Johnson City Cards Player of the Year: 2009

Rich "Rock" Racobaldo, the Cardinals 37th round pick in the 2009 draft and the Appalachian League All-Star third baseman, is our 2009 Johnson City Cardinals Player of the Year.

Before the season began, Manager Mike Shildt thought Johnson City's pitching and fielding would be pretty good. He told me he was "confident" in both. While he made no specific negative comment about the batting, I sensed that he seemed to think that Johnson City might have trouble scoring runs. That proved to not be a problem as the Cardinals, the second youngest team in the Appy League, finished in second place in the ten-team league in both home runs (65) and slugging (.417); positions they held for almost the entire season.

The team batting average (.278) peaked in third place during the first week in August but everything changed after the mid-season promotions of three of Johnson City's best batters. The Cardinals team BA over the last five weeks decreased each week and finished at .260 (fifth place). A review of the team league leaders showed that Johnson City finished third in the league in wins (37), doubles (122), and on-base plus slugging (.749). The Cardinals batters were ninth out of ten in triples (12), strikeouts (562), and stolen bases (54). They were last in sacrifice bunts (10).

Johnson City finished fifth in fielding percentage (.960). They committed 100 errors in 67 games. The catchers only allowed 10 passed balls (9 was the league low) however, they were last in catching base stealers (20%) and were well below the league average (32%). The catchers also contributed to the pitcher's league lead in wild pitches.

Batter Roster Changes and Injuries

The roster saw a total of nineteen batters during the 2009 season. Eleven of those batters (C.J. Beatty, Yunier Castillo, Edgar Lara, Luis Mateo, Ted Obregon, Audry Perez, Matt Rigoli, Rainel Rosario, Romulo Ruiz, Ross Smith, and Travis Tartamella) played exclusively for Johnson City.

Two of the eight batters that played for more than one level skipped over Batavia when they were promoted from Johnson City to Quad Cities (Rich Racobaldo and Robert Stock). Racobaldo was promoted mid-season while Stock was promoted near the end of the year. Since most of their at-bats were with Johnson City, they were both eligible for Johnson City Player of the Year honors.

Two of the eight batters that played for more than one level were promoted from Johnson City to Batavia near the middle of the Johnson City season (Matt Adams and Michael Swinson). Since most of their ABs were with Batavia, they are both eligible for Batavia Player of the Year honors.

One of the eight batters (Hector Alvarez) started out at Batavia (two games) but was bumped down to Johnson City due to a glut of infielders at Quad Cities and Batavia following the late signing of 2B Jason Stidham and the move of 3B Alan Ahmady away from his 1B draft position.

Three of the eight batters that played for more than one level were promoted from the Gulf Coast League (GCL) Cardinals to Johnson City at mid-season (Jonathan Rodriguez, Kleininger Teran, and Joey Hage). Rodriguez had most of his ABs for the GCL while Teran and Hage were eligible for Johnson City Player of the Year honors. Rodriguez (.250), a first baseman, twisted his right ankle when he got in a rundown between first and second base on August 13. Rodriguez missed four games at the plate and five games in the field.

Batters Eligible for Johnson City Player of the Year (16): Hector Alvarez, C.J. Beatty, Yunier Castillo, Joey Hage, Edgar Lara, Luis Mateo, Ted Obregon, Audry Perez, Rich Racobaldo, Matt Rigoli, Rainel Rosario, Romulo Ruiz, Ross Smith, Robert Stock, Travis Tartamella, and Kleininger Teran.

Injuries: Five of the sixteen players (C.J. Beatty, Luis Mateo, Matt Rigoli, Rainel Rosario, and Romulo Ruiz) lost playing time either on the field or at the plate during the season. You can learn more about their injuries in the "rankings explained" sections later in this article.

Appalachian League All-Star Team

The votes were due by Noon on August 25 and the winners were announced that evening. The Cardinals collected three of the team's 15 spots. C Robert Stock and 3B Rich Racobaldo were the batters voted as Appy All-Stars for 2009.

