Cards out to develop winners

Joe Avento • Updated Jun 18, 2018 at 8:30 PM

The players, managers and coaches in the Appalachian League are always walking a tightrope. They have to find the balance of developing players while trying to win games.

Often, the two go hand-in-hand.

“We want to develop these guys into championship-caliber players,” Johnson City Cardinals manager Roberto Espinoza said. “We are looking for winners, guys who are professional and take care of business — just enjoy the game, but play it the right way. We don’t want put pressure to win, but to develop winners, you have to play to win.”

Espinoza is back for his second season as manager in Johnson City. The Cards finished 33-34 last season and tied with Greeneville for second place. Greeneville took the tiebreaker for the Western Division’s second playoff spot.

The Appy League season begins Tuesday night and the Cardinals start with a three-game series at Bluefield. Their home opener is scheduled for Friday night when they play host to the Kingsport Mets.

“It’s an exciting time,” Espinoza said.


Oneiver Diaz will get the opening-night start and Noel DeJesus will start on Wednesday. Both are righties from the Dominican Republic.

“We have a lot of good guys, a lot of new arms,” Espinoza said. “Those guys are excited to go and see what they can do.”


First-round pick Nolan Gorman, the 19th selection in this month’s draft, will certainly get a lot of attention from a fan base that broke franchise attendance records the past two seasons.

The power-hitting third baseman just turned 18 last month. He got a signing bonus of a little more than $3.2 million after driving in 118 runs and hitting 32 home runs during his high school career in Phoenix.

In addition, Jonatan Machado, a 19-year-old Cuban center fielder, is on the roster. Machado received a $2.35 million bonus to sign with the Cardinals two years ago. He began this season in Class A Peoria, where he was hitting .185 through 23 games. He hit .323 last season in the Gulf Coast League.

Machado is the 12-ranked prospect in the Cardinals organization, according to MLB.com.


The Cardinals have a new coaching staff to help Espinoza. Cody Cabella has been moved up from the Gulf Coast League to serve as Johnson City’s hitting coach. Rick Harig will be the pitching coach.

“Their job is going to be to help develop these guys,” Espinoza said. “They’ll translate the losing games and turn that into a winning experience. They have to take that page and turn it into winning and development.”


Several men with ties to the Johnson City Cardinals are still in the organization in teaching and coaching roles.

Stubby Clapp, who played in Johnson City in 1996, is managing the Class AAA Memphis Redbirds. Clapp, who got 25 at-bats in the big leagues with the Cardinals in 2001, was the organization’s manager of the year last season.

Former JC Cards manager Chris Swauger, who won an Appy League championship, is managing at Class A Peoria for the second year in a row.

Also, Steve Turco is a roving instructor and Mark DeJohn is the organization’s field coordinator for the minor league teams.

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