Entering the final two weeks of the Appalachian League season, the Kingsport Mets find themselves in a two-horse race, with the Elizabethton Twins, for the finish line, and a berth in the playoffs. One team will not make it and with 16 games left to go, the Mets are 1.0 GB the Twinkies with a record of 28-24. The Appalachian League is a short season league, consisting of ten teams, and play their season from June 21st to August 30th. The top two teams from each of the two divisions make the playoffs, and currently the K-Mets are in 3rd place. Much of the K-Mets success this year is due to a balanced hitting attack, some decent, if not great starting pitching, and a very solid bullpen. As an offense, the K-Mets are 2nd in the league in Hits and BA, 3rd in the league in Runs, and 4th in RBI’s. Here are some of the bats that have been responsible for the team’s success so far:
Julio Concepcion - This 6’4″ 194lb. 21 year old LF from the Dominican Republic is having a very good year with the bat for Kingsport. He leads the team in BA with a .317 (11th in the league), and also in Hits with 59 (5th in the league), and he’s 3rd on the team in TB’s (80), and in RBI’s (23). Signed by the Mets as an IFA in March of 2007, the RH hitting Concepcion, who is a very raw talent, has spent the last two seasons at the GCL level. A big finish to his season at Kingsport in 2011, is very important for him to use as a springboard to the long season leagues next year.
Cam Maron - The LH hitting catcher was the Mets 34th round draft pick in 2009 out of Hicksville H.S. Cam has been on fire lately, hitting at a .371 clip over his last ten games. Over that span he is 13 for 35, with 11 R, 1 2B, 3 HR’s and 8 RBI’s. Add in 7 walks and you have a .488 OBP. As a matter of fact, Maron leads the team in walks and OBP, is 2nd on the team in BA, and 3rd in Runs. For the season, Maron is hitting a cool .316 with 3 HR’s and 17 RBI’s. In a 152 AB’s he has an outstanding K/BB rate of 29/26 (26 walks tie him for 4th in the league), an OBP of .429 (5th in the league), and an OPS of .810. Maron is considered an offensive catcher at this point in his development, but if his catch and throw skills improve, he could quickly develop into a serious prospect in the next year.
Greg Pron - So far the 2011 42nd round pick looks like we got a real steal, when Sandy tabbed this 6’6″ RH slugging OF from West Florida. Pron has started off his professional career in a huge way. Pron is 9th in the Appy League with a .319 BA, .385 OBP, .518 SLG and .903 OPS (On Base Plus Slugging, the combination of OBP and SLG). He leads the team in BA, HR’s with 7, Total Bases, OPS and SB’s with 6. In 166 AB’s he is second on the team in: Runs (31), Hits (53), RBI’s (27), OBP and SLG. He does have a long swing, and tends to strikeout too often as his K/BB ratio of 46/17 indicates. Pron, who has played all three OF positions for Kingsport, is an intriguing prospect, and should open the 2012 season as a starting outfielder at Savannah, long season league.
Dustin Lawley - Drafted from the same West Florida program as Greg Pron in the 19th round of this year’s draft, the 6’1″ 195lb. Lawley has shown excellent versatility by playing all three OF positions and 3B for the K-Mets. He leads the team in 2B’s (15 which is good for 4th in the league), RBI’s (32), and is tied for first on the team in Total Bases (92), this year in 178 AB’s. He is second on the team in 3B’s (3), HR’s (6) and OPS (.847), and third on the team in Hits (53) and SLG (.517), and is hitting .298. Lawley is another athletic outfielder, drafted by the new regime, whose make-up and skills should translate well to Citifield someday, perhaps as Alex would say, “in 2014!” One thing is for certain, the competition for playing time in the Savannah outfield in 2012 will be very fierce.
Yucaryburt De La Cruz - Signed by the Mets as an IFA in Feb. 2009, this slender middle infielder is more of a speed and defense guy at this stage in his career. He leads off for the K-Mets, leads the team in Runs scored with 33, and 3B’s with 4. Although he is a solid glove man, with good speed, as his .247 BA shows, there is plenty of room for improvement with the bat.
Jeff Glenn - The other half of Kingsport’s catching tandem, along with Cam Maron, Glenn was drafted in the 9th round in the 2009 draft, out of Winter Haven H.S. in Winter Haven, Fla. When Glenn is catching, Maron DH’s, and vice-versa, so they are both getting plenty of AB’s while keeping their legs fresh, a smart move by manager Frank Fultz. Although much taller, at 6’3″, and more athletic behind the plate, than Maron, Glenn’s offensive skills lag behind a bit. After a hot start to the season, Glenn is fading as the stretch run wears on. He is only batting .114 in his last 10 games, but overall his numbers look like: .234 BA, in 128 AB’s, 13 Runs, 30 Hits, 12 2B’s, 3 HR’s 15 RBI’s, .398 SLG, and a 37/12 K/BB ratio. Glenn and Maron should emerge in the next year as catching prospects to watch.
