Shaping the future: Dann Bilardello closes successful season in -

Shaping the future: Dann Bilardello closes successful season in Peoria

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By John Bailey By John Bailey

This is the first in a series of articles revisiting the staff of the St. Louis Cardinals’ minor league Class A Peoria Chiefs.

( -- Labor Day weekend, the final weekend of the season for the St. Louis Cardinals Class A Peoria Chiefs. They will end 2013 on the road, at Kane County (Ill.) against the Chicago Cubs low Class A team, the Cougars.

Four months have passed since BaseballStL first interviewed the Chiefs’ staff and six prospects in the Cardinals organization at this stadium. More than 100 games have been played and as is always the case with a successful franchise, most of the roster has been turned over at least once. 

A late season hitting slump cost them a chance at the playoffs. But Chiefs’ manager Dann Bilardello is upbeat because it has been a very successful season by all measures.

The majority of players who started for the Chiefs when BaseballStL interviewed him in early May have been promoted. Almost every player under the tutelage of Bilardello, hitting coach Erik Pappas and pitching coach Jason Simontacchi have shown marked improvement. The Cardinals’ minor league coordinator is very pleased with the staff’s performance. Two former Chiefs jumped two levels.

“We lost almost our whole starting infield (to promotions),” Bilardello said. “A couple of pitchers and a starting outfielder. I’m very competitive so that part is a little frustrating, but they went to the next level and that’s why we’re here; to make them better and give the Cardinals some options for future players or for trade.”

Bilardello’s reflections on the body of work that the Chiefs’ staff assembled reveal the pride that runs throughout the Cardinals’ organization. “We had two first year guys (Simontacchi and Pappas) and you never know how that is going to work out,” he said. “But they’ve been great. I’m really proud of our staff.”

Of the six players featured in BaseballStL’s “The Cardinal Way” series in May, pitchers Zach Petrick and Corey Baker were promoted first to high Class A in Palm Beach and then to Class AA in Springfield.

In May, Bilardello said Petrick was one of the sleepers in the Cardinals’ organization and urged to have him interviewed to raise his profile. He was prescient. Petrick posted an ERA of .83 at Peoria and .27 at Palm Beach, both in relief roles. He is being trained now as a starter at Springfield and can hold a low-90s fastball through 100 pitches. Minus one poor start, his ERA is 3.23.

Baker joined Springfield for the end of the season after success at both Class A levels.

Other Chiefs who were featured in BaseballStL’s series who advanced to Palm Beach include outfielder Charles Tilson (.303 at Peoria and .281 at Palm Beach), and infielders Patrick Wisdom (.231 at Peoria but 13 homers, .261 at Palm Beach) and Jacob Wilson (.264 at Peoria but just .186 so far at Palm Beach).

The sixth player in the series, Carson Kelly, who just turned 19, is tearing up short season Class A in State College, PA., hitting .285, but .306 in his last 10 games.

“I read somewhere that the Cardinals made something like 125 roster moves in 128 games this year,” Bilardello said. “That’s a tribute to the whole organization and says a lot about player development at every level. People talk about the Cardinal Way, but it’s really just a consistency of how we teach fundamentals at every level. We stress character and all of us try to develop these young men to become whole players and people. I’m really proud of that.”

Next, hitting coach Erik Pappas.


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