The Johnson City Cardinals Report: 07/21/08

The struggling 2-4 St. Louis Cardinals' Appalachian League club was led by position players Niko Vasquez and Curt Smith and pitchers Adam Veres and Samuel Freeman.

The Johnson City Cardinals finished the week (Sunday through Saturday) with a record of two wins and four losses.  They are currently 14-17 and are in last place in the five-team Western Division of the Appalachian League.  They are six games behind the Elizabethton Twins and have the fewest home wins (4) in the Appy League. 


In the ten-team Appy League, the offense currently ranks first in walks, second in both home runs and runs, and third in runs batted in (RBI).  They are eighth in batting average (.253), ninth in strikeouts, and last in triples. 


The pitchers have the second most innings-pitched, strikeouts, walks, and earned runs while ranking eighth in earned run average (ERA), ninth in walks plus hits per inning pitched (WHIP), and last in hits allowed and hit batters.   


I was able to attend five of the seven games in person despite four of the games being on the road.  Those observations provide the basis for this report.  I attended the first three games of the week (home game suspended by rain vs. the Elizabethton Twins and two road games in Kingsport,TN against the Mets) and the last two games of the week (in Bristol, VA against the White Sox). 


Injury/Playing Time Updates


Thirty-two of the thirty-four players on the active roster played this week.


SP Brett Zawacki missed three starts (Games 21, 26, and 31) due to an infection in his right foot.  Zawacki is scheduled to return to action on the back end of the piggyback system in Game 36 (Wednesday).  According to Pitching Coach Tim Leveque, "He felt fine (after his simulated game on Friday) and his velocity was fine.  He is pretty close to 100 percent so he is going to be back in his regular spot (paired with Deryk Hooker)."


SP Mike Blazek missed one start (Game 27) and most of his last start due to sore index and middle fingers on his right (pitching) hand suffered while attempting to field a groundball from the first hitter of Game 22. 


C Rickey Noland last played in Game 25 (Week 4).  When asked about his playing status, Manager Joe Almaraz said, "Castro is the guy we need to play every day and Cawley is the second guy.  It has been tough (to get Noland playing time).  I have to find a place to play him some day.  He will probably play this coming week some time.  I've got orders to play certain people." 


SP Andres Rosales made his debut in Game 27 (Monday) by pitching the bottom of the fourth inning.  Rosales struggled with his control early.  He also saw Niko Vasquez boot a double play ball for just his second error of the year.  Rosales recorded the last two outs of the inning in rare form for a pitcher.  He caught a weak pop-up to the third base side of the mound for the second out and then fielded a ground ball to the first base side of the mound and out ran the hitter to first base for an unassisted groundout. 


SP Scott McGregor made his debut in Game 27 (Monday) despite the fact that he is not listed in the official box score or game log.  McGregor pitched the bottom of the fifth inning.  The official scorer in Kingsport credited the inning to Andres Rosales.  McGregor threw twelve pitches (seven strikes) while recording two strikeouts in a 1-2-3 inning.  SS Niko Vasquez made a nice throw from deep in the hole for the last out of the inning. 


SP (for a day) Samuel Freeman (right) substituted admirably for Mike Blazek in Game 27 (Monday).  On a 45 pitch count, Freeman had his best outing of the year. 


"Carlos Gonzalez for now, pending any other moves we make, is in the bullpen", according to Leveque.  "Carlos gives us a valued long guy in the bullpen that we need."  As a result, Andres Rosales is now paired with Mike Blazek in the piggyback system.  


Regarding having two starting pitchers (Zawacki and McGregor) to fill one open position in the piggyback system, Leveque said, "As of now, with Zawacki, we will probably kind of ease him into it.  On Wednesday, it is almost like we will have a three piggyback system.   Their innings may be decreased just because of the amount of guys we have.  For now, that is what we are going to do."


The Week in Review


Losing most of the close ones was the frustrating theme of the week.  The potential or actual tying or winning run of every completed game this week was on base or at the plate during the final play.  Game 29's (Wednesday) loss was particularly frustrating as a 9-2 ninth inning lead turned into a 12-9 loss. 


The team had a .260 batting average and 2.78 earned run average for the week.  They only allowed two home runs while hitting four.  They had nine errors that led to ten unearned runs.  They recorded 72 strikeouts in 58 innings pitched. 


Game 26 (Sunday):  Suspended 3-1 in the 5th:  The Cardinals Minor League Notebook 07/14.

Game 27 (Monday):  Loss 6-7: The Cardinals Minor League Notebook 07/15.

Game 28 (Tuesday):  Win 5-4: No notebook or minor league discussion thread to link.

Game 29 (Wednesday):  Loss 9-12: The Cardinals Minor League Notebook 07/17.

Game 30 (Thursday):  Loss 3-4: The Cardinals Minor League Notebook 07/18.

Game 31 (Friday):  Loss 2-4: The Cardinals Minor League Notebook 07/19.

Game 32 (Saturday):  Win 8-7: The Cardinals Minor League Notebook 07/20.


