Earlier this week I detailed a bit of what happened at the Memphis Redbirds stop of the 2019 Cardinals Caravan. Aside from the news of the team being named the host city/ballpark for the Triple A National Championship in 2019, the Redbirds and Cardinals officially announced news we had known a bit about since November.
Former major-leaguer, Ben Johnson would be taking over as manager of the Redbirds from the newly-promoted Stubby Clapp. Johnson, as I described back in Novemeber, has several connections to the organization, whether as a player or when he was a scout in Arizona.
Johnson doesn’t have a lot of experience as a the head man, but did spend one season as the skipper of the Arizona Centennials of the Freedom Pro League in 2012. Last year, Johnson was part of the Durham Bulls staff that won the International League and was defeated by the Redbirds in the National Championship game.
There’s also a Memphis connection to Johnson, as he attended Germantown High School in Memphis, before being drafted by the Cardinals in 1999. Johnson was also named the Memphis-area High School Player of the Year that same season. The local connection may not make a difference to some fans, but in Memphis, being from here and coming back to manage the hometown team can go a long way especially when you lack some experience as a manager.
Returning from Stubby Clapp’s staff is pitching coach Dernier Orozco. Orozco has been with the Cardinals organization since 2006, when he was the pitching coach for the Cardinals affiliate in the Venezuelan Summer League. The next several years saw Orozco bounce around to various stops through the minors with the Cardinals before ending up in Memphis last season.
The Redbirds pitching staff set a franchise record 3.54 ERA in 2018, which can be attributed to both Orozco and current Cardinals’ bullpen coach Bryan Eversgerd. Eversgerd was with Memphis from 2013-2017 and low ERAs were his modus operandi. Orozco’s staffs with Peoria from 2015-2017 all had sub-4.00 ERAs,
New to the staff is hitting coach Jobel Jimenez. Jimenez has been following a similar career path to Orozco, moving his way through the Cardinals organization over the last decade. He was a scout and outfield instructor for the Los Angeles Dodgers system after his playing career ended in the mid-90s. The Seattle Mariners then used him as a scout and coach in Venezuela in 1999-2000, before a stint in the same role for the Boston Red Sox from 2001-2006. From here is where he got into the Cardinals farm system in Venezuela before moving up the ladder with St. Louis.
Jimenez has enormous shoes to fill as the replacement for the 11-year Redbirds hitting coach Mark Budaska. He improved the overall batting average for the Peoria Chiefs from .246 his first season to a league-leading .266 his last season in 2016. OPS had a similar arc going from .663 to .691 over that span.
The Cardinals have definitely showed a tendency to promote from within as most managers or coaches the Redbirds have had in recent years have ended up in St. Louis. Is every coach going to be a winner? No, but there definitely seems to be a good eye for talent when it comes to prospective coaches in the system.
The Redbirds and their new staff will kick off their attempt at a PCL three-peat with an exhibition against the Cardinals on March 25th at AutoZone Park in Memphis.