Kingsport Mets to open 2014 season against Danville Braves at Hunter Wright Stadium

George Thwaites • Jun 21, 2014 at 10:14 AM

KINGSPORT — Most of the players who led the Kingsport Mets to last year's Appalachian League West Division championship won't be playing at Hunter Wright Stadium this summer.

Grateful fans who celebrated the K-Mets' first postseason appearance in 17 seasons probably wish those guys were returning for another go.

Their absence, however, gives K-Mets manager Jose Leger an immense degree of personal satisfaction.

"We conquered our division and it was fun. The playoffs were fun for me and fun for the kids. But it's all about developing players here," said Leger, who returns for his third season in Kingsport.

"We take pride in what the guys do at the next level. We got seven guys promoted to play in the low A's so they jumped the short season — which for us, is Brooklyn," Leger said.

Another of his 2013 pupils, Appalachian League All-Star infielder Yeixon Ruiz, is playing Class A-Advanced ball for the St. Lucie Mets in the Florida State League.

In hindsight, that was a pretty solid group.

Most of last year's standouts who moved up were repeating from 2012 and "came with a mission," Leger said.

That fact should bust one common lay misconception about rookie league ball.

Repeat appearances on an Appy League roster aren't necessarily the equivalent of failing the first grade.

This season's two returning veterans from the 2013 team are cases in point: second baseman Pedro Perez and first baseman Zach Mathieu.

"Pedro played well enough to move up the ladder, but we had some guys ahead of him and the organization wanted him to play," Leger said. "This is his third year here and he's fine with it. He's a hard worker and he's improved a lot defensively. It's good to have him back."

At 6-foot-7, 265 pounds, Mathieu is the biggest player in the K-Mets clubhouse. He's an imposing figure, to say the least.

Leger sees the big man's rookie league reprise as a big opportunity.

"He didn't get as many at-bats last year because there were some guys ahead of him. Now there is the chance for him to play more and hopefully prove what he can do," the manager said. "You can see him hitting balls in batting practice that go very far. He's got a lot of power. Hopefully, we'll get to see a lot of that this season."

The K-Mets should also benefit from two players from 2012 who skipped over into this year's roster: pitcher Christian Montgomery and infielder Branden Kaupe.

Montgomery will draw the start for tonight's season-opener with Danville at Hunter Wright Stadium.

Game time is 7 p.m.

"He pitched quite a bit in the Gulf Coast League and he's a lot better with his command," Leger said. "Kaupe was a fourth-round pick in 2012. His defense has improved and he's matured a lot."

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