League Leaders (Top Ten)


Guillermo Toribio – third in stolen bases (9).


Niko Vasquez – third in on-base percentage (.444) and walks (15), fourth in runs (22), fifth in doubles (10), sixth in on-base plus slugging percentage (.982), seventh in games played (29), and ninth in total bases (57) and hits (36).


Curt Smith – fourth in slugging percentage (.612) and RBIs (24), fifth in on-base plus slugging percentage (1.007), sixth in batting average (.353), and seventh in home runs (5).


Brett Lilley – sixth in on base percentage (.423) and eight in walks (13). 


Osvaldo Morales (right) – seventh in doubles (9). 


Alex Castellanos – tenth in triples (2).


Matt North – ninth in earned run average (2.81) and tenth in WHIP (1.17).


Jorge Rondon – first in games (13) and fifth in games finished (7).


Joel Pichardo and Matt Frevert – fourth in games (10). 


Santo Maertz, Jose Mateo and Samuel Freeman – ninth in games (9).


Tandem Starter Pitch Counts


Game 26 (Suspended 3-1 in the 5th): 

Deryk Hooker (4 innings pitched) – 62 pitches, 36 strikes, 9 of 16 first-pitch strikes.


Game 27 (7-6 Loss):

Carlos Gonzalez (3 innings pitched) – 68 pitches, 41 strikes, 11 of 18 first-pitch strikes.

Samuel Freeman (3 innings pitched) – 35 pitches, 29 strikes, 9 of 10 first-pitch strikes.


Game 28 (5-4 Win):

Matt North (5 innings pitched) – 78 pitches, 49 strikes, 15 of 23 first-pitch strikes.

Jon Bravo (4 innings pitched) – 59 pitches, 38 strikes, 9 of 16 first-pitch strikes.


Game 31 (4-2 Loss):

Deryk Hooker (5 innings pitched) – 77 pitches, 47 strikes, 15 of 21 first-pitch strikes.

Scott McGregor (3 innings pitched) – 30 pitches, 25 strikes, 11 of 13 first-pitch strikes.


Game 32 (8-7 Win):

Mike Blazek (2.2 innings pitched) – 65 pitches, 37 strikes, 5 of 14 first-pitch strikes.

Andres Rosales (3.1 innings pitched) – 41 pitches, 28 strikes, 7 of 12 first-pitch strikes.


Pitch Velocities


Johnson City didn't have the display working on Sunday and Bristol didn't have its display working on Friday or Saturday.  Kingsport intermittently had the display working on Monday and Tuesday but the middle bar of lights was always on so all the pitch speeds that ended in 0 miles per hour (MPH) looked the same as those ending in 8 MPH.  There was nobody throwing 98 MPH so it was safe to assume those were 90 MPH but it got difficult to distinguish pitch speeds in the 70's and 80's.  I would guess that the hand-held speed guns were around 2 MPH faster than those that I recorded from the scoreboard display.  


Matt North was throwing 84 to 88 MPH (touching 89 MPH) with his fastball and 69 to 72 MPH with an off speed pitch (assumed to be a curveball).  I recorded a few pitches in the upper 70s (touching 80) that was probably his changeup or cut fastball.  North appeared to record three of his seven strikeouts on curveballs and four of his seven strikeouts on changeups or cut fastballs.  One of his two doubles was on an 86 MPH 2-0 count fastball. 


Jon Bravo was throwing 86 to 89 MPH with his fastball and 70 to 74 MPH with a sharp breaking curveball.  The 5'7" lefty recorded all six of his strikeouts on his curveball.  Five of the six strikeouts were against left handed hitters. 


Carlos Gonzalez was throwing 82 to 85 MPH with his fastball and 69 to 74 MPH with his curveball but the speed gun wasn't registering velocities early in the game so this is a very limited data set.  The only strikeout I recorded a velocity for was the last of his five (74 MPH curveball). 


Andres Rosales threw 83 to 86 MPH (touching 87 MPH) with his fastball and 66 to 68 MPH with his curveball. 


The speed gun wasn't recording velocities for Scott McGregor or for the start of Samuel Freeman's appearance. 


Samuel Freeman was throwing 86 to 89 MPH (touching 92 MPH) with his fastball and 73 MPH with one curveball. 


Jorge Rondon was throwing 90 to 92 MPH with his fastball and 70 MPH with one curveball. 


Game Notes


Manager Joe Almaraz turned over some of the third base coaching and pitch calling responsibilities to Position Coach Mike Shildt this week. 


Minor-league hitting coordinator Dan Radison was in town this week videotaping the at bats of several players.  In fact, he videotaped a very controversial check swing called third strike by the field ump (positioned between the pitcher and second base)  in the fourth inning of Game 27 (Monday) for an Osvaldo Morales at bat.  Radison was politely asked to leave the field when he discussed it (and the video evidence) with the field umpire between innings. 


1B/DH Curt Smith (right) ended the team's longest hit streak this year (12 games) with a 0-for-3 effort in Game 31 on Friday.


