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 three members who worked in Peoria in 2013, former MLB players Jason Simontacchi and Erik Pappas and athletic trainer Mike Petrarca.
Kruzel, 47, will manage the Chiefs in 2014 after leading the Rookie-Level 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
Pappas also returns to the Chiefs for a second season as hitting coach. With Peoria last year, Pappas guided the offense to a .256 team average and just 817 strikeouts, the lowest for any team in the MWL. A Chicago native and former catcher, Pappas, played at Mt Carmel High School in Chicago and was drafted by the California Angels with the sixth overall selection of the First Round in the 1984 June draft. The Chiefs were affiliated with the Angels in 1984 but Pappas was assigned to Short-Season Salem in the Northwest League. In 1985 he played in the Midwest League for the Quad City Angels hitting .240 with two home runs. Pappas climbed to Double-A Midland with the Angels where he hit .276 in 1988 before being chosen by the Chicago Cubs in the December 1988 Minor League Rule V draft. He played in Double-A Charlotte for in 1989 and had a breakout season batting .299 with 16 home runs and 31 doubles. He then played for Triple-A Iowa in 1990 and 1991 hitting 16 home runs in 1990 and seven more in 1991. Pappas made his Major League debut for the Cubs on April 19, 1991 as a defensive replacement in Pittsburgh. He collected his first MLB hit and RBI two days later as a starter while catching former Chief Mike Harkey in Pittsburgh. Overall in 1991 he played in seven MLB games with three hits and two RBI.
Pappas was released by the Cubs in November 1991 and signed with the Kansas City Royals a month later. He began the 1992 season with Triple-A Omaha before being traded to the Chicago White Sox on July 9 and finishing the season in Triple-A Vancouver with a .276 average. Pappas signed a free agent deal with the St. Louis Cardinals on January 5, 1993 and split the next two seasons between St. Louis and Triple-A Louisville. In 1993 he hit a MLB career-high .276 with one home run, 12 doubles and 28 RBI while playing in 82 games for Joe Torre. Pappas collected a 16-game hit streak from May 14 to June 5, still the second longest hit streak by a Cardinals catcher since 1957. He hit his first MLB home run on June 14, 1993 against Pittsburgh off Denny Neagle. In the strike-shortened 1994 season he played in 15 MLB games with a double and five RBI while playing 64 Triple-A games. He signed with the Florida Marlins for the 1995 season and played in Triple-A Charlotte before finishing his career with Texas Rangers in Triple-A Oklahoma City. In 104 MLB career games, Pappas hit .242 with one homer, 13 doubles and 35 RBI. He appeared in 1166 MiLB games batting .248 with 85 home runs, 201 doubles and 495 RBI.
After his playing career, Pappas returned to Chicago where he began a company called Baseball Alley to teach the sport to kids in Chicago's Morgan Park area. He also worked at the Cangelosi Baseball Clinic in Chicago. Pappas also worked as a stock trader and eight years after retiring was asked to play for the Greece National Team in the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens as his grandfather was born in Greece. In seven games Greece won just once, but Pappas homered in the final game, a 6-1 loss to Canada.
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.