Tillman Pugh - The Mets 2010 15th round draft pick out of Sonoma State University, Is the sort of speedy young outfielder who grows up to patrol the expansive acreage of Citifield. But after a solid start to the season, Pugh has struggled, and really needs to pick it up some, and finish the season strong. AMAZING Baseball Catch by Tillman Pugh – YouTube Hopefully, Pugh can begin to showcase his talents over the next few weeks, to warrant consideration for a long season league next year. This years numbers: .261 BA, 3 HR’s and 16 RBI’s in 119 AB’s.
Luke Stewart - This 6’4″ lefty hitting 1st baseman, from the University of Alabama-Birmingham, was the Mets 20th round pick in the 2010 draft. He is an intriguing player because of his power potential, although he has yet to show much power in his professional career so far. In 97 AB’s with Kingsport this year he is hitting .247, with 18 Runs, 24 Hits, 5 2B’s, 1 3B, 4 HR’s, 18 RBI’s, his K/BB ratio is 33/15, and his OPS stands at .792. The strikeouts tell the tale, too many against rookie league pitching. If Stewart ever wants to be considered a prospect, he needs to find a way to cut down on the strikeouts and put the ball in play more.
TJ Rivera - Signed earlier this summer as a free agent, this 22 year old SS from the Bronx has gotten off to a decent start with the Mets, hitting .290 in his first 93 AB’s.
Chad Zurcher - The 2011 31st round pick out of Memphis has been seeing duty at 2B and SS while hitting just .241, but his K/BB ratio of 8/12, gives him a reasonable OBP at .357.
Tant Shepherd - The Mets tabbed this slugging RH hitting 1st baseman, from the University of Texas, in the 24th round of the 2011 draft. His raw power has not yet translated to the professional ranks, but next year could be a breakout year for him. His numbers this year in 97 AB’s, he is hitting .237, with 18 Runs, 23 Hits, 7 2B’s, 1 HR, 9 RBI’s. With a K/BB ratio of 26/10, although a small sample size, it seems he has the same things to work on, moving forward, as Luke Stewart: making contact, and being more selective at the plate.
As for the guys on the “bump”, the Kingsport staff leads the league in hitting batters with pitches, and are second in the league in walks. Hmmmm….not too good. The good news is they were in 4th or 5th place amongst the ten teams in most of the significant pitching categories. One K-Mets starter throws in the mid-90′s and is tied for the Appy League lead in strikeouts with 54, in just 40 IP! He is a 6’1″ RHP from the Virgin Islands, who was the Mets 2010 10th round pick, and his name is…..
Akeel Morris - Morris is an unbelievable talent, who is still very raw. When you grow up in the V.I. and choose to play baseball, you are not playing against the best talent, and it is hard to challenge a pitcher with a skill set like Morris’. So despite his abilities, Morris is now facing much tougher competition for the first time in his life. Video: Akeel Morris- Live BP 2011 – YouTube Morris has shown flashes of dominance this year combined with rough spots where his command would break down. His uneven performance has resulted in a 2-2 record, and an ERA of 4.05. His peripherals are somewhat more encouraging, but even considering the high strikeout numbers, he walks too many batters, 30 in 40 IP. The really good news? He is only 18 years old, and Appy League opposition is hitting only .185 against him.
Much of the same things can be said about Dominican RHP Domingo Tapia. 6’4″ and 19 years old, he has a heavy sink FB and some promising secondary stuff. He has been very inconsistent this year, but has been much better of late. In his two August starts he has gone 2-0 with an 0.75 ERA. Video: Domingo Tapia Live BP 2011 Overall Tapia is 4-4 with an ERA of 4.50.
Juan Urbina - The son of the former big leaguer Ugueth Urbina, has been having a very rough year as the rest of the league has been beating him like a drum, at will. His stats aren’t pretty: In 9 GS and 40 IP, he has an ugly 2-5 record, and an ERA of 6.69. His K/BB ratio is very good, 36/16, but he is getting knocked all over the park. 53 hits in his 40 IP, 7 of which are HR’s, and the league is hitting .314 against him. The scouts love him though. After all he just turned 18 earlier this season. He’s 6’2″ and throws LH. And they say he can command several plus pitches, So I guess you can chalk this year up to his young age and despite the numbers, this is a very important developmental year for the south-paw. Video: Juan Urbina
Bret Mitchell - The 6’2″ RHP won 5 of his first 7 starts for the K-Mets and then was promoted to Brooklyn. The 2010 12th round pick out of Minnesota State University-Mankato, went 5-1 with a 2.95 ERA for Kingsport. In 40 IP he gave up 24 Hits, only two of which were HR’s. He had a 38/12 K/BB ratio, the league was hitting .175 against him and his WHIP was 0.91.