Batting Statistics – Top Half

Listed in the table below are batting and base running statistics for the top eight Johnson City players in 2009. Each acronym is defined at the end of this article. "Rank" is how the top eight players were ranked. This ranking was based on a combination of first-hand observations and the data listed in the tables. Yellow highlighting is "best" of 16 while orange highlighting was "worst".

Batter Rich Racobaldo Luis Mateo Robert Stock Audry Perez Yunier Castillo Rainel Rosario Ted Obregon Ross Smith
Rank 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
Age 24.3 19.4 19.9 20.8 20.4 20.6 19.4 22
G 35 26 41 40 50 36 58 61
PA 147 100 166 136 173 140 204 211
AB 125 93 149 128 170 125 183 184
R 28 16 25 22 19 20 30 28
H 51 32 48 33 44 34 49 35
2B 11 7 9 7 8 12 4 11
3B 0 1 2 1 2 1 2 1
HR 4 3 7 9 2 1 4 6
RBI 26 12 24 23 10 14 17 16
2-O RBI 10 2 6 9 5 2 2 7
RLISP w/2O 10 6 23 21 18 15 9 23
2-O EFF 0.5 0.25 0.207 0.3 0.217 0.118 0.182 0.233
SB 5 5 0 1 2 3 14 9
CS 2 4 1 0 4 5 3 1
SB% 71% 56% 0% 100% 33% 38% 82% 90%
PO 2 0 0 0 1 3 1 0
BB 15 4 11 8 0 12 17 17
SO 21 25 28 28 39 35 46 70
BA 0.408 0.344 0.322 0.258 0.259 0.272 0.268 0.190
OBP 0.469 0.374 0.386 0.301 0.263 0.350 0.332 0.294
SLG 0.592 0.538 0.550 0.539 0.365 0.408 0.377 0.359
OPS 1.061 0.911 0.936 0.841 0.628 0.758 0.709 0.653
SO/PA 0.14 0.25 0.17 0.21 0.23 0.25 0.23 0.33
PA/HR 37 33 24 15 87 140 51 35
TB 74 50 82 69 62 51 69 66
GDP 2 1 1 5 5 3 0 2
HBP 3 1 5 0 1 3 1 10
SH 0 1 0 0 2 0 2 0
SF 4 1 1 0 0 0 1 0
IBB 0 0 1 0 0 0 1 0


Batter Fielding – Top Half


Listed in the table below are fielding statistics for the top eight Johnson City players in 2009.  Each acronym is defined at the end of this article.  "Rank" is how the top eight players were ranked overall (fielding + batting + base running).  This ranking was based on a combination of first-hand observations and the data listed in the tables.     

Fielding Rich Racobaldo Luis Mateo Robert Stock Audry Perez Yunier Castillo Rainel Rosario Ted Obregon Ross Smith
Rank 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
G 35 27 30 15 50 40 59 63
PO 33 24 236 112 62 50 77 99
A 41 48 32 6 128 3 127 6
OA 2 NA NA 0 NA 3 NA 6
E 5 6 4 0 19 6 12 3
E-F 3 4 0 0 9 4 3 2
E-T 2 1 3 0 9 2 8 1
E-MC 0 1 0 0 1 0 1 0
E-PO 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0
DP 3 6 1 0 23 0 27 0
FLD% 93.70% 92.30% 98.50% 100% 90.90% 89.80% 94.40% 97.20%
PB     6 0        
SB     29 12        
CS     12 0        
CS%     29% 0%        

The Rankings Explained – Top Half

When a batting or hitting "line" is mentioned, it refers to BA/OBP/SLG or BA/OBP/SLG/OPS. Each of those terms is defined at the end of the article. A very good line is .300/.400/.650/1.050 or better. For example, Albert Pujols finished with a 2009 line of .327/.443/.658/1.101 and has a career line of .334/.427/.628/1.055.

