While We Wait for the Season- Minor League Coaching Assignments

Every year just before the annual Cardinals Caravan and Winter Warmup, the Cardinals announce their assignments for managers and coaches in their organization. While we wait for the season to begin, let’s look at these people and a short bio on them.

Memphis Redbirds (AAA)

Memphis native and former St. Louis Cardinals minor league outfielder Ben Johnson will manage the Memphis Redbirds during the 2019 season, the Cardinals announced Friday.

Johnson becomes the eighth manager in Redbirds history and replaces Stubby Clapp, who was promoted to the Cardinals staff as first base coach after leading the Redbirds to back-to-back Pacific Coast League championships in 2017 and 2018.

Johnson returns to The Bluff City after spending the 2018 season as a coach for the Durham Bulls, the Triple-A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays. Prior to that, he spent three seasons as a scout with the Arizona Diamondbacks. His previous managerial experience came with the independent Arizona Centennials of the Freedom Pro League in 2012.

The other members of the Redbirds coaching staff for 2019 include returning pitching coach Dernier Orozco, whose Redbirds pitching staff set a franchise record for ERA in 2018, and new hitting coach Jobel Jimenez, who spent the last three seasons with Double-A Springfield. The returning athletic trainer is Matt Corvo, and the new strength and conditioning coach is Frank Witkowski

Springfield Cardinals (AA)

Joe Kruzel has been named the new Manager of the Springfield Cardinals for the 2019 season,  becoming the sixth skipper in Springfield history.

Darwin Marrero will be returning for his second season as the Cardinals Pitching Coach. Brandon Allen has been announced as the Cardinals new Hitting Coach. Dan Martin has been named Springfield’s new Trainer and Dan Vega will serve as Strength Coach.

Kruzel takes over for Johnny Rodriguez, who managed Springfield from 2017-18 and in 2017 tied an organization record with 77 wins.

Kruzel, 53, enters his 12th season with the Cardinals and seventh year as a manager within the organization, most recently leading the State College Spikes (Short-A) to a 36-40 record in the New York-Penn League. Kruzel made his Spikes debut in 2017 following the ascension of Rodriguez to Springfield. He’s had previous managerial stints with Peoria (High-A) in 2014-16 and Johnson City (Rookie) in 2013. Kruzel has led his teams to two postseason appearances as a manager within the Cardinals organization and holds a career managerial record of 363-333, including one season (2007) as a manager of the Billings Mustangs while with the Cincinnati Reds organization.

Kruzel’s career in professional baseball spans 12 years, starting out with the Reds for two years before moving to the Cardinals as a hitting coach with the Quad City River Bandits (High-A) in 2008, where he remained until being hired as manager in Johnson City in 2013. Prior to his time with the Reds, the veteran collegiate coach served as assistant baseball coach at Miami (Ohio) University in 2005. He also spent 15 seasons (1989-2003) at the University of Toledo, where he served as assistant coach from 1989-92 and then moved on to head coach from 1993-2003. Kruzel was named Mid-American Conference Coach of the Year in 1999. In addition to his coaching career, the Toledo, Ohio native played second base at Toledo from 1985-1988. He currently resides in Hamilton, Ohio, with his wife Amy and three children A.J. (25), Jaime (22) and Abby (20). A.J. was drafted by the Cardinals in the 37th round of the 2013 draft, but did not sign.

Marrero, 38, is beginning his seventh season in the Cardinals organization and second with Springfield. Twelve pitchers from Marrero’s staff received call-ups from Springfield to Memphis (Triple-A) during the 2018 season. Marrero’s career with St. Louis began as Pitching Coach for the Gulf Coast League Cardinals (Rookie) from 2013-14, followed by the same role with the State College Spikes (Class-A) from 2015-17. The 2016 Spikes recorded a league-low 1.76 ERA in the New York-Penn League Playoffs on their way to capturing the league championship.

Prior to joining the Cardinals system, Marrero was Pitching Coach for the Sioux City Explorers in the American Association (2008). The Explorers staff compiled a league-best ERA, boasted the Pitcher of the Year and their closer established a new league saves record. In 2005, he was Pitching Coach for the Capitales de Quebec in the Can-Am League while also throwing 38 innings as a player. Marrero’s playing career spanned seven seasons from 1998-2004 with the Montreal Expos organization, attaining his highest level at Double-A with the Harrisburg Senators in 2002 and 2004.

