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Rivera back for third stint with K-Mets; season gets underway Thursday night

STEVE WILMOTH, TriCitiesSports.com • Jun 21, 2017 at 9:25 PM

KINGSPORT — The success of rookie league teams in the Appalachian League often isn’t measured by wins and losses.

Instead, player development and promotion is the objective, with the ultimate goal of players advancing up the minor league ladder.

To that extent and despite a 27-41 overall mark, the Kingsport Met’s 2016 season was an unabated success.

Twenty-three full-time or part-time members of the K-Mets have moved up the Mets’ chain for 2017 with 17 just getting underway at short-season Class A Brooklyn and another six bumped to long-season Class A Columbia.

“We want to win and we want to teach them to win, but this is about development,” said Kingsport Mets manager Luis Rivera. “We care more about the guys getting better and developing them so next year or the following year, they can be successful

“So here we work with them and develop them even though we might not see the result this year or even the following year, but we might see the result in a couple of years. That’s why we are here.”

Rivera is back for his third season at the helm of the K-Mets. Rivera guided Kingsport to an Appy League Western Division title in 2015.

“It’s great, I’m happy to be back. I love it here.” Rivera said. “The people are nice. We have a great facility to develop the players. The trips aren’t too long. It’s beneficial for everybody.”

Rivera is excited about this year’s revamped roster, which features just three holdovers. All three are infielders: Yeffry De Aza, who spent all of 2016 in Kingsport and Angel Manzanarez and Oliver Pascual, who were both called up during the season from the Gulf Coast League.

“We have good athletes on the team. A lot are young but have good tools,” noted Rivera. “We’ve got a lot of guys from college that are more mature and that’s good for the team.”

Last year’s squad did struggle at the plate, but Rivera believes this year’s team will be vastly improved this season.

Rivera is particularly excited about shortstop Edgardo Fermin, signed as an undrafted free agent in 2014 and first-baseman Jeremy Vasquez, one of nine 2017 draft picks on the squad. Vasquez was selected in the 28th round out of Nova Southeast.

Rivera also likes each of his five outfielders, all non-draftees out of the Dominican Republic. Expected to start in left field is Wagner LaGrange with Anthony Dirocie in right field.

Three catchers move up from the Gulf Coast League, including Mexican Juan Uriarte.

“We have a really good defense, something we really didn’t have last year,” said Rivera. “We are going to catch the ball and that will help us win some games.”

Rivera has worked with many of the everyday players in a previous assignment.

“I know a lot of them because last year they were in Gulf Coast and we worked with them in extended,” added Rivera. “Also I used to be a hitting coordinator in the Dominican, so I know them from when they first signed.”

Seven of the nine New York Met’s 2017 draft picks coming to Kingsport are pitchers, including former Kansas Jayhawk Stephen Villines. The 10th-round selection is the all-time saves leader at Kansas and the highest 2017 draftee reporting to the K-Mets.

Other recent selections on the staff include Josh Payne (22nd, West Texas A&M), Joe Cavallaro (24th, South Florida), William Oxford (27th, Azuzu Pacific), Ryan Selmer (31st, Maryland) and Mac Lozer (33rd, Michigan) as well as Aaron Ford, a 21st-round pick from Tennessee Wesleyan. Ford helped the Bulldogs to the AAC Tournament championship at Hunter Wright Stadium and also played at his Appy League home venue in the first round of the NAIA World Series.

“I expect the pitching to be good, too,” added Rivera. “The college guys usually do well in this league but they will be in a progression. They won’t throw that many innings initially because they threw a lot in college and some just finished a few weeks ago.”

Hurlers coming up from the Gulf Coast League include Jose Geraldo, Christian James and Garrison Bryant. Geraldo was a 2014 pickup from the Dominican, while James and Bryant are Florida natives who signed out of high school last year.

James was a 14th rounder from East Lake High School in Tampa, and Bryant was a 36th round pick from Clearwater High School.

“Geraldo is not a 95 (mph) guy, but he knows how to pitch and keep the ball low,” noted Rivera. “I saw James in extended a couple of times and he has good stuff, too.”

Geraldo was 2-0 with a 1.21 ERA in the Gulf Coast last year, while James pitched in 14 games with a 0.52 ERA. Bryant appeared in only seven games and worked just eight innings.

The K-Mets open their season Thursday night in Burlington. The 2017 home opener is scheduled for Sunday at 4 p.m. against the defending Appy League champion Johnson City Cardinals.

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