Cleburne Railroaders: 2019 Season Recap
In American Association Daily, Robert Pannier looks back on the 2019 American Association season of the Cleburne Railroaders. This includes looking at the top player and pitcher as well as what to expect in 2020.
The 2019 Cleburne Railroaders Review
There was a lot of hype about the Cleburne Railroaders entering the 2019 American Association season. First off, the team was sold to John Junker who took over ready to do the kinds of things to make the team a winner. His first move was to bring in Josh Robertson. With the Wichita Wingnuts suspending operations, the former Wingnuts GM moved to Cleburne to head up the team’s baseball operations.
Robertson had long established himself as an absolute genius when it came to building teams and he got right to work on turning the Railroaders into a winner. He brought in Brent Clevlen as the field manager, and added several of his former players from Wichita including star outfielder Zach Nehrir, super sub Logan Trowbridge, and starter Charlie Gillies.
Robertson kept much of the talent from the Railroaders, including Chase Simpson, Michael Gunn, Angel Rosa, Hunter Clanin, and KC Huth, but also made some moves that looked to make this team the front runner. On paper, this was the best team in the American Association.
The 2018 Cleburne Railroaders won just 33 games and so any kind of improvement would have been a treat for fans, but this was a team with huge expectations.
However, the hype seemed to be just that early on as Cleburne started the season 8-7 before going 14-13 in June. The Railroaders were at the top of the South Division and were already just 11 wins away from tying their win total from 2018, but this was below the high standard that many expected.
Things drastically changed in July. The Railroaders dominated, going 19-7 behind a pitching staff that boasted a 3.41 ERA, tops in the league by better than half a run. Coming out of the All-Star break, Cleburne swept the eventual American Association champion St. Paul Saints and took two out of three from the Dogs in Chicago and it seemed that all was right. The team would now catch fire as the calendar turned to August.
However, August proved to be an inconsistent month. The Railroaders lost three of four from Texas before sweeping Sioux Falls. They then lost two of three to Kansas City before winning two of three from Sioux City. Cleburne was then swept by Kansas City, then swept the Explorers and Sioux Falls, but lost three straight in Sioux City.
They were clinging to their lead in the South Division over Sioux City and Kansas City heading into the final six games. Things looked bright as they had three against Lincoln before traveling to Fargo-Moorhead, but before they would hit North Dakota they lost two of three then dropped two of three in Fargo. That moved them into a tie with the Explorers, who won the tie-breaker because of the better head-to-head record and the season was over.
Despite the disappointing conclusion, there was a lot to be happy about in Cleburne. The team finished second in ERA and earned the most victories in franchise history. They sent five players to the All-Star game.
By the Numbers
(league rankings are listed in parenthesis)
Record: 57-43 (Third in South, 7th in League)
Home: 31-19 (6)
Away: 26-24 (5)
Score First: 35-15
Extra Innings: 1-5
Hitting: .272 (T-6)
Pitching: 3.90 (2)
Fielding: .967 (12)
Batting Average: Daniel Robertson (.339)
Homers: Chase Simpson (20)
RBI: Chase Simpson (93)
Runs Scored: Daniel Robertson (73)
Stolen Bases: Daniel Robertson (21)
ERA: Tyler Wilson (1.71)
Wins: Jesus Sanchez (10)
Losses: Charlie Gillies (7)
Saves: Tyler Wilson (24)
Innings Pitched: Jesus Sanchez (127.2)
Strikeouts: Eudis Idrogo (102)
Team MVP: Daniel Robertson
It may seem crazy to not select the guy who drove in the most runs in the league (Chase Simpson), but the reality is that this team took off after Daniel Robertson was signed after being released by the Kansas City T-Bones. He moved to the top of the order and was amazing in that spot, hitting .339 with 73 runs in 72 games. He also drove in 53 runs, which combined to give him 126 runs/RBI in 72 games, nearly 1.7 runs produced per game.
Robertson had 30 multi-hit games and posted a nine and a 10 game hitting streak. His most prolific run of the season came during that 10 game run when he went 10-16 over a four game stretch.
Daniel Robertson walked 42 times, finishing with a .444 on-base percentage and a .474 slugging percentage. He led the team in stolen bases. He also finished third in the MVP balloting by the Minor League Sports Report.
Top Pitcher: Stephen Johnson
The starting rotation was supposed to be dominating for the Cleburne Railroaders, but it was not as vaunted as hoped. That is until Stephen Johnson arrived. While the right-hander finished with 4.52 ERA, the vast majority of those runs came in his final three starts, when he gave up 16 runs in 10 innings. appearances
To be honest, that nearly cost him as this choice as he seemed to wear down when his team needed him most, but there could be no denying that Johnson won eight of his first nine starts, posting a 2.68 ERA through those nine outings. He gave up three runs or less in each of those starts.
Johnson finished 8-3 in 12 appearances, 11 starts. He struck out 48 in 63.2 innings pitched.
What to Expect in 2020
There will be a small change in management for the Railroaders in 2020 as Josh Robertson adds the title of General Manager as well. There is no doubt that with his baseball knowledge and connections that this team will be competitive, but are they likely to be the favorites?
With consecutive third place finishes in his last two seasons building teams, one has to wonder if the magic may be over for Robertson. Maybe the killer instinct that made him so successful in Wichita has been tamed to a degree.
We expect there to be significant changes in the team’s makeup next year. The 2020 Cleburne Railroaders will likely not look very much like the team that ended the 2019 season. That should still keep them competitive, but maybe not a playoff team. After Robertson has seen his teams finish third to Kansas City and Sioux City the last two years that could very well be the case in 2020 as well.
By Robert Pannier