SP Deryk Hooker and C Ivan Castro threw out all three potential base stealers in Game 31 against the Appy League's leading stolen base team (Bristol).  For the season, Hooker is 5-of-7 (71 percent) in throwing out would-be base thieves while Castro is 14-of-22 (64 percent).  Castro has both an accurate and strong arm and Hooker does an above average job of giving catchers a chance to throw out would-be base stealers.  I have timed Hooker from the stretch to the catcher's mitt about six times over four starts and he has averaged less than 1.3 seconds. 


Curt Smith (7) and Alex Castellanos (6) combined for 13 of the team's 24 RBIs this week.  No one else on the team had more than 2 RBIs. 


The team had 13 stolen bases this week with Travis Mitchell (5) and Niko Vasquez (3) leading the way. 


The team had three triples (Niko Vasquez, Travis Mitchell, and Brett Lilley) this week.  That doubled their season total but still left them in last place in the Appy League. 


Guillermo Toribio, one of the hottest hitter on the team during Weeks 1 and 2, had a really tough week at the plate and in the field.  Besides going 0-for-13 at the plate with five strikeouts, Toribio failed to take charge and catch another very high pop-up in a key game situation.  Toribio has allowed several infield pop-ups to go uncaught this year. 


Players of the Week


Each week, I select one position player and one pitcher as the Johnson City players of the week.  This week, I will have to name co-position players of the week for the first time this year.  Curt Smith and Niko Vasquez are co-position players of the week.  Smith wins the award for the second time this year while Niko Vasquez wins for the third time this year.  This week, I will also have to name co-pitchers of the week for the first time this year.  The co-pitchers of the week are Adam Veres and Samuel Freeman. 


There were ten pitchers with a walks plus innings pitched (WHIP) of less than 1.5 and all of them served as piggyback starters at least once during the week.  No single pitcher this week pitched more than five innings so there wasn't much separation in their performances.  Only two of the ten pitchers had WHIPs of 1.00 or less (Freeman and Veres). 


Over four and one third innings pitched, three as a tandem starter and one and a third as a reliever, Samuel Freeman won one game while recording the second lowest WHIP (0.92).  Freeman allowed only four singles (one a Toribio pop-up) while allowing one run and no walks on three strikeouts. 


Over three innings pitched, Adam Veres recorded the lowest WHIP (0.67).  Veres allowed only two groundball singles, no runs, and no walks while recording two strikeouts. 


Of the twelve players with twelve or more at-bats (Joey Hage, Guillermo Toribio, Paul Cruz, Osvaldo Morales, Jarred Bogany, Brett Lilley, Ivan Castro, Edgar Lara, Travis Mitchell, Alex Castellanos, Curt Smith, and Niko Vasquez), only four (Brett Lilley, Osvaldo Morales, Niko Vasquez, and Curt Smith) had batting averages above .250. 


Osvaldo Morales led the team in slugging (.769) and had four of his five hits this week in one game (Game 32, Saturday).  It was very difficult to separate Smith from Vasquez as they each led the team in several different offensive categories.  Curt Smith led the team in batting average (.476), hits (10), total bases (15), and RBI (7) while recording an eye-popping AVG/OBP/SLG/OPS line of .476/.542/.714/1.256.  Vasquez led the team in at-bats (22), runs (6), hits (10), total bases (15), doubles (3), and walks (7) while posting team leads in OBP and OPS with an equally impressive line:  .455/.586/.682/1.268. 


The team put up a better line this week than the last two weeks (.265/.346/.429/.775) but most of the offense is coming from just a few infield players.  Much better offensive production from the outfield is desperately needed.  The outfield combined this week for 33 strikeouts in 85 at bats while producing an anemic line of .200/.253/.329/.582. 


The pitching, after a good start, has cooled off a bit.  The team struck out 56 in 55 innings pitched but a 1.52 WHIP and a 5.37 ERA this week.  The tough loss in Game 29 (Wednesday) really made the relievers look bad.  Seven pitchers, including five relievers and one soon to be reliever (Carlos Gonzalez), produced WHIPs of 1.9 or more this week.  The relievers really need to improve if the team is going to win consistently in the second half of the season.


The Week Ahead


Game 26 Continuation (Sunday):  Jon Bravo followed by Bullpen – vs. Elizabethton Twins

Game 33 (Sunday):  Matt North followed by Bullpen – vs. Elizabethton Twins

Game 34 (Monday):  Kevin Thomas followed by Reynier Gonzalez – vs. Elizabethton Twins Game 35 (Tuesday):  Adam Veres followed by Randy Santos – vs. Elizabethton Twins

Game 36 (Wednesday):  Deryk Hooker followed by Brett Zawacki/Scott McGregor – vs. Bristol White Sox

Game 37 (Thursday):  Andres Rosales followed by Mike Blazek – vs. Bristol White Sox

Game 38 (Friday):  Matt North followed by Jon Bravo – vs. Bristol White Sox

Game 39 (Saturday): Reynier Gonzalez followed by Kevin Thomas – @ Danville Braves


Bonus photos


Co-pitcher of the Week Samuel Freeman in action.




Knee kick


Full stride


Follow through



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