Coming into the year, the Johnson City club looked primed to compete for an Appalachian League championship again given that the club was, yet again, loaded with young talent that was likely to spend most of the year with the club.
For the third time in four years, the Cardinals delivered the Appy League crown to the trophy case at Howard Johnson Field, slipping into the playoffs by going 7-3 in their last 10 games and then coming from behind twice in six playoff games take the title from rival Danville.
Three Year Park Factor: 113 (hitter friendly)
Player of the Year:
Ian McKinney, 19, LHP
Note: McKinney spent some time with State College as well this season. These statistics are just from his games with Johnson City where he spent most of the year.
McKinney followed up his solid professional debut with with the Gulf Coast club with another excellent campaign this summer, striking out 31 in 35.2 innings against just 7 walks and allowing only 27 hits. Opposing hitters had just 5 extra base hits, with zero home runs, which is a stellar season pitching in a pitchers park and a league that's generally been favorable to hitters over the last three seasons.
Back in February, I listed McKinney as a player to watch this season and he more than lived up to that hype, even though he really doesn't have the elite stuff that some of the other pitchers in the Cardinals system possess. Pitchability is off the charts for McKinney, especially at such a young age, but he struggled a bit more in his two starts with State College so we'll need to see how he transitions when he starts pitching against more talented hitters.
I, for one, am optimistic. The young lefty reminds me a lot of Tim Cooney, who had no trouble adjusting to the higher levels of the minors despite the lack of truly elite stuff.
Players of Note:
Jose Godoy, 19, C
Everyone knows that I have a real soft spot for left handed hitting catchers not named A.J. Pierzynski so the fact that Godoy fits that profile puts points in his column that he may not otherwise deserve, but his .339/.433/.400 slash line certainly doesn't hurt either. That's just a 134 PA sample size but the peripherals surrounding that batting line make one cautiously optimistic:
- Twice as many walks (18) as strikeouts (9)
- Just 9 strikeouts in 134 plate appearances, which works out to 41 K's in 600 PA's. That's pretty damn good.
A bit of a forgettable season for Mercado, but at least he saved his best for last, going 10-25 with 7 runs and 5 RBI's in the Appy League playoffs. Mercado hit just .217/.297/.296 on the year and his golden glove didn't look so shiny either: 33 errors in 274 total chances over 517 innings for just an .880 fielding percentage. I wasn't able to see him play much at all, so I don't know to what extent those defensive numbers may be skewed by Mercado's ability to chase nearly everything down, but suffice to say that his batting line combined with his fielding line do not inspire a ton of confidence in terms of future production.
The playoffs were a nice turnaround, however small the sample, and Mercado did flash his baserunning skills throughout the year, swiping 26 bags at a 78.8% success rate. The tools and talent is there, it just hasn't completely translated to the field just yet. With Edmundo Sosa barking up the tree, however, it likely better happen sooner rather than later for Mercado.
Chris Rivera, 19, 2B
If last season was a forgettable one for Oscar Mercado that goes double for Chris Rivera, who didn't get Mercado's playoff bounce, going 3-20 with 7 strikeouts in the postseason. I had high hopes for Rivera coming out of a spring where he had filled out some (5'11", 170 lbs to 6', 200 lbs) and developed some pop. His AMA with VEB back in April was one of the best things we've done here with a minor league player and Rivera comes across as a guy who is really working hard to make his dream of playing in the MLB happen. Hopefully he'll soon flash some of that talent that put him in B-A's Top 10 amateur players at age 16.
Blake Drake, 20, CF
Drake was a bit of a surprise after being drafted in the 30th round out of Concordia University in June, he went on to hit .280/.363/.419 in 274 PA's with 6 homers while playing solid defense in CF. That line was good for a .381 wOBA in the Appy League, which is generally fairly heavy on offense, so comparatively there's a lot to like here.
A good walk rate (9.1%) coupled with a .139 ISO and a averagish strikeout rate (17.5%) make for an interesting lower minors prospect. Given his production in 2014 I would expect him to get a shot at making the Peoria roster on opening day given a good spring in minor league camp and we'll have a much better read on him at that point.
Other notables include Kevin Carlow, a reliever who struck out 28% of the hitters he faced out of the bullpen this year, Steven Farinaro, an over-slot 19th rounder from 2013 with a lot of potential that he's just not been able to realize yet, and the Casey's, Turgeon and Grayson, late round college bats from the 2014 draft who both posted above average wOBA's in the Appy League despite being quite a bit older than the league average player. Turgeon may be the next guy on the Mason Katz/Jacob Wilson train, the college middle infielder who can both hit and field his position and comes out of relative obscurity to garner scouting attention.
Overall, a lot of good talent in Rookie ball for the Cardinals, a good mix of high ceiling players matched with high floor depth at a number of important positions.