Allen, 32, will begin his first season as Springfield’s Hitting Coach and his third campaign within the organization, spending the 2018 season as the hitting coach in Palm Beach (High-A) and holding the same role in 2017 at Johnson City (Rookie). Allen’s lineup helped carry Palm Beach to the Florida State League Playoffs.

Palm Beach Cardinals (High-A)

Returning to manage Palm Beach is Dann Bilardello. This will be the fourth season the California native takes charge of the St. Louis Cardinals Advanced-A Affiliate. The eight-year MLB veteran will enter his 13th year as manager and 14th season total in the St. Louis organization. In three years under Bilardello, Palm Beach had a 225-181 record which included a 2017 Florida State League Co-Championship. In 2015 & 2016, between his two stints with Palm Beach, Bilardello managed Double-A Springfield which included a playoff appearance in 2016. His managerial career began back in 2002 with the Los Angeles Dodgers organization when he won the Rookie League Championship with Great Falls. He served as Minor League Catching Coordinator during the Cardinals’ 2006 World Series Championship season. He was named Florida State League Manager of the Year for the 2018 season.

Will Ohman will also return to Palm Beach for the 2019 season, his second season in Jupiter, Florida and in the Cardinals’ organization. In 2018, Palm Beach finished fifth in the Florida State League in WHIP (1.29), fourth in strikeouts, and had the second most wins in the league. Of the 11 pitchers on the Opening Day roster that pitched through at least May, eight reached Double-A with three others reaching Triple-A before the season concluded.

Palm Beach will bring in Tyger Pederson as the team’s hitting coach for the upcoming season. Pederson was drafted in the 33rd round in the 2013 MLB Draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers and played in the Rookie level Arizona League that season. His brother, Joc Pedersen, is currently an outfielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Certified Athletic Trainer Chris Whitman is entering his fifth year in the Cardinals organization and second consecutive season with Palm Beach.

Strength and Conditioning coach Ross Hasegawa will also return for another season with the Palm Beach Cardinals.

Peoria Chiefs (Low-A)

The Peoria Chiefs and St. Louis Cardinals have announced the 2019 Chiefs field staff with former Major Leaguer Erick Almonte named manager. Pitching coach Cale Johnson and hitting coach Russell Chambliss both return to Peoria after helping the Chiefs to the MWL Championship Series last year. Athletic Trainer Chris Walsh and Strength & Conditioning Coach Kyle Richter are both newcomers to the Chiefs staff.

Almonte, who turns 41 in February, will manage the Chiefs in 2019 as the 24th manager in team history and the fourth manager in the seven years of the second Cardinals affiliation. A native of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, Almonte is the first manager in Chiefs history to be born outside the United States, and the 14th to have played in the Majors. He managed last year with the GCL Cardinals going 40-16 with a loss in the Gulf Coast League Championship Series. In 2017 he served as the hitting coach for High-A Palm Beach under former Chiefs skipper Dann Bilardello. The 2017 Palm Beach team was declared Co-Champions of the Florida State League after Hurricane Irma ended the season prematurely. Almonte was a coach for the Dominican Summer League Cardinals from 2014-16.

Johnson, 31, returns to the Chiefs for his second season as a coach in the Midwest League and his fifth overall with the Cardinals organization. Last season the Chiefs finished 8th in the MWL in ERA while racking up the second most strikeouts in franchise history. Before joining the Chiefs last year, Johnson was the pitching coach for the Appalachian League’s Johnson City Cardinals for two years. The 2016 Appy League Champions led the league in team ERA (2.53). Prior to joining Johnson City, Johnson was the Gulf Coast League Cardinals pitching coach in 2015 and the team finished with three individual pitchers in the top 10 in ERA and strikeouts.

Chambliss, 43, is in his second season as a coach in the Cardinals organization as he returns to Peoria. Last year’s Chiefs offense finished second in the MWL in batting average, third in OBP, fifth in home runs, fourth in doubles and third in hits. Chambliss helped then-teenager Elehuris Montero to the MWL batting title and the third baseman also led the league in slugging percentage while Yariel Gonzalez finished third in batting average.

