KINGSPORT, Tenn.-Another Appalachian League season has come and gone and though 2016's version did not tell the same story as last year's club who won the division, this go-around still featured a lot of noteworthy moments and players.
The Kingsport Mets finished off the season as the hottest team in the Appalachian League-winning eight of their last 10 games-and moved into the out-right fourth-slot in the West standings after completing their first series-sweep of the season over the Bristol Pirates Thursday night.
The season-finale at Hunter Wright Stadium Thursday night also capped a season-ending nine-game home stand at the friendly confines where the K-Mets won seven of the contests played between the Princeton Rays, Danville Braves and the Bucs. The hot-streak came at exactly the right time as any manager of an eliminated team would hope that the club would finish the season strong while continuing to make strides in the player's individual progression in the latter days of the season.
Kingsport did just that as the squad put an exclamation point on the home stand Thursday night by pounding out nine runs off 18 hits in the extra-inning walk-off win over the Pirates.
Now, as the season as come and gone in the blink of an eye, it is time to take a look back at the bright spots 2016 had to offer for the Kingsport Mets. Just as earlier in the season, we will take a look at some hypothetical awards handed out to the players on the roster that includes many postseason awards one would see bestowed onto players at the Major League level following each season.
Before jumping into the awards section, let us take a look at some of the 2016 K-Mets who were on the move.
Promotions (Stats as of 9/2/16)
The Brooklyn Cyclones, Mets Short Season-A of the New York-Penn League, claimed five Kingsport Mets players who started the season in the Appalachian League. The promotions of these players were due to the production being displayed at the rookie level.
Thomas Szapucki (LHP) was the first to get the call up after completing only five starts for Kingsport. The southpaw, who now ranks as the No. 8 prospect in the Mets organization, simply overpowered the Appalachian League in his second year of professional baseball. Drafted in the 5th round out of high school in 2015, Szapucki led the league in ERA (0.62) and strikeouts (47) en route to a 2-1 record for the K-Mets in only five starts before the promotion.
Szapucki's began the season by striking out 13 batters in a six inning scoreless-effort against the Elizabethton Twins during Opening Night on June 23.
In Brooklyn this season, the left-handed pitcher has compiled a 2-2 record in four games started while tossing 23 innings on the mound. Zsapucki's ERA sits at 2.35 with 39 strikeouts thus far for the Cyclones.
Franklin Correa (INF) and Antony Dimino (C, 1B) were assigned a level up with only about 16 games remaining in the schedule for Brooklyn after a rash of injuries swept the roster. In Kingsport, Correa was second on the team at the time of the call-up with three home runs and 25 RBI while Dimino led all batters in the K-Mets lineup with .325 average at the plate.
The duo have each competed in seven games at the next level with two RBIs apiece. Correa is hitting around .261 with six hits and a double while Dimino continues to swing a good bat with a .325 clip and two extra-base hits so far in the service.
With only two games remaining in Kingsport's schedule, a couple of pitchers received the news that they would head to up Brooklyn to spent the very tail-end of the season with the Cyclones. Jordan Humphreys (RHP) and Gregorix Esteves (RHP) are now in camp with Brooklyn and will likely serve as bullpen pieces down the stretch as the Short Season-A club is also coming to its end.
Amid the final series of the season for the K-Mets, William Barring received the news that he would jump a level to join the Columbia Fireflies, Mets Single-A affiliate for their final few games of the season as well. Barring, who really came into his own in the leadoff spot for Kingsport, totaled a .232 average in 27 games this season with nine RBIs in the Appalachian League.
Finally, a player who was not promoted, rather traded away, was Max Wotell (LHP). Ranked as the 17th-best prospect in the Mets organization, the southpaw was included in the Jay Bruce deal that brought the power right-handed bat to Flushing, N.Y. amid the trade deadline on July 31 as the Mets look for yet another postseason run as they attempt to defend their National League crown.
