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Kruzel Returns to Manage Chiefs in 2016

Orozco & Jimenez also coming back
January 12, 2016

PEORIA, IL - The Peoria Chiefs and St. Louis Cardinals have announced the 2016 Chiefs field staff with Joe Kruzel returning as Chiefs manager for a third season. Fresh from leading the Chiefs to their first Midwest League playoff berth in six seasons, Kruzel's staff will again include hitting coach Jobel Jimenez and pitching coach Dernier Orozco while fourth coach Nathan Sopena is new to the Chiefs and the Cardinals organization. Athletic Trainer Dan Martin, who was with Short-Season State College in 2015 rounds out the Chiefs staff while a strength and conditioning coach will be announced at a later date. 

     Kruzel, 50, starts the 2016 season needing just 64 victories to become the winningest manager in franchise history. He is the fourth skipper in team history to manage three seasons and the third to do so consecutively. Joe Cunningham (1997, 2003-04) holds the team record with 210 victories while Casey Kopitzke (2010-12) won 194 games and Steve Roadcap (1992-94) won 189. Kruzel led the Chiefs to 75 wins in 2015 and 72 in 2014 and currently sits fifth on the all-time wins list with Philadelphia Phillies manager Pete Mackanin (1985-86) in the fourth spot at 152. Kruzel trails only Kopitzke (111) in Dozer Park wins with 80 over two seasons.

     With a 75-63 season in 2015, Kruzel led the Chiefs to their first playoff spot since 2009 with a Second Half Wild Card. The Chiefs then swept the Kane County Cougars in the first round, their first series win since the 2002 MWL Championship, before falling to the Cedar Rapids Kernels in the Western Division Finals. Kruzel led the Chiefs to 72 wins (72) in 2014 and his teams have been .500 or better in all four halves in which he has been in charge.

     Before joining the Chiefs, Kruzel led the Rookie Ball Johnson City Cardinals to a 36-31 record in 2013, missing the playoffs by 1.5 games. The 2013 JC Cardinals were third in the league in batting average, second in home runs and runs scored and fourth in ERA. 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, Pete Kozma, Brett Wallace and the late Oscar Taveras.

     Jimenez returns to the Chiefs for his third season as hitting coach. Prior to joining Peoria in 2014, Jimenez was an instructor in the Cardinals organization since 2007 and spent the 2012 season as the hitting coach with the Rookie Level Gulf Coast Cardinals. Prior to joining the GCL squad he was the hitting coach for the Venezuelan Summer League Cardinals. Jimenez worked in the Boston Red Sox organization from 2001-2006 as a scout, outfield instructor and hitting coach in both Venezuela and the Dominican Republic.

     A native of Venezuela, Jimenez played in the Los Angeles Dodgers system in 1993 and 1994 before joining the Dodgers organization as a scout. He worked for the Dodgers as a Venezuelan Summer League scout and outfield instructor from 1994-1998 and then spent two seasons in the same capacity with the Florida Marlins.

     Orozco returns to the Chiefs for his second season as pitching coach. In 2015 his pitching staff led the MWL and set a franchise record with 1149 strikeouts while posting the 4th best ERA in the league at 3.32. The 2015 Chiefs also racked up the second most shutouts in the league with 15, falling just short of the team record. Before joining the Chiefs, Orozco was the pitching coach in back-to-back seasons with the short-season State College Spikes in the New York-Penn League. In 2014 the Spikes won the NYPL Championship and finished second in the league as a pitching staff with a 2.97 ERA. The Spikes were also third in strikeouts, second in saves, second in shutouts and allowed the third least amount of home runs. In 2013 the Spikes made it to the NYPL Finals with a league-best 2.80 ERA under Orozco's leadership.

     A native of Venezuela, the 34-year-old has coached at four different levels in 10 seasons in the Cardinals organization. From 2006-2008 he coached with the Cardinals in the Venezuelan Summer League and returned to the VSL in 2010. In 2009 and 2011 he coached the Gulf Coast League Cardinals before moving up to Dann Bilardello's Batavia staff in 2012. Orozco pitched six seasons in the Boston Red Sox organization. He posted an ERA of 1.88 in the VSL in 2002 and went 4-2 in 14 games for the 2003 GCL Red Sox.

     Sopena is the only member of the staff new to the Cardinals organization as he serves as the team's fourth coach. A native of Lake in the Hills, Illinois, Sopena played in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization in 2014. He played 10 games for Bristol in the Rookie-Level Appalachian League and three games for Jamestown in the Short Season-A New York-Penn League. Overall in 38 professional at-bats, Sopena drove in three runs with a double. Sopena played college baseball at Eastern Illinois University batting .277 for the Panthers in 2013 with one home run, three doubles, nine RBI and nine runs scored in 28 games. An infielder, he started 44 games in 2012 with 14 RBI, one homer and four doubles while batting .260 in Ohio Valley Conference play. Sopena helped Heartland Community College to a 54-11 record in 2011 as they qualified for the NJCAA Division II National Tournament. In 2015 Sopena was a volunteer assistant coach at EIU.

     Martin joins the team as the Athletic Trainer after three seasons with the State College Spikes in the New York-Penn League. Last year he 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.


Tickets and Promotions:

      Season ticket packages and group tickets for the 2016 season are currently on sale by calling 309-680-4000. The 2016 season kicks off April 7 in Burlington, Iowa with the home opener against the Bees set for Saturday, April 9 at 6:30 p.m. 

      Promotions, giveaways, theme nights and daily specials will be announced later in the offseason. All game times and promotions are subject to change throughout the offseason. Fans can keep up with all Chiefs news during the offseason online at and on twitter: @PeoriaChiefs.