After the Daytona Cubs won the 2013 Florida State League, the Tennessee Smokies management had to begin licking their chops for the summer of 2014. Daytona won the championship based on timely hitting of Kris Bryant and Dan Vogelbach, and the filthy pitching of Corey Black, Pierce Johnson, and CJ Edwards. Considering two of the best players on the Daytona team were injured (Jorge Soler and Stephen Bruno), the Tennessee Smokies are going to be smoking hot at the plate, on the mound, and in the field. This team will be loaded!
Here is the projected lineup for the Smokies for 2014
C – Chad Krist
1B/DH – Dustin Geiger and Dan Vogelbach
2B – Stephen Bruno/Wes Darvill
SS – Tim Saunders
3B – Kris Bryant
LF – Bijan Rademacher
CF – John Andreoli
RF – Jorge Soler
SP – CJ Edwards, Pierce Johnson, Corey Black, Ivan Pinyero, and Ben Wells
CP – Ryan Searle
Later in the summer you could even see Albert Almora, Rock Schoulders, and Jeimer Candelario depending on who gets called up to AAA Iowa and Wrigley.
Living in northern Illinois, it would take a long drive to go down to see the Tennessee Smokies, but the ten hour drive might be worth it. This team is stacked! This team has everything Theo and Jed have talked about from hitting for average (Vogelbach, Bryant, Rademacher, Bruno, Andreoli) to power (Vogelbach, Bryant, Soler) and the live arms of Edwards, Johnson, Pinyero, Black, and Wells.
It should not take long to see which players have the right stuff. The key to understanding why this is a pivotal year for the Cubs is to understand the structure of how minor league rosters are built anymore. Starting at AAA Iowa, the team there will be filled mainly with players that already have had a “cup of coffee” at the show, utility players, and players who little to prove at the minor league level. At Iowa you will find top prospects like Baez, Sczuzr, and Jae-Hoon Ha playing alongside Capser Wells and Ryan Kalish – 2 players who have mastered AAA but not the majors.
AA is filled more with prospects who are quite good, in fact, often have as much if not more talent than AAA players, but have some issues to work, or just need to get in work/at bats/innings against more advanced players. High Class A is where the chaff if separated from the wheat. At that level, prospects are whittled down and refined. Success at that level is a good sign that the major leagues are not far off. Low A ball, Short Season A, and Rookie Ball are where a lot of teaching takes place through repetition, practice, and instruction and game play is analyzed.
So, for a player to make it to AA, the player (most of them) has already made it through 4-5 levels of baseball. At AA, the talent level is usually equal to or superior than AAA on most days. However, it is the place where a weakness can become a gaping hole. It is not uncommon anymore for a player to make the jump from AA to the majors. Most likely, Kris Bryant will make the jump this summer. For Bryant, playing 3 seasons of Division I baseball and summer leagues has given him a more refined skill set than that of a prospect who came out of high school. I would not be shocked if Bryant made the jump from AA to the majors this summer. In fact, I expect him to do so.
I think Soler could make the jump to the majors based on his talent, but at 21 still, Soler needs to stay healthy and play all summer. He needs a lot of at bats. Along with Dan Vogelbach, Soler could head up to Iowa at some point this year, but it might be best to let them work on some things at Tennessee. There is no rush for either to get to the majors. If Soler has a very good year, he could get a call up this September.
The question that looms largest for me with this team is:
“How will the pitching hold up at this level?”
Last year at High A Daytona, all five future Tennessee Starters were dominant over the last two months of the season. While the Cubs system is stocked with position player prospects at every level, pitching is a little thin throughout most of the organization but it is getting better. Trades to Texas the last two summers brought Barret Loux, Kyle Hendricks, and last summer’s Class A phenom, CJ Edwards. Many prospect lists have Edwards and fellow Smokies teammate Pierce Johnson as the top two arms in the Cubs system.
What the two of them possess is a fastball that reaches 95 along with a wicked breaking pitch. Last year was Johnson’s first full year in the Cubs system and he did not disappoint at Low A Kane County, or again when he was promoted to High A Daytona. His command and breaking pitches played well at both levels but at Daytona, Johnson got better. While having a nice 3.10 ERA at Kane County, Johnson posted a 2.22 ERA at Daytona. In the playoffs, he and Edwards were almost perfect. Edwards, who came over in the summer, was the surprise breakout pitcher for the year in the Cubs system. Edwards, at 6’2″ and 155 pounds, showed stamina, a fastball, and a filthy array of off speed pitches to dominate the second half of the year with a 1.83 ERA and a WHIP of 1.006.
For me, the breakout star could be Corey Black. Black came over from the Yankees in the Alfonso Soriano trade and he went 4-0 in 5 starts with 10.1 Ks per nine innings. Throw in Ben Wells (who I profiled last month) and Ivan Pinyero who had statistics similar to Black and there are five arms ready to help the Cubs. Aside from Loux, Hendricks, Ramirez, the five starters for Tennessee are the most advanced and have the most heat in the system. Kane County will likely have an abundance of arms but those arms need a lot of refinement.
I am excited to see how these Tennessee prospects play this year. From Bryant to Soler to Vogelbach to Johnson, Edwards, Black, Wells, Pinyero, and Stephen Bruno, this team is filled with players who can help the Cubs at the major league level in the next 1-3 years. The thing I like best is this team is a mixture of players and pitchers. The position players are all unique hitters and the same can be said for the pitchers. While the management of Theo and Jed have talked of a “Cubs Way,” there is no cookie cutter type of Cubs player. They come in all shapes, skills, and sizes. Tennessee is filled with them! Stacked, I say! Loaded, if you must you know! It should be a great summer just east of Knoxville!