The Kingsport Mets authored a 2013 season that won't be forgotten anytime soon.
The K-Mets won the West Division title, advanced to the playoffs for the first time since 1996 and came within a single strike of making it to the Appalachian League championship series.
Manager Jose Leger and his coaching staff-pitching coach Jon Hurst and hitting coach Yunir Garcia-returned intact from the prior season, and enjoyed a significant turnaround over the 2012 result. After going 23-43 last year, it was a different story for Kingsport this time. The K-Mets surpassed that win total by August, after winning a whopping 21 games during the month of July and establishing themselves as a contender in the Appalachian League.
Kingsport went into a season-long nine-game home stand in August in control of its own destiny, but lost five of those nine contests to put its playoff position in jeopardy. The K-Mets finished, strong, however, going 7-2 down the stretch. Kingsport's 7-6 win over Bluefield on Aug. 28 secured the team's first postseason appearance in 17 years. The next night, the K-Mets' victory combined with a loss by the Greeneville Astros clinched the divisional crown for Kingsport.
The K-Mets started the playoffs on a positive note, with Chris Flexen and Persio Reyes combining on a 3-1 victory. Greeneville responded the next night with a 7-2 victory over Kingsport at Hunter Wright Stadium, setting the stage for an all-or-nothing Game 3 with all the marbles on the line. Kingsport took a 2-0 lead in that game, only to see the Astros come back and rally. The K-Mets grabbed a 3-2 advantage in the bottom of the eighth, but Greeneville responded with five runs in the top of the ninth and held on for the eventual 7-3 victory. The Astros scored the tying run with two outs, and two strikes on the batter.
It was a disappointing way for the season to end but it doesn't diminish all the success this team enjoyed in 2013.
Along the way, some individuals distinguished themselves with outstanding performances.
Yeixon Ruiz was the lone K-Met to make the Appy League All-Star team, earning the nod at second base. Ruiz ranked seventh in the league in batting average (.312) and caused problems for opposing teams all season long with his speed. The native of the Dominican Republic stole 12 bases. He made the All-Star team as a second baseman, but showed his versatility by playing multiple games at shortstop, third base and each of the three outfield positions.
Ruiz made the All-Star team at second base but Jeff McNeil was the K-Mets' regular at that position, manning that spot 45 times. A 12th-round pick out of Long Beach State, McNeil finished with a .329 average that ranked second in the league. He also posted an .822 OPS that ranked among the top 10 batters in the entire Appy.
Victor Cruzado was on pace to rank among the league leaders in batting average but didn't make the minimum number of plate appearances. Cruzado posted a .328/.421/.888 line for the season, driving in 22 runs and connecting on three home runs. He was also named the Appalachian League Batter of the Week.
Jeyckol De Leon was Kingsport's primary catcher, and also arguably the team's most clutch hitter. De Leon drove in a team-high 33 runs as part of a .298/.368 OBP/.797 OPS season. De Leon's 2013 campaign included three walk-off hits, the last of which came in the game against Bluefield that wrapped up a playoff spot for the K-Mets.
Jon Leroux finished with 32 RBIs, just off the pace of De Leon, despite logging only 133 at-bats and 154 plate appearances. Five K-Mets made 180 or more appearances at the plate, by comparison. Leroux also led the team in home runs with six, posted a team-high .919 OPS and hit a robust .304 with runners in scoring position.
Joe Tuschak made more total plate appearances than any K-Met on the roster, and showed improved defense in left field while hitting .271/.313/.689. Jeff Diehl led Kingsport in total bases, with 85, and enjoyed a 16-game hit streak while compiling a .266/.320/.731 line at the plate.
Champ Stuart, the highest 2013 draft pick who spent all or the majority of the season in Kingsport, dealt through a slump in August but still drew 34 walks-the fifth-highest total in the league. The native of the Bahamas hit .240/.388/.742 for the season, and was very reliable in center field.
Amed Rosario was probably the top prospect among position players on the squad. Rosario received a seven-figure signing bonus when he inked with the Mets as a 16-year-old, and Rosario made his Appalachian League debut at the age of 17. Along the way, he showed flashes of the potential that made him such a highly coveted prospect coming out of the Dominican.
Dominic Smith, the Mets' first-round pick in the June draft, only played a handful of games in Kingsport after getting called up in late August to help the team on its playoff push. Smith showed both a potent bat and solid defensive work at first base during his short sample size in the Appalachian League.
When discussing the top Kingsport pitchers in 2013, Chris Flexen and Robert Whalen have to be at the top of the list. Whalen ranked second in the Appy League in ERA (1.87) and WHIP (0.93), and his 72 1-3 innings pitched was the highest total in the league. Whalen also tallied 76 strikeouts, the second-most among all Appalachian League hurlers. His 3-2 record arguably would have been significantly higher if not for a handful of tough no-decisions. Flexen ranked fourth in the league in ERA (2.09), third in WHIP (0.94) and tallied eight victories-more than any pitcher in the Appy. A two-time Appalachian League Pitcher of the Week, Flexen threw a pair of complete games, one in a seven-inning contest as part of a doubleheader and the other a regulation game against the Burlington Royals that saw him fire a two-hit shutout.
Persio Reyes also worked a complete game for the K-Mets. He finished with a 4-5 record and 4.40 ERA, posting a 1.17 WHIP and recording 52 strikeouts in 57 1-3 innings pitched. Yoan Gonzalez (4-4, 4.24) also had his moments as a regular cog in the starting rotation.
Robert Coles and Ricardo Jacquez both pitched well out of the bullpen for Kingsport. Both Coles (1.83 ERA) and Jacquez (1.74) tallied an ERA under 2.00, and each tallied six saves. Jacquez was particularly sharp, notching 33 strikeouts over 20 2-3 innings pitched. Lanky left-hander Alberto Baldonado finished the season strong out of the bullpen, posting a 3.07 ERA in the month of August.
There's a good chance that you may see some of these names back in a K-Mets uniform next June when the 2014 Appalachian League season begins.
The Kingsport Mets would like to thank the fans for all their support this summer. We'll see you in 2014!
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.