The Peoria Chiefs and St. Louis Cardinals have announced the 2018 Chiefs field staff and Chris Swauger returns as manager. Pitching coach Cole Johnson and hitting coach Russell Chambliss will join Swauger’s staff, both in their first seasons with the Chiefs. Athletic Trainer Dan Martin marks his third straight season on the Chiefs staff while Frank Spinelli returns as the strength and conditioning coach.
Swauger, 31, led the Chiefs to the MWL playoffs last season, the first time in team history there has been a three-year playoff run. The Chiefs went 69-70 in the regular season before being swept out of the playoffs by Quad Cities, the eventual MWL Champions in the first round.
Prior to joining the Chiefs, Swauger ed the Johnson City Cardinals to a 39-29 record and the 2016 Appalachian League Championship. The Cardinals finished in first place in the regular season before beating Elizabethton in the first round and sweeping Burlington in the Appalachian League Finals. They led the Appalachian League in batting average, on-base percentage and doubles while finishing second in runs scored.
Swauger also managed Johnson City in 2015 as the Cardinals finished with a 27-38 record. Swauger retired as a player during the 2014 season and transitioned immediately into coaching as the Johnson City hitting coach on another Championship team.
As a player Swauger played seven seasons in the Cardinals organization after being drafted in the 26th round of the 2008 draft out of The Citadel. He appeared in 613 games with a career average of .277 and 62 home runs, reaching as high as the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds in 2012 & 2013. Swauger played in the Midwest League for Quad Cities in 2009 batting .298 with four homers, 10 doubles, 22 RBI and 28 runs scored in 31 games. He won a New-York Penn League title as a player with Batavia in 2008 and a Texas League title with Springfield in 2012. He hit three home runs in Game 1 of the 2012 playoffs against Tulsa including the game-winner in the 10th inning.
Johnson, 30, joins the Chiefs for his first season as a coach in the Midwest League and his fourth overall with the Cardinals organization. For the last two seasons Johnson was the pitching coach for the Appalachian League’s Johnson City Cardinals and in 2016 he served on Swauger’s coaching staff. The 2016 Appy League Champions led the league in team ERA (2.53). Prior to joining Johnson City, Johnson was the Gulf Coast League Cardinals pitching coach in 2015 and the team finished with three individual pitchers in the top 10 in ERA and strikeouts.
While Johnson has not coached in the MWL he has played in the league with a 2011 stint for the Quad Cities River Bandits. A 41st round pick by the Cardinals in 2009, Johnson went 8-9 with a 3.81 ERA in 55 career games, 15 of those as starts. He pitched for the GCL Cardinals and Johnson City in 2009 going a combined 2-1 with a 3.44 ERA. Johnson spent all of 2010 with Johnson City going 5-4 with a 3.61 ERA in 13 games with 10 starts and 36 strikeouts in 62 1/3 innings. In 2011 he was part of the MWL Champion River Bandits squad that included Carlos Martinez, Trevor Rosenthal, Kolten Wong and the late Oscar Taveras. Johnson pitched in 30 games that season going 1-4 with a 4.33 ERA over 52 innings. A native of Greeneville, IL, Johnson was the 2008 and 2009 American Midwest Conference Pitcher of the Year at McKendree College in Lebanon, IL. He fired 24 career complete games for the Bearcats and went 21-7 over his final three seasons.
Chambliss, 42, is in his first season as a coach in the Cardinals organization. Chambliss has college coaching experience with the SUNY-Maritime Privateers where he was an assistant coach from 2014-2015. Prior to joining the college ranks he coached Paramus Catholic High School in Paramus, NJ while also teaching hitting and fielding clinics in the Bergen County area. He played in the New York Yankees organization from 1997-1999 with 63 games at the Single-A or Advanced-A level. Chambliss played two seasons in Independent Leagues before retiring from baseball after the 2000 season. A left-handed hitter, Chambliss played at Tucker High School in Glen Allen, Virginia before playing for both Washington & Jefferson College (PA) and Washington University in St. Louis. He was drafted by the San Diego Padres in the 64th round of the 1993 draft out of high school and then by the Yankees in the 52nd round of the 1996 draft and the 54th round of the 1997 draft. His father Chris played in the Major Leagues from 1971-1988 with the Cleveland Indians, New York Yankees and Atlanta Braves. After winning two World Series as a player and making six AL All-Star teams, the elder Chambliss served as a hitting coach for the Cardinals, Yankees, Mets, Reds and Mariners while also serving as a Triple-A Manager in the Mariners system in 2010.
Martin returns to the Chiefs as the Athletic Trainer for a third straight season. Prior to joining the Chiefs, Martin spent three seasons with the State College Spikes in the New York-Penn League and was named the 2015 NYPL Athletic Trainer of the Year. Prior to that he was the Athletic Trainer in 2012 for the Johnson City Cardinals in the Appalachian League. A native of Portland, Oregon, Martin earned his degree while also playing baseball at Central Methodist College in Fayette, MO. Before joining the Cardinals he was a Graduate Assistant at West Texas A&M working with the baseball team and he also worked in independent baseball with Amarillo in the American Association.
Spinelli also returns to the Chiefs staff marking the first time they have ever had the same Strength and Conditioning Coach in consecutive seasons. Prior to joining the Chiefs for the 2017 season, Spinelli served in the same capacity for the State College Spikes and was named the 2017 New York-Penn League Strength Coach of the Year. A native of Staten Island, NY, Spinelli graduated from Springfield College (MA) with both a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Exercise Science. While at Springfield he was a member of the Track and Field team. Spinelli as S&C experience with the New York Giants, Buffalo Bills, Montclair State University, the University of Georgia and Holy Cross.