Wotell now ranks as the 21st prospect in the Cincinnati Reds organization and was assigned to the Billings Mustangs of the Pioneer League following the trade. Prior to the move in Kingsport, Wotell led the starting rotation with a 3-1 record in five starts in what was only the second professional season for the 19-year-old who was selected in the 3rd round of the 2015 June Armature Draft.
Most Valuable Player
A couple of players were thrown around in consideration of this award but ultimately it was decided on the complete body of work displayed throughout the season. Ricardo Cespedes (CF) is Kingsport's 2016 MVP after finishing off the season with a team-high .322 average in 56 games played on the season. The No. 23 prospect in the Mets organization proved his hype by consistently getting on base at the top of the lineup card each and every game.
The center fielder totaled 73 hits on the year including five doubles, two triples and a home run while also swiping seven bags. As a defender, Cespedes's range in center field was imperative for the K-Mets and their pitchers as the skillful 19-year-old tracked balls down in the ally way all season long. His speed is a plus-tool as Cespedes was able to take away what looked to be base-hits from hitters all year on a number of occasions.
The base-hit machine totaled a couple of four-hit contests on the season and launched his first professional home run against the Princeton Rays on August 25. The outfielder's 55 games played on the year was second-highest on the team, and the stat could have been more if it weren't for an injury that sidelined the prospect for eight games at the tail-end of July.
What is even more impressive about Cespedes's season is that the outfielder began the year 0-for-9 at the plate with six strikeouts. It's safe to say that Cespedes responded well to the rough start and will be on his way to another level up the Mets minor league system next season.
Though Jordan Humphreys's (RHP) record only indicates three wins and five losses on the year, the second-year pro absolutely took a leap forward in his progression as a young starting pitcher this season en route to Kingsport's CY Young award winner.
The right-handed pitcher finished the year with a 3-5 record and 3.76 ERA with 76 strikeouts in 69 1/3 innings pitched. Humphreys walked only 15 batters all season long and yielded just 29 earned runs. His name ranks among the top of the Appalachian League categories in a number of statistics-most notably his league-leading 76 punch outs.
The main thing about Humphreys, as the same can be said for both Jake Simon (LHP) and Adonis Uceta (RHP), the hurler was a constant in the sometimes unpredictable starting rotation for the Kingsport Mets during the 2016 campaign. Humphreys made and pitched in all of his 12 scheduled starts on the season while tossing a complete seven innings on three different occasions on the year.
Humphreys also finished the season the right way as his last three starts on the mound saw the right-handed starter go 2-0 in 20 innings of 13-hit baseball, surrendering only three earned runs and two walks while striking out 26 batters in the process. Now in Brooklyn, Humphreys will complete the 2016 season out of the bullpen for the Cyclones after receiving the promotion just three days ago.
Ian Strom (OF) was without a doubt, in this writer's opinion, the most fun to watch tracking down balls in the outfield this season for the Kingsport Mets. In receiving the K-Mets Gold Glove for the year, Strom made a season-low one error for Kingsport in 49 games played throughout the season.
Stroms's speed and risky instincts led the 2016, 22nd round selectee out of UMASS-Lowell to make a number of highlight catches in the outfield this season. Balls that were put in play off the bat off opposing hitters that looked to be guaranteed base-hits were robbed by Strom game in and game out.
The Kingsport outfielder is the definition of an all or nothing player. Some managers love the go-getting mentality of a player such as Strom while others would tend for safer play. Nonetheless, Strom risked his body and error-count a number of times this season by absolutely laying out to make a diving catch-many of which saved his pitchers on the mound.
Having appeared on SportsCenter's Top-10 plays a couple of times during his college days, Strom picked up right where he left off in making highlight reel after highlight reel catch all season long doting a Kingsport uniform.
Rookie of the Year
A number of first-year players drafted out of college made strides in their debut season of professional baseball in Kingsport, but none stood out quite like the recipient of this award. Jeremy Wolf was a hole-in-one, a slam dunk if you will, for the 2016 Kingsport Mets Rookie of the Year.
