In American Association Daily, the Minor League Sports Report’s Robert Pannier continues his look back at the 2018 American Association season. Today, he looks at the Cleburne Railroaders.
The 2018 Cleburne Railroaders (League ranking in parenthesis)
Record: 33-66 (Fifth in South Division, 11th in American Association)
Team Batting Average: .244 (11)
Home Record: 21-30 (10)
Away Record: 12-36 (11)
Team Pitching ERA: 5.09 (11)
Team Fielding Percentage: .969 (11)
Average: Blake Grant-Parks (.312)
On-Base Percentage: Chase Simpson (.442)
Slugging Percentage: Angel Rosa (.526)
Game Played: Patrick Palmeiro (97)
Runs Scored: Trevor Sealey (56)
Doubles: Levi Scott (23)
Triples: KC Huth (4)
Homeruns: Levi Scott (15)
RBI: Levi Scott (55)
Stolen Bases: Cameron Monger (20)
Appearances: Shawn Blackwell (50)
Starts: Patrick Mincey (20)
Wins: Shawn Blackwell, Josh Hodges (5)
Losses: Patrick Mincey (9)
Saves: Shawn Blackwell (13)
ERA: Jesus Sanchez (3.68)
Innings Pitched: Patrick Mincey (120.2)
Strikeouts: Jared Mortensen (96)
* Note: Requires at least 20 appearances
2018 Season Recap
The Cleburne Railroaders were the talk of the American Association before the 2018 season even got underway. On May 8, it was announced that Major League great Rafael Palmeiro was coming out of retirement, and that he and his son Patrick would be joining the Cleburne Railroaders.
This was exciting news that made many believe that the Railroaders were going to be a serious contender. They had a big time star player, a new “manager,” and a new attitude that this was going to be a different year in Cleburne. However, it should have been a clear indicator that something was wrong when Shelby Ford could not even officially receive the title of manager because of a legal issue with the team’s previous manager.
Ford conducted the Railroaders to a good start when they took two of three from the defending champion Winnipeg Goldeyes before taking two of three from Fargo-Moorhead. However, a 4-2 start quickly dissipated, as they would win just one of their next six series. After starting 8-8, Cleburne would go 6-17 over the final 27 days of June.
A four game split with Texas became the highlight of July, as the Cleburne Railroaders would go 6-24 in the month, including suffering through three losing streaks of at least five games. There was even concern that the AirHogs could finish ahead of Cleburne, but the team showed a lot of heart, going 13-17 over the final 30 games to finish 33-66.
What Went Wrong
In all seriousness, the Cleburne Railroaders went off the rails from the start because of the way that they had dealt with their manager situation. That the team had decided to move on from Gabe Suarez was their prerogative, however, it was actually through a report on this site that Suarez found out that he would not return. That led to a prolonged legal situation that left Ford in limbo as he could not be called the team’s “manager.” He did a great job in a completely unenviable situation.
It did not help that Rafael Palmeiro struggled to stay healthy. It was understandable that after not playing in 14 years that there would be a little adjustment, but Palmeiro appeared in just 31 games. He did hit .301 with six homers and 21 RBI.
The pitching staff struggled as well. Patrick Mincey had been looked upon as the ace of the staff, but struggled through the worst season of his career. A crazy Winter Ball experience may have played a role in his struggles, but we did not see the vintage Patrick Mincey that American Association fans had become accustomed to.
Mincey was not alone. No regular starter finished with an ERA under four, and the bullpen struggled with consistency.
What Went Right
There were some outstanding performances last season starting with 1B/OF Levi Scott. Scott led the team with 15 homers while hitting .270. He was a hot commodity at the trade deadline, but the team refused to move him. Now he will be a key piece of the team’s future in 2019.
That can also be said of Angel Rosa. The shortstop hit .251 last season in 52 games, but he also clubbed 14 homers. Catcher Blake Grant-Parks also was a real find, hitting .312 in 42 games. KC Huth had a solid season at the plate, hitting .254 in 90 games. However, he is a defensive whiz in the outfield, making highlight plays almost nightly. The same can be said of rookie Hunter Clanin, who was a late season addition and will remain with the team this year.
2018 Cleburne Railroaders MVP: 1B/OF Levi Scott
At 6-5, 235, it would be easy to assume that Levi Scott would slug homeruns with the same energy needed to swat a fly. However, his first three seasons in professional ball did not work out that way as the Texan had just 13 in 191 career games. Last season he more than doubled his total, hitting 15 in 95 games. That total came despite the fact that he finished the year with a 17 game homerless drought.
There are a number of factors that played a part in the drought, but this should be a breakout year. He is just 25 and will be hitting in the heart of what should be a potent lineup this season. He finished 2018 with 55 RBI, but it would not be surprising to see him challenging the American Association single season RBI record in this lineup.
2018 Cleburne Railroaders Pitcher of the Year: Shawn Blackwell
Because of the ineffective season that so many were having on the staff, rarely was a pitcher able to have a defined role. As a result, each member of the staff served in a variety of roles, including closer Shawn Blackwell.
Blackwell did everything but sing the National Anthem and water the mound. He appeared in 50 games, going 5-6 with 13 saves. Blackwell was the team’s primary closer, but Ford was not afraid to ride his closer for a long stint, seen when the right-hander went six innings in an extra innings win over Chicago in July. He finished with 62 hits, 18 walks, and 57 strikeouts in 62.1 innings pitched.
A Look to the Future
The Cleburne Railroaders finished 33-66 in 2018. It would not be surprising to see them finish with the reverse record in 2019.
With the Wichita Wingnuts franchise ceasing operations, Josh Robertson heads south to become the Director of Baseball Operations. As the song says, all he does is win, win, win no matter what, and Robertson has already made a number of moves that should make this the team to beat. The starting staff is likely to be six deep, and could potentially include three former Major Leaguers.
Levi Scott should have a breakout season in a lineup that will have Chase Simpson and Angel Rosa the whole year, and will add all-star centerfielder Zach Nehrir, catcher John Nester, and Kenny Meimerstorf, among others. Plus, both Palmeiros could be back as well.
There is a new ownership group heading the Railroaders. Brent Clevlen takes over the manager’s duties after posting a 61 win season in his rookie campaign with Wichita. Josh Robertson has put together a talented and deep roster already. It would not be a surprise to see this team go all the way this season.
Read Story on How Josh Robertson Has Already Built Contender in Cleburne.
By Robert Pannier