Johnson City's Lance Jeffries slides under the tag of K-Mets second baseman Jeff McNeil for a stolen base in Thursday's Appalachian League opener at Hunter Wright Stadium. (Ned Jilton II photo)
KINGSPORT — A healthy opening-night crowd and festive atmosphere marked the opening of the Appalachian League season at Hunter Wright Stadium Thursday night.
What also marked the occasion was an outstanding hitting performance by Johnson City’s Brett Wiley, who led the Cardinals to a 9-3 win over the Kingsport Mets.
The Cards infielder went 3-for-4 with four RBIs, including a three-run homer over right center in the fourth inning that put the visitors ahead 8-3.
Wiley’s shot rendered moot Kingsport’s efforts to cobble together a comeback with runs in the second and third innings.
“He’s a competitive kid. He’s a baseball player. He fought off some tough pitches and put together some quality at-bats. Fortunately, he got a couple on the barrel and got them in the gap,” said Johnson City manager Joe Kruzel.
The Cardinals’ second baseman got hit by a pitch in the sixth inning and drove in Johnson City’s ninth run in the eighth frame on a wall-banging double that traced a trajectory similar to his fourth-inning blast.
Wiley contributed a hit to the Cards’ five run shelling of K-Mets starter Martires Arias (0-1). As fate would have it, that two-out Texas leaguer plated no runs and had little to do with Arias’ undoing.
After he retired the Cards in order in the first inning, the second frame was a rude howdy to the 6-foot-7 Arias, who pitched strictly in relief last season. An error and three walks prolonged his agony in the second.
“This is Arias’ first start. He was probably a little nervous. He’s a guy that we trust. He played really well in extended down in Florida. He just had a bad night,” said K-Mets manager Jose Leger.
Kingsport, which cranked out nine hits, showed enough offensive spark to keep the home fans optimistic about the season.
Michael Bernal had a pair of doubles and Jeffrey Diehl went 3-for-5 with a double.
A ray of hope in the K-Mets lineup is shortstop Ahmed Rosario, who received a $1.75 million signing bonus from the Mets — the organization’s highest-ever for an international free agent.
The 17-year-old Dominican shortstop may be the brightest teen prospect the K-Mets have seen since Venezuelan Wilmer Flores, now in New Mexico with the Las Vegas 51s, played for Kingsport in 2008.
Batting in the third spot, Rosario went 0-for-5. His most disappointing at-bat fell in the second inning, when he grounded to the mound for a 1-2-3 bases-loaded double play to end the inning.
But that’s why Rosario is in Kingsport. He’s here to grow up as a baseball player.
“Rosario is a big prospect and we have to keep an eye on him. We think he’s going to be something special,” said Leger. “Even thought he grounded out into a double play there, you could see it was a hard hit.
“If that ball gets through, you never know what you’re going to get out of it.”
Kenneth Peoples-Walls went 3-for-5 with a double and an RBI for Johnson City. Rowan Wick went 2-for-3 with a double. Kyle Grieshaber and Yoenny Gonzalez each had triples for the Cards.