An intriguing future will be present on the mound Thursday night at Kingsport’s Hunter Wright Stadium.
The Johnson City Cardinals open the Appalachian League season with a 7 p.m. road game against the Kingsport Mets, and a potential ace will be in the Cards’ lineup.
Hard-throwing right-hander Alexander Reyes is scheduled to start for Johnson City. The 18-year-old Reyes signed a $950,000 free agent deal late last year after moving from his native New Jersey to live a year in the Dominican Republic.
Reyes is still relatively untested on domestic soil, but news travels fast when a 6-foot-3, 185-pounder throws hard with command and spins curveballs tightly.
First-year Johnson City manager Joe Kruzel said Reyes has an “electric arm.” And it’s one that’s obviously still charging.
Seemingly confident but unassuming, Reyes said his velocity has jumped 6-8 mph in less than two years, and he’s still more than two months shy of his 19th birthday. He’s been consistently 91-93 mph and reaching 95.
Reyes said he’s eager to begin working for an organization known for producing its own pitching. Although his changeup has generated some good reviews, he said polishing it and establishing his fastball are his primary objectives.
Kruzel spent the past five years as the hitting coach for St. Louis’ Quad Cities affiliate in Davenport, Iowa. Kruzel, 47, was head coach at his alma mater, Toledo, from 1993-03, and he last managed in 2007 when he was in Montana with Cincinnati’s Billings Mustangs.
“It’s a little different feeling … just because you’re managing,” Kruzel said. “You get a little more excited, a little pumped up just because you’re in that role now versus just being the hitting guy.”
He said he’s eager to help young professionals begin absorbing the “prestige” of the St. Louis organization.
“They’ll learn the day in, day out grind of being a professional baseball player,” Kruzel said. “You want them even keel. … They’re gonna go through some valleys.”
The Cardinals practiced Wednesday at East Tennessee State’s Thomas Stadium, where they’ll host two of their 34 home games this season.
“They’ve got a nice little ballpark over there at ETSU,” Kruzel said. “People should be proud of that.”
Johnson City has two Pac 12 infielders who were chosen in this year’s draft, J.J. Altobelli (Oregon) and Justin Ringo (Stanford). Some considered Altobelli one of the better shortstops in college baseball. He arrived Tuesday, four days after most of the players, and isn’t expected to be in tonight’s starting lineup.
“He’ll be starting someday,” Kruzel said, “but it won’t be tomorrow (Thursday), probably.”
Luis Perdomo will start game two of the series for Johnson City and 6-foot-7, 235-pound Jacob Booden is slated to start the series finale on Saturday. Kruzel said Booden and former Catawba pitcher Nick Lomascolo will “piggyback.”
Johnson City has two left-handed pitchers on the roster, former Notre Dame player Steve Sabatino and Stalyn Lopez, who’s in his third year in the organization.
The Cardinals’ highest draft picks include left-handed hitting catcher Steve Bean, who was selected in the first round out of high school (Rockwall, Texas) last season and spent part of the year in Johnson City. Infielder Kenny Peoples-Walls was chosen in the fourth round out of Los Angeles’ Westchester High School in 2011.
The top prospect on Kingsport’s roster is 17-year-old shortstop Amed Rosario. The Dominican signed last year for $1.75 million, according to Baseball America.
Martires Arias is slated to start on the mound for the Mets tonight. The 6-foot-7, 207-pound 22-year-old relieved in 12 games for Kingsport last season. He was 2-2 with a 2.76 ERA and 18 strikeouts in 16 1/3 innings.
Robert Whalen and Yoan Gonzalez are scheduled to start games two and three, respectively, for the Mets. Whalen, a 12th-round draft pick out of high school in 2012, made one appearance for Kingsport last season. Gonzalez is a left-hander who doesn’t turn 18 until Aug. 12.
K-Mets outfielder Champ Stuart was drafted in the sixth round this month out of Brevard College. Jose Leger is back for his second season as the Kingsport Mets manager.
Johnson City will host the Danville Braves in its home opener Sunday. It’s the beginning of a homestand that includes a Cardinals-Bristol White Sox game at ETSU’s Thomas Stadium on Friday, June 28.
“It should be a good experience for not only the players ,” Kruzel said, “but also for the community.”
Manager John Schuerholz is beginning his second season in Danville. Steve Janas, Kennesaw State’s ace this past season, will begin his career in Danville after being selected in the sixth round. He isn’t a power pitcher, but had a 1.14 ERA this year in a season that began 10 months removed from Tommy John Surgery. Atlanta closer Craig Kimbrel’s brother, Matt, is also pitching for Danville.
The defending-champion Elizabethton Twins, again featuring fixtures in manager Ray Smith and hitting coach Jeff Reed, open a three-game series at home tonight against Bristol. The White Sox have 17th overall pick Tim Anderson, a junior college shortstop that’s expected to play some outfield.