#1 Rich Racobaldo: Racobaldo started out hot and stayed hot. He had 15 hits and five multi-hit games in his first 10 games (.417 BA). "Rock" was looking to add some power to his early batting statistics and did so by improving his SLG from .500 over the first 10 games to .592 just before his promotion. After going 0-for-4 with no RBIs in his first game, Racobaldo had at least one hit or one RBI in each of his next 16 games. Racobaldo hit his first professional home run on July 10 to celebrate his 24th birthday.

Racobaldo added left field to his third base fielding resume when Swinson went down with a wrist injury. Racobaldo has a very strong arm and played a solid 3B and an average LF. He appears to be much more "at home" when playing 3B. He had the highest FLD% (93.7) of any regular infielder. Rock was named Appy League Player of the Week for July 13 through July 19 when he was 11-for-25 (.440) with 3 doubles and 3 home runs. He also added an impressive outfield assist from deep left center field to home during the same week. The throw hit the catcher on the fly just before he was plowed over by a base runner. The Cardinals led the game 4-3 at the time so the clutch throw preserved the lead. Johnson City went on to win the game by one run.

Rock peaked out in the middle of July by leading ten different Appy League offensive categories: BA (3rd); OBP, OPS, hits, and total bases (4th); runs, doubles, RBI, and SLG (6th); home runs (10th). Racobaldo actually raised his average from .407 to .410 to .415 in the two weeks after he was named Player of the Week. Rock had a 14 game hit streak (.472) and a 4 game, 2-hits-per-game hit streak (.500) during the period.

Racobaldo (.408/.469/.592/.1.061 in 125 AB) had such a spectacular start to the Appy season that he was voted to the Appy League All-Star Team (tied with Pulaski Mariner 3B Vincent Catricala) despite an early promotion to Quad Cities. His cause was helped by a relatively weak group of Appy third basemen and the fact that his name remained at the top of the league leaders for a couple of weeks after he left. In fact, his name fell off the list just a few days before the votes were due.

Rock ranked first among the 16 batters in five offensive categories: BA, OBP, SLG, OPS, and 2-O EFF. His 0.14 SO/PA was second and his clutch hitting (.500 2-O EFF) was off the charts. His PA/HR was just barely above average but his leadership qualities on the field were well above average.

Racobaldo was 2-for-19 (.105) in his first week with Quad Cities in early August. Racobaldo struggled in the Midwest League (.234/.304/.371/.675 in 124 AB) but still posted a very good first-year two-level-combined line of .321/.389/.482/.871. Although he was 24 years old in the Appy League, his superior performance should not go unrewarded. Rock was definitely a worthy recipient of the Johnson City Cardinals Player of the Year.

#2 Luis Mateo: If it were not for a bad "hammy", this could have been a very special year for the youngest of the 16 players. Mateo, who was a 20th round draft pick in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft out of a high school in Puerto Rico, had six multi-hit games through his first 12 games. Mateo had a .284 BA in 20 G and 88 AB in a partial 2008 season in Johnson City. In his first full season with Johnson City, Mateo started with a .319 BA, 3 HR, and 5 SB in 18 G before he suffered a hamstring injury on a single in the sixth inning at Elizabethton on July 12.

Mateo rehabbed in Johnson City and missed 9 games before he was cleared to play again on July 23. Unfortunately, during pre-game warm-ups, Mateo reinjured his hamstring and was noticeably limping out of the dugout for the national anthem. Hitting coach Johnny Rodriguez speculated that the injury could be bad enough this time to cost him the rest of the season. Mateo was on a four game hit streak (7-for-16, .438) when he was injured. Mateo missed over 50% of the season before returning on August 25 as the third baseman (9-for-19, .474 BA, 100 FLD%).

