The Peoria Chiefs and St. Louis Cardinals have announced the 2014 Chiefs field staff with Joe Kruzel named as the 22nd Manager in Chiefs history. His staff will include two members who worked in Peoria in 2013, former MLB pitcher Jason Simontacchi and athletic trainer Mike Petrarca.
Kruzel, 47, will manage the Chiefs in 2014 after leading the Rookie Ball Johnson City Cardinals to a 36-31 record in 2013. The JC Cardinals missed the playoffs by 1.5 games and were third in the league in batting average, second in home runs and runs scored and fourth in ERA. The stint in the Appalachian League was the first as a manager in the Cardinals system. Kruzel worked in the Midwest League as the Quad Cities River Bandits hitting coach from 2008-2012, helping the 2011 squad to the Midwest League Championship. In 2012 the River Bandits were third in the MWL in batting and led the league in home runs and RBI. In 2011 the River Bandits led the MWL in doubles, walks, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. Prior to joining the Cardinals in 2008, Kruzel managed the Billings Mustangs in the Pioneer League for the Cincinnati Reds in 2007. He was also the hitting coach for the Gulf Coast League Reds in 2006.
Kruzel was the head baseball coach at the University of Toledo from 1993-2003 and an assistant for the Rockets from 1989-2003. He is the second-winningest coach in UT history and was named MAC Coach of the Year in 1999. He played second base for Toledo from 1985-88 hitting .311 with 28 RBI in 1988 and also served as an assistant baseball coach at Miami (Ohio) University. A native of Toledo, Ohio, Kruzel was an All-District player at Central Catholic.
During his time as a manager or hitting coach, Kruzel has taught numerous Major League hitters including: Matt Carpenter, Matt Adams, Juan Francisco, Todd Frazier, Kolten Wong, Ryan Jackson, Pete Kozma, Adron Chambers and Brett Wallace. He has also worked with current Cardinals prospects Oscar Taveras, Mike O'Neill, Stephen Piscotty, Colin Walsh and many others. In 2013 with Johnson City, Kruzel managed potential future Chiefs and Cardinals prospects Kenneth Peoples-Walls, Vaughn Bryan, Rowan Wick, Steve Bean and pitchers Alexander Reyes, Blake McKnight and many others.
Jason Simontacchi, 40, returns to the Chiefs after guiding the 2013 Peoria staff to a 3.54 ERA, second in the league. Under Simontacchi's leadership, the pitchers combined for 1112 strikeouts, a new single-season Chiefs record. A native of Sunnyvale, California, Simontacchi pitched at Fremont High School, San Jose State and the Albertson College of Idaho before being drafted by the Kansas City Royals in the 21st round of the 1996 draft. After a season of short-season ball in Spokane, Simontacchi went 3-7 with a 6.97 ERA in 29 games and one start for the Lansing Lugnuts in the 1997 Midwest League season. He was released by the Royals after the season and played independent ball in Springfield, Illinois in 1998. Simontacchi signed with Pittsburgh and pitched in A-ball in 1999 before signing with Rimini Baseball Club in the Italian Professional League. He was 12-1 with a 1.17 ERA in 2000. He was named to Team Italy for the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney and beat South Africa before taking the loss against the Netherlands. In three Olympic outings, Simontacchi struck out 10 in 15 1/3 innings and posted a 1.17 ERA. He made it to Triple-A Edmonton with the Minnesota Twins in 2001 before signing with the Cardinals for the 2002 season.
Simontacchi made his MLB debut on May 4, 2002 and finished the 2002 season with an 11-5 record and a 4.02 ERA in 24 starts as the Cardinals won the NL Central. Simontacchi finished ninth in the NL Rookie of the Year voting and also finished seventh in the NL in win percentage. In 2003, Simontacchi pitched seven innings for the Chiefs in an exhibition game win over Bradley University before going 9-5 with a 5.56 ERA in 46 games for the Cardinals. He pitched in 13 games in St. Louis in 2004 but spent most of the season in Triple-A Memphis going 7-4 with a 4.33 ERA. Simontacchi pitched again in the Majors in 2007 with the Washington Nationals going 6-7 with a 6.37 ERA in 13 games. He pitched in the Independent Atlantic League in 2008 with Long Island and 2010 with Lancaster before retiring. As a Major Leaguer, Simontacchi was 26-17 with a 5.09 ERA in 96 games and 53 starts
Petrarca has been an athletic trainer with the Cardinals for the last five seasons including the 2013 season in Peoria. He worked in rookie ball with the Appalachian League Johnson City Cardinals in 2009 and 2010 before spending the last two seasons with Bilardello in Short-Season A Batavia. Petrarca graduated from the University of New Hampshire in 2004 with a degree in Kinesiology and Exercise Science. He earned a Master's degree in Sport and Fitness Administration/Management from Troy University in 2008.