If the current trend holds true, area fans will see some pretty good baseball players during this summer’s Appalachian League season.
There are currently 60 former Johnson City Cardinals on the rosters at levels above the rookie-league team. Included in that mix are seven on St. Louis’ major-league roster — including one of the best catchers in baseball, Yadier Molina.
The 2013 version of the Johnson City Cardinals will open their season Thursday night as they travel to take on the Kingsport Mets. After the three-game series in Kingsport, the Cards return to Johnson City for their home opener Sunday at 6 p.m. against the Danville Braves.
Molina played for Johnson City in 2001, batting .259 with four homers and 18 RBIs in 44 games. The 30-year-old native of Puerto Rico spent only 3½ seasons in the minors before becoming a fixture in St. Louis.
This year, the potential All-Star is batting .355 with four home runs and 38 RBIs. He’s on pace for a career-high in doubles, totaling 22 in 66 games.
Molina is the oldest Johnson City alumnus, and was here six years before Pete Kozma and Tony Cruz made their way to Cardinal Park. Kozma, a shortstop, and Cruz, a catcher, were in Johnson City in 2007.
Kozma is currently hitting .259 with a homer and 25 RBIs this season for St. Louis. Cruz, who sees limited time as Molina’s backup, is struggling at the plate with a .138 batting average.
Only one other hitter on the St. Louis roster is a Johnson City alumnus. Matt Adams was here in 2009, and is hitting .316 for the Cardinals with four homers and 16 RBIs in part-time duty.
The other three players are relief pitchers Trevor Rosenthal (2010), Keith Butler (2009) and Kevin Siegrist (2010). Rosenthal, a hard-throwing 23-year-old, appears to have the brightest future, totaling a whopping 49 strikeouts in 34 2/3 innings of work.
Eleven players are a step away from the show, playing for the Class AAA Cardinals’ team in Memphis. Included in that group are four players who were in Johnson City in 2010: outfielder Oscar Taveras, shortstop Greg Garcia, catcher Travis Tartamella and starting pitcher Boone Whiting.
Taveras was recently ranked as the No. 1 prospect in all of minor-league baseball by ESPN. The Dominican Republic native is hitting .301 with four homers, 24 RBIs and five steals. He turns 21 years old today, and could be in St. Louis before the summer is over.
Whiting has a solid record (7-4) and ERA (3.44) while striking out just under one batter per inning (66 Ks in 68 innings). Garcia is hitting .248 while Tartamella is struggling at the plate with a .160 average.
Five players from the 2008 Johnson City team are in Memphis, and all are pitchers: Michael Blazek, Eric Fornataro, Sam Freeman, Scott McGregor and Jorge Rondon.
Blazek has the best numbers of the bunch, posting a 1.23 ERA and 42 strikeouts in 29 1/3 innings. Freeman is 5-2 with an ERA of 3.66 and has 35 Ks in 39 1/3 innings. McGregor is 5-5 with an ERA of 4.30.
Also at Memphis are Nick Additon and Adron Chambers, who played in Johnson City in 2007. Additon is 4-2 with an ERA of 4.26 while Chambers, a center fielder, is hitting .210 with four homers, 23 RBIs and seven stolen bases.
Sometimes Class AA baseball can be a step away from the majors as well, and the Springfield team also has 11 former Johnson City players.
Included in the mix are three from 2011: pitchers Heath Wyatt and Ryan Sheriff, and third baseman Tyler Rahmatulla. Wyatt (2-2, 2.60) and Sheriff (1-2, 3.09) are both pitching well while Rahmatulla has been stuck on the disabled list.
Catcher Cody Stanley and second baseman Starlin Rodriguez are from the 2010 team. Rodriguez is batting .252 with five homers and 22 RBIs.
In the mix from 2009 are pitcher Anthony Ferrara (5-3, 5.40), catcher Audry Perez (.198, 4 HR, 14 RBIs) and second baseman Luis Mateo (.205, 2 HR, 9 RBIs).
Relief pitchers Deryk Hooker and Kevin Thomas (both 2008) are at Springfield and both have excellent strikeout ratios. Hooker has fanned 43 in 34 1/3 innings while Thomas has recorded 39 Ks in 27 2/3 innings.
Rounding out the list is Thomas Pham. The center fielder was here in 2006, and is having a solid season with six homers, 28 RBIs, six steals and a .316 batting average.
As for the Class A Advanced league at Palm Beach, Fla., a pair of players from last year’s Johnson City team are on board: relief pitchers Zach Petrick (1-0, 1.63 with 57 Ks in 42 2/3 innings) and Ronnie Shaban (1-2, 1.05).
From the 2011 squad, starting pitchers Kyle Hald and Tyler Melling are joined by third baseman Matt Williams and catcher Jonathan Keener. Hald (2-5, .483) and Melling (2-2, 5.45) have fairly high ERAs while Williams is hitting .246 with one homer and four RBIs. Keener is on the DL.
Five players from 2010 are in Palm Beach, including second baseman Colin Walsh (.264, 3 HR, 29 RBIs.). Also in the mix are pitchers Dean Kiekhefer and Iden Nazario, catcher Juan Castillo and outfielder Anthony Garcia (.211, 9 HR, 31 RBIs).
Rounding out the list is Jonathan Rodriguez, a first baseman who was in Johnson City in 2009. He has a batting average of .283 with four homers.
As for Class A Peoria, a huge chunk of the roster played in Johnson City with 19 former players on the list. The most interesting one is Robert Stock, who came to Johnson City in 2009 as a catcher.
Stock was a second-round pick (No. 67 overall) in the first-year player draft. However, he failed to hit consistently and the Cardinals converted him to pitcher.
This season Stock is 0-0 with an ERA of 1.69 ERA, working in relief. He has 12 strikeouts in 10 2/3 innings of work.
On the Peoria roster from last year’s Johnson City team are pitchers Michael Aldrete, Joe Donofrio, Silfredo Garcia, Cory Jones, Thomas Lee, Dixon Llorens, and Samuel Tuivailala.
Donofrio is 4-0 with an ERA of 2.73 and has allowed just 24 hits in 33 innings. Jones is 2-0 with an ERA of 0.95.
Position players from 2012 are catcher Adam Ehrlich, first baseman Jeremy Schaffer, shortstop Illdemaro Vargas, catcher Gerwuins Velazco, and center fielder C.J. McElroy. Schaffer has four homers while Vargas is hitting .293 with six stolen bases. McElroy is on the DL.
From the 2011 team are pitcher Tyrell Jenkins, second baseman Breyvic Valera, outfielder Charlie Tilson, and catcher Jesus Montero. Jenkins is on the DL while Valera is hitting .310 with 28 RBIs.
Montero is hitting .255 with a pair of homers while splitting time between Palm Beach and Peoria.
Pitcher Hector Hernandez (2010) and outfielder Michael Swinson (2009) are also at Peoria.
Notes: Johnson City’s first promotional night is June 23. It is Opening Night, presented by Cumulus Broadcasting and Franklin Woods Community Hospital. The first 500 fans through the gates will receive a rally towel courtesy of the Tennessee National Guard. …
The promo schedule includes eight giveaway nights, two fireworks nights (July 5 and Aug. 10), and the Faith and Family Night concert — which is set for June 26. The concert is by Christian Contemporary rock group Citizen Way. …
Two of the Cardinals’ games will be played at ETSU’s Thomas Stadium. They will play the Bristol White Sox on June 28, and the Elizabethton Twins on July 26.