Although Mateo had only 100 PA and 93 AB, he was impressive enough when healthy to make a statement with his bat. Mateo ranked impressively among the 16 batters in most offensive categories: .344 BA (2nd), .374 OBP (3rd), .538 SLG (4th), .911 OPS (3rd), and 33 PA/HR (6th). His clutch hitting (.250 2-O EFF) was fifth.

Mateo hit left-handed pitching this year with a line of .375/.464/.542/1.006. He was obviously anxious to swing the bat after missing 38 games in a row since he struck out 13 times the last week. Mateo can hit both fast balls and off-speed pitches reasonably well. He swings at a few too many pitches and is susceptible to striking out with high velocity pitchers. His upside potential with age, pitch recognition, and third base potential is worthy of a high ranking. Mateo will be noticed next year if he can complete a healthy 200+ AB year and realize some of that up-side potential.

#3 Robert Stock: As a second round pick, the expectations were high for catcher Robert Stock. The Cardinals plan to focus the former University of Southern California catcher/pitcher on hitting and fielding looked to receive a boost when Stock was voted to the Appy All-Star Team as a catcher. While Stock seemed to more than hold his own at the plate, he is still a work in progress behind the plate.

Stock has good energy behind the plate but needs to anticipate poor pitches and improve his pitch blocking technique. Stock has difficulty smothering balls in the dirt so that they don't roll away too far. Early in the season, Stock had a bad case of "dropsy" when trying to pull the ball out of his glove on a stolen base attempt. That led to a 29 CS% (32% league average). Stock added four errors (three throwing and one pick-off) and six passed balls. At least one of those passed balls resulted in a run, at a critical point in the game, and directly led to a loss. Stock is only 19 years old and should benefit next year in Quad Cities from catching better pitchers (such as first round pick Shelby Miller).

Stock (.322/.386/.550/.936) was a pretty easy pick for All-Star catcher with a relatively weak group in the Appy this year. As a voter, I analyzed the options based on games, at bats, and batting average. 19-year-old Fernando Cruz of the Burlington Royals posted the best fielding percentage (.995) and 18-year-old Miguel Gonzalez of the Bristol White Sox had the best caught-stealing percentage (35%). Stock's offensive statistics were much better than Cruz's and Gonzalez's and the fielding (.985) and caught-stealing (12-for-41, 29%) percentages were not far off. Stock cooled-off considerably at the end of the year after being promoted to Quad Cities (.095 BA with 5 K in 21 AB).

Stock ranked impressively among the 16 batters in most offensive categories: .322 BA (3rd), .386 OBP (2nd), .550 SLG (2nd), .936 OPS (2nd), 24 PA/HR (3rd), and 0.17 SO/PA (3rd). His clutch hitting (.207 2-O EFF) was below team average (.234). The left-handed batting Stock had his best splits when his girlfriend was in Johnson City in July (.357/.456/.714/1.170) and vs. right-handed pitching (.339/.390/.625/1.015).

#4 Audry Perez: Perez (.258) was mister excitement this year at the plate. Perez, the 2008 Dominican Summer League Position Player of the Year, had two game-winning, pinch hit home runs and several other clutch, late-inning hits. Perez had just three walks in his first 92 at bats this year but soon after his impatience was noted in a weekly report, he walked five time in 36 at bats. Perez led the team with 9 HR and 15 PA/HR. He was third on the team with a .539 SLG and .333 2-O EFF. He led the team with 5 GDP and had the most PA of the three batters with no HBPs. The right-handed swinging Perez was aggressive (no walks) against left-handed pitching (.318/.318/.659/.977). He averaged 11 AB/HR with a .20 SO/AB rate against southpaws.

Perez was 0-for-12 this year in nabbing base stealers however; he had no errors and no passed balls. Perez played more games as a DH than any other position so finding him a fielding position will be important for next year. His catching tools seemed to be good enough for him to stick at catcher however; he also "stood" in RF (no putouts) for two games this year. Clutch power hitting was his most impressive tool.

