Eighth year manager Steve Brook guided the River City Rascals to a winning record for the fifth straight season and helped his players achieve multiple accomplishments, including personal records, Frontier League All-Star honors and had three players move on to Major League organizations.
Overall, the Rascals finished with 50 wins, three wins short of the Frontier League postseason and went 29-19 at the friendly confines of CarShield Field.
CarShield Field also held the first annual St. Louis Legends game which drew an extra 3, 400 fans to the ballpark to watch former Cardinals players such as Jim Edmonds compete on the brand new synthetic turf field. In total, 94, 958 fans walked through the gates for the Rascals 48 game home schedule and it marked the team’s highest attendance since the 2012 campaign.
On the field, the Rascals ranked sixth in team batting average (.265) and compiled 843 hits. One of the Rascals two Frontier League All-Stars, Josh Silver, led the offensive charge with a career high 101 hits and slugged seven home runs and 51 RBI. In his third year with the team, Silver started 67 games at the hot corner and 28 games in left field showing off his spectacular range and incredible arm. The Elk Grove, CA, native filled up the stat sheet all across the board and stole 17 of 19 bases, smacked 22 doubles and also scored a career high 57 runs.
His well-rounded skill-set was plenty to get him into to his first Frontier League All-Star game and representing the Rascals in the historic game was catcher Mike Jurgella.
Jurgella, who also won the Rascals fan vote for most valuable player, inched past Silver in the RBI category and recorded a total of 54. That number is eleven more than his 2016 campaign and he also set career highs in home runs (11), hits (93), doubles (19) and stolen bases (16). The Frontier League All-Star honor was the second league wide accomplishment for Jurgella as his .304 batting average and .997 fielding percentage in 2016 won him the Frontier League postseason catcher of the year.
Jurgella’s counterpart behind the plate was Josh Ludy and in the former Baylor Bear’s final Frontier League season, he was once again very productive. He tallied 98 hits back-to-back years and finished top five on the team with a .288 batting average. Ludy totaled 27 multi-hit games, including two four hit games which ranked second on the team. The three-time Frontier League All-Star drove in 49 runs and it marked the fourth straight season where Ludy notched at least 45 RBI.
His final week was a Frontier League going out party for Ludy as he tallied eleven hits in seven games to complete his playing career in a Rascals uniform.
Johnny Morales also played in his final game in a Rascals uniform and his five year Rascals career came to an end on September 3rd at CarShield Field. Morales, who appeared in four straight opening day lineups at the shortstop position, posted career highs in home runs (6), RBI (46) and stolen bases (16). Over his 389 career games, which ranks first in Rascals history, Morales maintained a .262 batting average and finished third in Rascals history with 368 hits.
Paired with Morales in the middle infield was Jason Merjano and he had a stellar season finishing with 101 hits, 52 RBI and 24 stolen bases. Of his 101 hits, a career high ten were home runs and he also tied for first in the league in triple with seven. Merjano scored a career high 53 runs and maintained a career high .444 slugging percentage. The second baseman played in 87 games and notched a career highlight on June 8th, 2017, when he delivered a sacrifice fly to become the fourth active Rascal to reach 100 career RBI.
As a team, the Rascals finished third in the Frontier League in home runs and pounded out a total of 93 long balls. Of the 93, St. Charles, Missouri, native Braxton Martinez led the way with a career high 15. His first home run came on May 20 against the Southern Illinois Miners and he continued his slugging ways two weeks later when he became the first Rascal of 2017 to launch two home runs in one game. That heroic moment came against the Gateway Grizzlies on June 2, the same night where he also tallied a first three RBI game in professional baseball. Martinez continued his quality at-bats and late in the year, Martinez set a 2017 Rascal record by becoming the only player to hit a gopher ball in three consecutive games (7/30-8/02).
While Martinez was a home run machine, Clint Freeman tore up the gaps and tied for fifth in the Frontier League with 25 doubles. Overall, Freeman hit .283 with 95 hits and a slugging percentage of .444. The first baseman also launched a career high ten home runs and drove in 45 runs. Freeman started the year in the outfield but moved to first base towards the end of May and became a wall. Freeman finished with just six errors in 822 chances at first base which was good for a stellar .993 fielding percentage.
Brandon Thomas was also an extremely valuable asset on both sides of the playing field and finished the year leading in multiple Rascals categories. Primarily in the leadoff role, Thomas led the Rascals in walks (56), runs scored (67) and stolen bases (49). His 49 stolen bases was also good for second in the Frontier League and 67 runs scored placed fifth. All three marked individual career highs and was just one home run and RBI away from tying a career high in two other categories. Thomas’s final notable is he finished the season playing in 80 straight games without an error, dating back to May 25.
Other offensive notables include Paul Kronenfeld joining the Rascals in a trade after the all-star break and becoming a key addition to the team launching seven home runs in 42 games and maintained a .301 average. If he joined the Rascals at the beginning of the season and performed at the same pace, then Kronenfeld could have led the Rascals multiple categories.
