MEMPHIS, Tennessee –With the 2020 Minor League Baseball season rapidly approaching, the Memphis Redbirds’ Field Staff is set for the upcoming season. A mix of returning coaches and new faces will guide the ‘Birds for the 2020 season, as Memphis searches for the team’s third Pacific Coast League Championship in
MEMPHIS, Tennessee –With the 2020 Minor League Baseball season rapidly approaching, the Memphis Redbirds’ Field Staff is set for the upcoming season. A mix of returning coaches and new faces will guide the ‘Birds for the 2020 season, as Memphis searches for the team’s third Pacific Coast League Championship in the last four seasons. Manager Ben Johnson will return for his second season at the helm for Memphis, while pitching coach Dernier Orozco will lead the pitching staff for the third consecutive year. Brandon Allen will begin his first season as the hitting coach for the Cardinals’ Triple-A affiliate, while Athletic Trainer Dan Martin and Strength & Conditioning Coach Frank Witkowski will both be back for their respective second seasons with the club.
Joining a team after consecutive PCL championships managed by legend Stubby Clapp is a tall task, but Johnson more than held his own in his managerial debut season of 2019. While the Redbirds spent much of the first three quarters of the season well behind eventual division-winner Iowa, Johnson’s club posted a 31-12 record over the final 43 games of the season, the best stretch in the PCL over that span. The club’s red-hot stretch over the final six weeks wasn’t enough, as it started just after the club was a season-high 17 games out of a playoff spot.
Johnson guided the team to within four games with four to go, but in need of a sweep at Iowa in the final series of the regular season, the Cubs picked up a series-opening win and clinched the PCL American Northern Division. PCL winners in 2017 and 2018, Memphis finished second in the division in 2019, Johnson’s first year as a manager at any level.
Orozco returns to the ‘Birds for the third straight season. Part of the championship teams of 2017 and 2018, the Venezuelan native continued to work well with some of the top pitching prospects in the St. Louis organization. Orozco’s 2018 pitching staff set a franchise record with a 3.54 ERA as it led the league in ERA, WHIP, and saves.
The 2019 Redbirds’ pitching staff allowed just 167 home runs, the second fewest in the PCL in a season where home runs became an often visual across Triple-A. While there was no repeat success with a Pitcher of the Year like that of Dakota Hudson in 2018, both the starting rotation and bullpen saw success in a season in which the PCL league ERA was nearly 5.5 (5.48).
The 2019 staff posted a 4.87 ERA, fourth best in the league. Daniel Ponce De Leon and Jake Woodford each posted significantly above league-average seasons in the starting rotation. In 16 starts under Orozco, Ponce De Leon went 8-4 with a 2.88 ERA and averaged more than a strikeout per inning. Woodford spun a team-high 26 starts with a 4.15 ERA and a nearly 2:1 K:BB ratio. Orozco’s bullpen also continued to shine, as Chasen Shreve and Dominic Leone each posted tremendous numbers out of the pen. Shreve made a team high 51 bullpen appearances and sported a 3.45 ERA. Leone spun a sub-3.00 ERA in 23 outings. With 42 strikeouts in just 31.2 innings pitched, Leone’s 2.84 ERA was best on the club of any pitcher with at least 20 appearances.
As the only new face to the coaching staff, the 33-year-old Allen is set for his fourth season in the Cardinals’ organization as a coach. Having appeared at the Major League level across three different seasons (2009-12), Allen brings the experience of a Major League hitter and that of a coach rising through the Minor League ranks.
Drafted by the Chicago White Sox in the fifth round of the 2004 MLB Draft, Allen made his Major League debut five years later as a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks, with his first MLB hit and home run both within a week of his addition to the roster. Allen played in 116 total games at the highest level.
Allen got his start on the coaching side in 2017 as the hitting coach with Rookie Level Johnson City. A year later, with High-A Palm Beach, Allen’s offense posted the third fewest strikeouts in the Florida State League. The Conroe, TX native continued his climb with another promotion for 2019, where he led the offense of Double-A Springfield. In the Texas League that season, Springfield finished third in the league with 140 home runs. Allen worked with current Cardinals’ #1 prospect Dylan Carlson in Springfield, who appeared briefly with Memphis towards the end of the 2019 season.
Martin and Witkowski wrap up the returning staff members from the 2019 season, as both are back with Memphis for their respective second seasons with the Triple-A club. Martin, who became the Athletic Trainer for Memphis late in the 2019 offseason, spent 2016-18 with Class-A Peoria and the 2013-15 seasons with Short-Season State College. A graduate of West Texas A&M University, Martin was the 2015 NYPL Trainer of the Year. Witkowski joined the Cardinals’ system for the 2018 season after a brief stint in the Minor League system of the Atlanta Braves. The Strength & Conditioning Coach for Double-A Springfield to start his time within the St. Louis system, Witkowski is a graduate of both SUNY Cortland and Florida Atlantic University.