I made the lovely drive from Savannah, GA to Johnson City, TN to see the Kingsport Mets. (This is not a joke. Driving through the Southern Appalachian mountains is gorgeous.) I saw the KMets score 16 runs in the final four innings on their way to a season-high 20 tallies and a 20-4 win that finished in the rain with the Johnson City catcher on the mound mopping up in relief.
3B Pedro Perez had the game of his (brief) professional life, going 3-for-5 with a double and two three-run homers and seven RBI. The second homer was funny – he got a fastball in and yanked it down the leftfield line. The 18-year-old started a few steps out of the box, wasn’t sure it would stay fair, stopped, and then waited for it to straighten out and stay fair. Perez kept it fair, because he said, “I stayed close, and [used] quick hands.” (We will have video of this on the blog as well.)
Lower back problems limited Perez to 12 games in the Appalachian League last year when he hit just .119/.178/.190 with three walks and 12 strikeouts. Perez is now up to 6’2″ and has filled out to north of 220 pounds.
This year, he explained in halting English (!) what he’s doing differently: “I changed my hitting approach and I’m better now. The hitting coach told me about how I feel with two strikes, and how I feel when [there’s] a 0-0 count. With two-strike approach, shorten the bat, and spread my legs. He said, you can hit with your legs spread a little bit.” (I was very impressed that the 18-year-old Perez was willing to answer questions in English. He had Leger nearby to translate if my questions ran into the complex, or he needed help, but he spoke in English, which speaks extremely well of his learning ability.)
Kingsport manager Jose Leger on Perez, “This year, he’s different – more mature. He’s actually played a lot better defensively than we saw in extended last year. Hitting-wise, instead of having all the movement, he’s tried to cut all the movement and spread his legs and just use his hands. He’s got power, he’s a big kid with power, he’s got a good swing. He uses his legs well, and he’s got some batspeed and that body too- he uses what he has.”
Perez pointed out that facing erratic Appalachian League pitchers creates a problem upper level hitters do not experience. The hardest part of the league he said is that “Too many pitchers don’t throw a lot of strikes. You have to have a lot of concentration when the pitcher throws in the strike zone and I have to stay aggressive with the pitch in the strike zone.”
Rob Whalen: 3 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 4 BB, 3 K. The Mets’ 12th round pick in the 2012 draft out of Haines City (FL) High School was sitting 88-89 mph with his fastball and touched 90 once or twice. He’s already listed at 6’2″ and 200 pounds, which is probably light. Even as a 19-year-old I don’t see a lot of projection left in the body. He threw a few curveballs at 75-76 mph and tried a pair of changeups at 82.
In the seventh, the KMets turned to 20-year-old LHP Alberto Baldonado. Already 6’2″ and north of his listed 160 pounds (in a good way) he was throwing 92-93 mph and touching 94. He showed two curveballs at 67 mph, one a good one for a strikeout, and one that forgot to bend and missed the zone by a foot and a half. There’s a little bit of funk in his delivery. He fanned four while walking one and allowing three runs on five hits in his two innings. He did not show a changeup. I suspect he will stay in the bullpen for the forseeable future, because his breaking stuff is so rudimentary.
In the ninth, the Mets turned to little fire-baller Ricardo Jacquez. At 5’9″ and slender, Jacquez struck out the side throwing 92-94 and sitting at 94. He showed a slider at 87 that was flat, but an effective complement to his heat. The Mets drafted Jacquez in the 25th round this year out of Central Arizona JC. He began his college career at Texas, but was kicked off the team for a second rules violation when he warmed up, but was too “dehydrated” to pitch (read: hungover). Jacquez has struck out 11 of the 20 batters he has faced in the Appy League, walked one and given up two hits. The way he threw Thursday, he has no business in the league and could certainly handle an assignment to the South Atlantic League.
SS Amed Rosario: 1-for-4, RBI, 2 BB, K. He didn’t get much to swing at in his two plate apperances that turned into walks. In the seventh, he managed to get to a fastball at his shoulders and drive it to left for a fly-ball out. It was not a pitch he should have swung at, but the pure athletic ability to drive the pitch was redeeming. Facing a catcher on the mound in the ninth in the rain, he slashed a single to right to drive home a run. The 18-year-old is rail thin at 6’2″, 170 pounds.
CF Champ Stuart: 2-for-4, 2 2B, 4 RBI, 3 BB, 2 K. You can see what the Mets saw when they plucked him in the sixth round this year. He’s fast, he throws well and he has batspeed. He doesn’t really know what to do with sliders yet, but there is just a lot of quick in this 20-year-old’s game.
LF Brad Marquez: 3-for-6 with a double. He hit a couple of hard line drives up the middle and yanked one into left. He still looks a little like a football player playing baseball with strength in his movements.