other defeat.
With the second half long lost, Palm Beach played better at the end, winning six of seven, with their lone defeat another 1-0 shutout. The Cards ended 2016 with just their second sweep of a series of three or more games this season, with the other way back in early April.
All told, the Cards offense was shut out 22 times over the long season, including being whitewashed 15 times after the break. The club’s second half mark was a discouraging 26-43.
A historical perspective
Prior to 2016’s struggles, Palm Beach had logged two consecutive winning seasons, including a playoff berth in 2015.
It has been over a decade since the last time any Cardinals full-season minor league club had a worse winning percentage than Palm Beach’s .423 mark this season. The 2006 Memphis Redbirds limped home with a .403 mark (58-86), the last Cards full-season affiliate to struggle this badly.
The .423 winning percentage is the lowest by a Palm Beach club since the team’s very first year in Jupiter. The inaugural 2003 Beach Birds came in at .408 (58-84).
Following are the Palm Beach Cardinals’ records by year.
Playing in a pitchers’ park, the Cardinals finished fifth of 12 league teams in ERA at 3.44. That was three-quarters of a run worse than the team’s FSL-leading 2.65 ERA in 2015. The Cards were still better than the league-average ERA in 2016 of 3.58.
The Cards’ strikeout total of 950 was just 12 out of a share of the FSL cellar, in 10th place. However, the staff issued the third-fewest walks at 406.
The Cardinals’ WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) of 1.305 placed them eighth, or fifth from the bottom of the league. Still, they were just under the FSL average of 1.307.
This is not a pretty story.
Only because of the even more offensively-challenged Brevard County club did the Cardinals not finish dead last in the league in every key offensive stat other than walks, on-base percentage and steals.
In the positive view, the Cardinals were first in free passes with 513 and eighth in OBP at .317. As a team, Palm Beach stole 137 bases, second-most in the FSL.
On the other side of the coin, the most important side, the Cards could just not score runs consistently. They finished a mediocre 11th in the league in hits, runs, batting average (.235), slugging (.306) and OPS (.624).
The Beach Birds were last with just 33 home runs as a team all season long. That is less than half the average of 76 compiled by the other 11 FSL teams. As another point of comparison of the futility level, Miami’s Jupiter club, which plays the same number of games at Roger Dean, hit 57 long balls in 2016.
Only one Cardinal launched more than three home runs over the entire season. Outfielder Orlando Olivera had six.
Fielding was not a strong suit of the 2016 Palm Beach Cardinals, either. The club’s fielding percentage of .973 was 11th of 12.
On one hand, opponents attempted the second-fewest stolen bases against the Cardinals, but Palm Beach’s success rate at throwing them out of 31 percent was just eighth-best, two percent below the FSL average.
The Cardinals opened with a five-man rotation that they used much of the season, when health allowed – right-handers Jack Flaherty and Matt Pearce plus lefties Austin Gomber, Jacob Evans and Ian McKinney. Swingman Blake McKnight also made 11 starts.
By the end of the summer, Pearce and Gomber had moved upward with hard-throwing prospects Junior Fernandez, Sandy Alcantara and Derian Gonzalez joining the rotation from Peoria along with Brennan Leitao. In addition, the organization signed an independent ball pitcher in June, Johnny Walter, who made six starts with Palm Beach and another eight with Springfield.
Eight different pitchers earned saves, with Kevin Herget first getting six in a tremendous start and Rowan Wick following with the same total before following the former to Double-A. Kyle Grana also logged six with team leader Landon Beck securing seven.
2016 supplemental first rounder Dakota Hudson was with the club long enough to save three August contests. Like Herget and Wick, Hudson finished the season in Springfield’s playoff bullpen.
Going around the infield, all-glover Steve Bean was the primary catcher all season, with a revolving door of backups that seemed to change almost weekly. The only other consistent starter was Casey Grayson at first. Second baseman Darren Seferina opened and closed the season on the DL and played unevenly in between.
Opening shortstop Oscar Mercado’s struggles in the field and at bat continued with a defensive change to center field made during the season. Soon, his replacement at short, Edmundo Sosa, joined Seferina on the shelf. Third baseman Danny Diekroeger started hot, but missed much of the season before returning late.
Among the opening outfielders, Blake Drake later moved up to Springfield, Nick Thompson retired and like Diekroeger and Seferina, Michael Pritchard missed considerable time due to injury. Olivera was the only season-long constant.
Two standout college hitters drafted in 2015 could have helped the Beach Birds out of the gate, third baseman Paul DeJong and outfielder Harrison Bader, but instead, the pair were skipped over the high-A level. As both went on to excel in the Texas League, the decision seemed best for the players and the organization overall, though clearly not for Palm Beach’s inept 2016 offense.
Flaherty finished 10th in the league in ERA at 3.56 and third in Ks with 126.
Though he was promoted in August, Pearce’s 126 2/3 innings with Palm Beach were enough for him to rank second in the FSL ERA race at 2.37.
With his on-base mark at .391 for the season, first baseman Casey Grayson was second in the league. At .267, Grayson’s batting average was the highest among qualifying Cardinals, at just 21st-best in the FSL. His 44 RBI led the team, with every other player having less than 30.
Despite not playing for the final seven weeks, Seferina finished fourth in the league with 32 steals with a stellar success rate of 84.2 percent. Mercado tied for second in the FSL with 33 steals but was caught 20 times, the most in the league, for a 62.3 percent success rate. Mercado and Grayson tied for the team lead with 50 runs scored.
Among the Beach Birds ranked in the most recent monthly top 50 prospect list compiled by The Cardinal Nation include Flaherty (5th), Sosa (6th), Hudson (8th), Alcantara (10th), Fernandez (16th), Seferina (30th), Gonzalez (38th) and Leitao (44th).
Three Cardinals competed in the Florida State League All-Star Game for the East Division. Starter Gomber and reliever Wick were selected as was injury addition Bean.
Only one Beach Bird was named to the league’s post-season All-Star Team, Pearce.
Under second-year manager Oliver Marmol, the 2016 Palm Beach Cardinals had decent pitching, but the weak offense constantly kept them under pressure. A very poor season in the standings ensued.
Link to master article with all 2016 award winners, team recaps and article schedules for the remainder of this series. Of course, that will include our selections as the Palm Beach Cardinals Reliever, Starting Pitcher and Player of the Year.
Five Beach Birds have been invited to participate in the Cardinals fall instructional league camp that begins later this month. They include Alcantara, Fernandez, Gonzalez, Sosa and Mercado.
First-hand reports from Jupiter will be coming later this month, exclusively for members of The Cardinal Nation.
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