Jacob Lugo - After drafting the 6’4″ RHP Lugo in the 34th round this past June, out of Centenary College, the Mets assigned him to Kingsport where he has now made 7 GS, going 3-1 with a 3.38 ERA. In 35 IP he has given up 28 Hits, 3 HR’s, while striking out 32 and walking 16. Opponents are hitting .217 off him and his WHIP is 1.27.
Brian Valenzuela – This 5’10″ LHP was the Mets 10th round draft pick back in 2008, out of Vista Murrieta (Calif.) High School. Things were tough the last 3 seasons when he threw only 28 IP combined, and missed a season due to injury. This year he has tossed 32 IP, so far, with very poor results. He’s 2-4 with a 5.97 ERA in 6 starts, and the league is raking against him to the tune of a .318 BA. Valenzuela has to show some positive signs soon or the new regime may not keep around for another season.
Miller Diaz - The 19 year old, 6’1″ RHP from Venezuela was signed as an IFA in 2009. He has split time between the rotation (4 starts) and the pen. He is 1-0 with an ERA of 3.90, but he desperately needs to cut down on his walks, as he has 18 in 28 IP already.
Hansel Robles - The 21 year old RHP from the Dominican, was signed as an IFA in 2009. In 12 games this year, 30 IP, he is 3-1 with a 2.97 ERA. His K/BB ratio is 33/13, and opponents are hitting .232 against him.
Darwin Frias - This 19 year old RHP from the Dominican Republic, was another IFA signed in 2009. Out of the Kingsport pen this year he is: 1-2 with a 2.50 ERA, opponents are hitting .246 against him. Here’s some video: Darwin Frias of the Kingsport Mets vs. Greeneville Astros (July 18, 2011)
Chasen Bradford - Drafted this year in the 35th round, out of Central Florida, the RHP Bradford has gotten off to a quick start in the Kingsport pen. In 28 IP, he has given up 23 hits, only 1 HR, his K/BB is 33/6, opponents are hitting .221 against him. His record is 0-0 and his ERA is 2.22, and in 9 IP since Aug began, he has not allowed a run, given up only 3 hits, and is 11/1 in K/BB ratio.
Dustin Emmons - The 6’1″ RHP as appeared in 14 games out of the pen for the K-Mets, throwing 26 IP. The 2011 38th round draft pick out of UC Riverside is 2-0 with a 3.76 ERA. He still has work to do getting more swings and misses since he has allowed 34 Hits and a .309 opponents BA against, but he has only allowed 2 dingers. His K/BB ratio stands at 16/6.
Ernesto Yanez - A 21 year old RHP from Venezuela, he got off to a very hot start at Kingsport before being sent up to Brooklyn at the end of July. Originally signed by the Mets in March of 2009, Yanez pitched in 11 games for the K-Mets this year, for a total of 22 IP. He gave up 16 hits, but only 1 ER (as a result of a solo HR), had a K/BB ratio of 14/4, opponents BA was .203, and his WHIP was 0.90.
Mark Picca - This 6’2″ LHP from the University of Texas-Arlington, was the Mets 2011 41st round draft pick. He signed a contract and was assigned to Kingsport, where he has gotten off to a nice start in the K-Pen. So far this season he has made 14 appearances over 20 IP, with a record of 1-1 and a 3.60 ERA, 18 hits, 15/5 K/BB ratio, with an opponents BA at .237, and a 1.15 WHIP.
Chad Sheppard - The 6’4″ RHP out of Northwestern State University, was the 2010 17th round draft pick. In only 18 IP over 12 games for Kingsport, he has gone 1-1 with a pedestrian ERA of 4.58, but has shown some interesting peripherals so far: In his 18 IP, he has given up 14 hits for an opponents BA of .209, but the thing you notice is his K/BB ratio which is 24/12. With a K/9 of 12.0, and a BB/9 of 6.0, he has showed a very “live” arm so far, and with an improvement in his command, he could evolve into a closer down the road. Video: RHP Chad Sheppard
Jared West - Speaking of closers, this 2011 undrafted free agent, has emerged as quite a pleasant surprise for the K-Pen this year. Being placed in the closer role early on, this 6’1″ RHP from The Woodlands, Texas, is showing the Mets were very shrewd to keep tabs on this guy, and get him signed once the draft concluded. For Kingsport he has gone: 0-1 with a 2.50 ERA, and 7 saves, in 14 games, covering 18 IP. He has allowed 18 hits and three walks while striking out 16. His WHIP is 1.17.
The stretch run should prove very interesting for the Kingsport Mets as they are presently playing their best baseball of the season. The hitters are hitting, the bullpen is dealing, if the rotation can pull it together for each of their two or three remaining starts, this team just might find it’s way into the playoffs this September!
Let’s Go K-Mets!
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