#5 Yunier Castillo: Castillo's fielding ability at shortstop alone may get him to the majors in the eyes of some Cardinals coaches. If he learns to dive for groundballs and take a walk, it would help his path. The 20-year-old Castillo has tremendous range, average hands, average instincts, and a strong arm. Consistency in his fielding is his problem right now. Castillo recorded 19 errors in 190 chances (90.9 FLD%) and led the team with 9 throwing and fielding errors each.

Castillo is a right-handed throwing switch hitter that has much better splits from the left side of the plate. Castillo (.259) had a .316 BA and .792 OPS against right handed pitching. He has some speed but led the team with 5 GDP. His plate discipline is virtually nonexistent (173 PA, 0 BB) and he routinely swings at pitches a foot or more out of the strike zone. He could be a major leaguer with improved hustle, fielding consistency, baseball IQ, and swing discipline.

#6 Rainel Rosario: The 20-year-old Rosario is like a tool box full of rusty tools. He shows glimmers of virtually every tool a major leaguer needs. Unfortunately, injury reduced his year to just a little over a half-season so there wasn't much time to file the rust off the tools. Rosario started out the first six games with a .315/.390/.449/.839 line but then played just 10 more games in early July (.257) before heading to Jupiter, FL for rehab on a blood clot or cyst above his right knee. Rosario was pretty rusty when he returned a month later and was just 2-for-14 (.143) in his first five games back. Rosario finished the year with a .272 BA that surely would have been .300 + if Rosario was healthy.

How Rosario has the worst PA/HR (140) on the team is beyond my comprehension. Rosario hit the hardest hit baseball I saw hit this year to LF. It would have been a 450 foot + HR if the scoreboard hadn't gotten in the way. Rosario finished 5th in OPS (.758) but needs a lot of work in clutch hitting (.118 2-O EFF), fielding (89.8 FLD%) and base running (5 CS, 3 PO, 38 SB%). If Rosario can somehow imagine that the bases are empty every time he comes to the plate, he will do fine. He had a .328 BA and .855 OPS with no runners on base. Rosario, a right handed batter, hit much better against righties (.315 BA) than he did against lefties (.167).

The tools are there with Rosario. The real question is can he get the rust off of them next year. Much like Mateo, I expect a breakout season for Rosario next year. This ranking is on potential.

#7 Ted Obregon: Obregon is a classic, speedy, lead-off hitter that will live and die with OBP and SB. Obregon, a 2007 signee out of Caracas, Venezuela, had a tremendous August going before he finished his last 10 G with a .125 BA. Just like Yunier Castillo, Obregon is a right-handed throwing switch hitter that has a better BA as a left-handed batter (.293) than as a right-handed batter (.217). Obregon is probably the fastest runner and best bunter on the team. He led the team in bunt base hits, runs (30), triples (2), stolen bases (14), and GDP (0). Obregon posted the second best SB% (82) of all the base runners with more than three attempts.

Obregon's best attribute was his ability to hit with RISP: .368/.405/.447/.852. Obregon struggled with his throwing (eight throwing errors) from a relatively easy throwing position (second base). Obregon was the second youngest on the team and is just a few days older than Luis Mateo. If Obregon can hone his skills in the field and become a classic lead-off/table-setter, he can climb high up the minor league ladder.

#8 Ross Smith: Ross Smith is a great athlete with very good speed. He led the team in games (93), outfield assists (6), SB% (90), and HBP (10). Translated, that means he stands close to the plate, doesn't get injured, has good speed, and a good arm. He very slowly improved his batting from .136 after his first 22 AB to a .190 BA at the end of the year. He hit his first two professional home runs in the same game. On the "needs improvement side", put down "more contact". He was last on the team in strikeout rate (0.33 SO/PA). The speed is only good if he can get on base but assuming he can make more contact in the future and put his speed to work, he should improve in the future.

Link to part two of this article.

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