Walsh was the Athletic Trainer for the Gulf Coast League Cardinals at the spring training complex in Jupiter, FL last season. Richter was the S&C Coach for the Johnson City Cardinals in the Appalachian League last season.

State College Spikes (Class A Short Season)

Jose Leon becomes the 10th manager in Spikes history after serving as hitting coach for the Cardinals’ number-one Dominican Summer League affiliate in 2018. Pitching coach Adrian Martin will return to the same role for his second season in 2019 while hitting coach Cody Gabella will make his Spikes debut this year.

Rounding out the Spikes’ 2019 coaching staff will be two more returnees, athletic trainer Joey Olsiewicz and strength and conditioning coach Don Trapp.

Leon will be entering his second season in the Cardinals organization and his first as a manager. The Cayey, Puerto Rico native played 88 games in the major leagues with the Baltimore Orioles from 2002 to 2004. A former 22nd-round draft choice of the Cardinals in 1994, Leon played in the St. Louis system until 2000 before joining the Orioles organization. Following his time in Baltimore, Leon played in the Pirates and Reds minor league systems, then traveled the world playing in the Mexican League, the Atlantic League and the Chinese Professional Baseball League.

Martin will begin his second season as a professional pitching coach in 2019. The former right-handed hurler began his minor league coaching career with the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds in 2017, winning a Pacific Coast League championship in the process. Martin logged a 56-31 career record with a 3.46 ERA over 12 professional seasons on the mound, primarily with the Toronto Blue Jays and San Francisco Giants organizations.

Gabella has spent the past three seasons as a coach in the Cardinals organization, including a season as the hitting coach for the Rookie-level Johnson City Cardinals in 2018. Prior to his time in Johnson City, Gabella spent two seasons as a coach for the Gulf Coast League Cardinals, where he led the 2017 edition to a club record 29 home runs in 67 games.

Olsiewicz and Trapp both enter the second season of their professional baseball careers. A native of Gobles, Mich., Olsiewicz received his bachelor’s degree in Athletic Training from Central Michigan University, where he also played on the club baseball team for three years. Trapp once again returns to the Keystone State after previously working with Eastern Michigan University athletic teams through an NSCA Assistantship Award. Don also served as a Volunteer Assistant Strength & Conditioning Coach at Shippensburg University after receiving his bachelor’s degree in Sports & Exercise Science at Gannon University in Erie, Pa. in 2013. He earned his master’s degree in the same field through California University of Pennsylvania’s online program and also played two years of varsity baseball while at Gannon.

Johnson City Cardinals (Rookie Affiliate)

The Johnson City Cardinals have announced their coaching staff for the 2019 season. The Johnson City Cardinals will be welcoming back two returning coaches including Manager, Roberto Espinoza and Pitching Coach, Rick Harig.

The coaches making their debut with Johnson City include Brian Burgamy who will join the club as the Hitting Coach and Alex Wolfinger who will assume the role of Trainer. The Strength Coach for the team has yet to be determined

Roberto Espinoza will be entering his third season as manager of the Cardinals in 2019. Espinoza has previously served as a coach or player for the Cardinals for 13 years. Roberto Espinoza spent 6 years with the Cardinals as a catcher throughout the minor league ranks.

Rick Harig enters the 2019 season as his second season with the Johnson City Cardinals as the Pitching Coach. Harig returns to Johnson City with over 30 years of coaching experience. Prior to the Cardinals, Harig comes from a long-time career as a successful high school baseball coach in Colorado dating back to 1983. Harig has also previously spent three years working on skills and mental development with the San Diego Padres and several colleges.

2019 marks the first season with the Johnson City Cardinals for Hitting Coach Brian Burgamy. Burgamy spent 2018 as a coach for the Memphis Redbirds. As a player, Burgamy spent 16 seasons playing professionally at the Minor League level and in foreign professional leagues.

Alex Wolfinger will join the Johnson City Cardinals in 2019 for his first season with the club. Wolfinger will assume the role of Trainer for the team. Wolfinger previously served as the Athletic Trainer for the University of Memphis.