Manager Steve Brook gave six position players their professional debut, including Jimmy Kerrigan who hit .328 with ten home runs and 47 RBI and through 62 games and was signed by the Minnesota Twins. The Twins placed him with the Cedar Rapids Kernels (A) and he played in 31 games and collected 31 hits in his first taste of affiliated ball.
Taylor Love and Kevin Suarez also made their professional debut and Love picked up 13 hits, including two triples and ten RBI. Suarez, one of the latest additions to the team, tallied five hits in 15 at-bats and scored four runs.
As dominant as the Rascals offense was this season, the pitching had it’s standout moments as well and two pitchers found themselves pitching in the St. Louis Cardinals organization by August.
Starting southpaw Austin Warner was signed in June and pitched well with three different affiliates including the Peoria Chiefs. Overall, Warner was a four game winner and struck out 73 batters in 63.2 innings of action in the Cardinals farm system. The other arm that the Cardinals purchased from the Rascals was reliever Jason Zgardowski.
Zgardowski was with the Rascals for the majority of the season and was stellar arm posting a 1.34 ERA in 34 outings. When the Cardinals purchased his contract, Zgardowski had not allowed an earned run in 18 innings and then he finished out the year with the State College Spikes.
Overall, the Rascals pitched to 4.23 ERA which ranked fifth in the Frontier League and were anchored by nine year professional Hector Hernandez.
The 2009 tenth round draft pick out of the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy was the opening day starter and never skipped a start, leading all starters with a 3.65 ERA and 117 strikeouts in 121 innings (19 starts).
Hernandez’s best start came in the heart of a series sweep where he tossed a career long 8.2 innings and allowed just one run, unearned, on three hits against the Traverse City Beach Bums on July 29. In the outing, the southpaw also struck out a career high ten and then matched that feat three starts later against Evansville.
One other Rascal notched a ten strikeout game and similar to Hernandez’s it was also against the Traverse City Beach Bums. This effort came from second year Rascal Dan Ludwig on July 21, where he also tossed a complete game shutout and earned his fifth win of the year. Ludwig finished with a 6-4 record and a 3.92 ERA in 18 starts.
The rest of the 2017 starting rotation included southpaw Lucas Laster and right-handers Zeb Sneed, Tim Koons and Reese Gregory.
After coming off the IR in late July, Laster found success on the mound and won a pair of games to help keep the Rascals in playoff contention into the final weekend. Over five starts in August, the third year Rascal tossed 28 innings allowing 13 runs on 26 hits and struck out 13.
Another third year Rascal who battled injuries with Laster and finished the year strong is right-hander Zeb Sneed. Sneed started two games in May before going on the IR and made his first start in the second half of the season on July 25 where he struck out six in four scoreless frames. A former Kansas City Royal, Sneed completed his 2017 campaign with a 5-1 record through nine starts and a 3.99 ERA. He tallied 43 strikeouts and notched three separate starts where he recorded seven strikeouts.
Reese Gregory and Tim Koons round out the starting rotation and they each had a variety of accomplishments, including throwing a complete game and notching new career highs in appearances.
Gregory’s complete game occurred on June 8 and he allowed five runs, earned, on nine hits and struck out six. Following the complete game, Gregory went on to make 15 appearances, 12 starts, and finished the campaign leading the team with nine wins.
Koon’s complete game came on the road and it was a complete game shutout against the three-time Frontier League Champion, Schaumburg Boomers on May 25. He allowed just three hits and struck out three in the outing. Koons finished the year with a 4-5 record and 61 strikeouts in 91.2 innings. In total, he appeared in a career high 19 games with 16 of them being starts.
The Rascals bullpen was also strong and highlighted by veteran Nick Kennedy and rookies Cody Mincey and Jonny Ortiz.
Kennedy served in a variety of roles in his sixth and final season in a Rascals uniform and leaves as the Frontier League’s all-time record holder with 255 appearances.
In his final season, the righty pitched to a 2.55 ERA in 52 games (42.1 innings) and tallied a career high four saves.
Cody Mincey was the Rascals primary closer and he signed with the Rascals on June 16 and performed well enough to earn the Rascals Rookie of the Year honor. After combining to throw three scoreless innings in his first two appearances, the South Carolina native was inserted into the closing role and he finished the year leading the team with eleven saves and a stellar ERA of a 1.76. He also notched a win and struck out 37 in 30.2 innings.
Lefty Jonny Ortiz also had a dominant rookie year out of the bullpen and held a 1.97 ERA in 15 games (13.2 innings). Ortiz was used as a long reliever when he first signed with the Rascals but transformed more into a lefty specialist down the stretch.
Right-handers Matt Chavarria and Storm Rynard round out the arms on the Rascals final roster and Chavarria led the bullpen in innings pitched with 45.1. Chavarria also led the bullpen with four wins and finished with a 4.96 ERA, 35 strikeouts and a low opponents batting average of a .224. Rynard, a former Texas Ranger draft pick, struck out nine in 18.1 innings and earned two wins in 22 appearances.
Here's a listing of all the 2017 Rascals. A total of 43 players appeared in at least one game.
Position Players (18)