Drafted out of Trinity University at the Division III level in the 31st round a couple of months ago, Wolf was obviously not thought to be a high-rated prospect within the organization. Though Wolf accomplished just about everything you could at the level he played at in college, which included an All-American campaign, Region and Conference Player of the Year statuses, and all importantly, a national championship, Wolf was given a chance to see what he could do at the rookie level.
After a slow start to the season, Wolf really came into his own and finished the year with a team-high five home runs and 33 RBIs. A final .288 hitter in 49 games, Wolf's averaged soared over .300 at times this season, but it was his power and production that kept him in the middle of Kingsport's lineup each and every time he started a contest.
Drafted as an outfielder, Wolf played in only one game in right field and spent the rest of the 48 contests as the club's first baseman or designated-hitter. The slugger was the lone K-Met all season to hit a grand slam and tallied a couple of four-hit contests throughout the season.
Wolf's maturity and patience certainly paid off in his first professional baseball season. Look for this player to continue to grow at a level beyond the Appalachian League at the start of next season.
Named after the iconic Cal Ripken Jr. and his 2,632 consecutive-games played streak for the Baltimore Orioles from the 1982 season through 1998, this award is given to a player who appeared in the most games for Kingsport this season, despite injuries and the overall fatigue every player goes through in competing in games each and every day.
Though Kingsport's season was only 68 games and Jose Miguel Medina appeared in 63 of which, the right fielder proved to be durable throughout a long-stretch of baseball that lasted around two and a half months.
At this level, a good deal of players make routine entrances into contests. It is all a part of the progression each organization wants to see from the players they draft and sign, however, Medina's case is slightly different as he was one of the players noted that needed to be in the lineup just about every single day.
Medina took the challenge in stride and did so while also playing a critical role in the production standpoint for the club. Hitting either fourth or fifth in the lineup each and every contest, Medina was second behind Jeremy Wolf in both home runs (4) and RBIs (32) on the year. Power is certainly one of the tools Medina possess, as well as speed and a veteran-like approach at the plate, but possibly his most-skilled trait is the cannon of a right arm he has out in the outfield.
The outfielder certainly proved he can be productive throughout the duration of a professional baseball season and look for this year's Ironman Award winner to continue making strides up the Met's farm system in the years that come.
Reliever of the Year
This award certainly came down to the wire as two Kingsport Mets relievers were deserving of this honor. Both Placido Torres (LHP) and Gregorix Esteves (RHP) racked up impressive numbers on the year, especially Esteves in the month of August, however, the Mets 8th round selection out of Division II's Tusculum College was this year's recipient of Reliever of the Year.
Coming off an incredible two-year stint as a Pioneer, Torres accomplished just about everything he could at Tusculum College. In the spring of 2016, Torres started 14 games for Tusculum to attribute an 11-0 record. Seven of the wins were in complete game fashion while four of which came via a shutout. The southpaw's 162 strikeouts in his final season of college led the nation in all three divisions and his 0.70 ERA ranked fourth in all the levels throughout the country.
In his first profession season with the Kingsport Mets, Torres contributed a 2-2 record in 18 2/3 innings out of the bullpen, surrendering only seven-earned runs off 22 hits in 13 appearances. The left-handed hurler struck out 26 batters and walked only six opponents all season long. Torres used all four pitches in his arsenal to record outs while his curveball and slider coming into right-handed hitters proved to be problematic for batters throughout the year.
Torres certainly has high-stock in the Mets system and should continue to progress up the chain the years that follow. It will be interesting for Torres, and the rest of the college-drafted pitchers who were forced to come out of the bullpen this season, to see how he transitions back into a starting role if that chance is awarded in the near future.
That concludes the hypothetical postseason awards for the Kingsport Mets. The K-Mets wrapped up the 2016 Appalachian League season with a fourth-place finish in the Western Division and were winners of their last three series of the season. Stay tuned into kmets.com for off-season coverage of the Kingsport Mets.