After a franchise-best 57-win season, the Cleburne Railroaders announced team awards for the 2019 campaign.
Grant Buck was named Cleburne’s rookie of the year; Logan Trowbridge was chosen as the “unsung hero”; All-Star Tyler Wilson received relief pitcher of the year; All-Star Jesus Sanchez garnered pitcher of the year; All-Stars John Nester and Chase Simpson share the position player of the year honor; and Daniel Robertson was chosen as the Railroaders’ overall most valuable player.
Robertson joined the Railroaders on June 16 and quickly altered the trajectory of the season. Cleburne’s record stood at 13-15 when Robertson made his ‘Roaders debut, and the club went 44-28 the rest of the way with Robertson entrenched in the leadoff spot.
The former Major Leaguer finished the year third in the league with a .329 batting average, second in the league with a .439 on-base percentage, second in the league with 76 runs scored, and first in the league with 16 hit-by-pitches. Robertson established himself as Cleburne’s best hitter in clutch situations, batting an impressive .382 with runners in scoring position and .333 with runners in scoring position and two outs. In 289 at-bats with the ‘Roaders, Robertson drew more walks (42) than strikeouts (38), and added 21 stolen bases for good measure.
Defensively, he became the Railroaders everyday shortstop despite no prior professional experience at the position, delivering a series of highlight-reel plays throughout the year. When the games mattered most, Robertson was at his best, finishing the year with 17 hits in 44 at-bats (.386 average) over Cleburne’s final 10 games.
Nester was named a Midseason and Postseason All-Star after a 2019 season that produced career-high offensive numbers across the board. Despite missing 15 games due to injury, Nester set personal bests in doubles (23), home runs (16), runs scored (55) and RBIs (63). Nester’s .847 OPS was 73 points higher than his previous career best, set back in 2015 with Wichita. Defensively, Nester solidified his reputation as one of the premier catchers in the American Association. He cut down 23 opposing base stealers, second-most in the league, while committing only five errors and allowing five passed balls.
After a slow start at the dish in which Nester produced one hit in his first 18 at-bats, the veteran catcher caught fire. From June 4-17, Nester recorded multi-hit games in six of 13 games, raising his average to .294. He smacked a pair of home runs against the Texas AirHogs on June 28, kicking off a stretch of six homers in nine days. He became the first Railroaders player to hit for the cycle on Aug. 20 against Sioux Falls, homering in the top of the ninth inning to complete the feat.
Simpson delivered a record-breaking 2019 season, establishing new Railroaders marks for single-season home runs and RBI. He finished the year with a .272/.390/.536 slash line, blasting 20 home runs and leading the American Association with 93 RBIs. He finished second in the league in both walks (72) and doubles (32), becoming only the third player in American Association history to notch at least 20 homers, 30 doubles, and 70 walks (Trent Lockwood – Fort Worth, 2011 and Brandon Sing – Sioux Falls, 2010). Simpson’s 195 total bases finished fifth in the American Association.
Joining Nester as a Midseason and Postseason All-Star, Simpson delivered several memorable moments. He connected for a pair of grand slams, first against the Texas AirHogs on June 28 and then against the St. Paul Saints on July 24. Both were go-ahead homers in Cleburne wins, and interestingly both came against reliever Ryan Smith, who started the year with Texas before joining St. Paul. Simpson also came inches shy of the Railroaders first-ever three-homer game against Sioux Falls on August 18, finishing 4-for-5 with two homers and another drive off the top of the left field fence.
Sanchez was a measure of consistency atop the Railroaders’ starting rotation in 2019. In 21 total appearances, including 20 starts, the veteran right-hander finished 10-4 with a 3.31 ERA in 127.2 innings, matching a career high and franchise single-season high for wins in a season. Sanchez delivered 15 quality starts among his 20 outings, thanks in large part to exceptional command that was virtually unmatched within the American Association. Over the course of his 127.2 innings, Sanchez walked just 15, a rate of 1.1 per nine innings. No pitcher in the American Association with more than 80 innings pitched had a lower rate.
Nine times during the 2019 season, Sanchez pitched at least six innings and allowed one or fewer earned runs. In one of the biggest games of the season for Cleburne against Fargo-Moorhead on Aug. 31, he pitched seven brilliant innings, picking up seven strikeouts while allowing just five hits and one run.
Wilson had a career-best season operating as the Railroaders closer, finishing the year 3-2 with a 1.71 ERA in 41 appearances, covering 42 innings. The flame-throwing righty picked up 24 saves along the way, striking out 59 while issuing just 17 walks and allowing only 33 hits. He started and finished the year on a high note, beginning the campaign with 12 consecutive scoreless appearances and ending it with nine straight zeroes. He allowed an earned run in only five games during the season, and surrendered more than one earned run only once.
The 29-year old Wilson was at his best pitching at The Depot at Cleburne Station, where he allowed just one run in 24.2 innings, amassing a staggering 35/6 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Among pitchers who worked at least 40 innings, Wilson’s 12.6 strikeouts-per nine innings ranked fourth in the American Association.
The versatile Trowbridge spent time at every defensive position except center field during the 2019 season, and became the club’s hottest hitter during the final month of the season. On Aug. 1, Trowbridge had an OPS of .609, following a hitless game against the Texas AirHogs. From that point Forward, Trowbridge went 27-81 (.333), raising his OPS nearly 90 points to .698. He recorded eight multi-hit games over that stretch, including a season-best 3-for-5 performance against Sioux Falls on Aug. 18. In addition to the hits, Trowbridge also walked 14 times over that 25-game stretch, helping him finish with a .259/.380/.318 slash line. He provided one of the season’s most memorable moments with a walk-off single on Aug. 3 against the Canaries, capping a four-run rally in the bottom of the ninth.
Defensively, Trowbridge shined as the primary backup catcher to John Nester. He cut down 7-of-25 opposing base runners (28 percent) while committing only four errors. Trowbridge played errorless baseball at second, third and shortstop in limited opportunities, and contributed an outfield assist in his first start as a left fielder on August 22.
Buck joined the Railroaders on June 11 as a true rookie out of Cal State San Marcos. He recorded a hit in each of his first four professional games, and provided a number of clutch hits over the course of his 60 contests in a Railroaders uniform. In just his third game with the club, Buck delivered a two-out, two-run triple in the bottom of the eighth inning to lift Cleburne to a 7-6 win over the Kansas City T-Bones. On July 4, he connected for a go-ahead two-run single in the seventh inning against the Chicago Dogs to help the ‘Roaders rally for an 11-8 win.
For the season, Buck produced a .280/.362/.385 slash line, recording 16 doubles, two triples and one home run. Seven times he racked up three hits in a game, setting a career-high with four RBIs against the Sioux Falls Canaries on Aug. 18. His first professional long ball came against the Milwaukee Milkmen on July 10. Among true rookies who played in at least 50 games, only Graham Low of Sioux Falls and Tom Walraven of Gary SouthShore posted a higher OPS than Buck’s .747. The left-handed first baseman was hitting .303 as late as Aug. 20, before a 1-for-20 swoon dropped his average to its final .280 mark.
The Railroaders maintained a first-place lead in the South Division throughout much of the 2019 regular season before Kansas City closed the season on an unheard-of run while Sioux City edged Cleburne on a tiebreaker for the final playoff berth.