Final Record: 58-81
There were high expectations for the Smokies coming into 2016. 17 of the 25 players on the opening day roster won back to back titles at Kane County and Myrtle Beach. That did not happen, not even close. It was a year of what could go wrong, did. First, the bullpen imploded and blew a lot of saves in April and May. Second, injuries and promotions devastated the starting staff in May and June. And the hitters, they could hit. They just couldn’t drive anyone in on a regular basis. When you play 140 games and the player who leads your team in RBIs only has 50, you got problems. That pretty much sums up the season.
- Chesny Young hit .303
- Victor Caratini hit .291
- Paul Blackburn was amazing and having his best year as a Cub before he was traded to Seattle. He made 18 starts with a 3.17 ERA and was the Cubs April Pitcher of the Month with a 0.29 ERA.
- Zach Hedges was outstanding in July, August, and September with a 2.47 ERA in 8 starts.
- James Farris had a nice second half in the pen striking out 33 in 29.2 IP.
- Tyler Skulina looked to finally figure things out in the second half after a rough year. Over his last 5 starts, he had a 3.19 ERA.
- Brad Markey had his best year ever. The 2014 draftee had a career high in IP and was the only starter to not go on the DL for some stint.
- Jeimer Candelario, Mark Zagunis, and Bijan Rademacher were all promoted to Iowa and did well in the second half at their new homes.
- Ian Happ, the Cubs number 1 prospect on MLB.com, hit .600 in his first two weeks before cooling off.
Team Leaders – Offense
Team Leaders – Pitching
|ERA (50 IP min)||Strikeouts||WHIP||Saves||Innings|
It is hard to pick an MVP from a losing team, but Chesney Young qualifies. In addition to his high batting average and on-base percentage, Young also played all over the infield in 2016. He played 58 games at second, 35 at third, 17 at shortstop, and eight games in left field. He’s looking like a utility player at the next level.
Team Cy Young
Brad Markey was the only consistent starter with an ERA under 4 that began and finished the year with the Smokies. I thought his first half of the year was excellent as he posted a 2.41 ERA in 12 starts. The second half was a little rougher as his ERA went up to 4.07 for the half. He did strike out 65 men in 130.2 innings. I am thinking he might get an opportunity to start next year at AAA, but it would not surprise me to see him in the pen there either.
In 2016, Victor Caratini had his best year ever as a Cub hitting .291. In 2014, he hit .264 at Kane County. In 2015 at Myrtle Beach, he only hit .257. He also had his career high in home runs in 2016 with 6, but I still think there’s a lot of work left for him to do on the defensive side of things as well as developing some more power. He just turned 23, so I don’t think there’s any rush. I think another year and a half of development and in 2018 he should be ready to go as a backup catcher.
Looking Ahead to 2017:
Returning – Ian Happ, Duane Underwood, Dave Berg, Jason Vosler, Trey Martin, Jonathan Martinez, and Jacob Hannemann
Tennessee will have a huge influx of pitching next year as the Carolina League team leaders in ERA will all likely be promoted. Trevor Clifton, Preston Morrison, Jeremy Null, Jake Stinnett, Ryan McNeil, Daury Torrez, Tommy Thorpe, Daniel Lewis, Tommy Nance, James Pugliese, and Jordan Minch will all try and make the big jump to AA. It is the biggest and most difficult job for a prospect to make in their MiLB career. As we have seen this year, some were able to make the adjustments, some were not, and for some others, it might take two seasons at this level before they figure it out. The big change is the rotation goes from six down to five starting pitchers.
Position Players Donnie Dewees, Jeffrey Baez, Daniel Spingola, Yasiel Balaguert, David Bote, Ian Rice, and maybe Charcer Burks, will be on board to make the jump as well. Balaguert might be the most interesting player to watch in the bunch as he has impressive power and led the entire Cubs minor-league system in home runs (19) and RBIs (96) in 2016. The problem is he has trouble with the curve. In August, this group put on hitting displays every night as the Pelicans surged to a second-half division title and eventual Mills Cup Championship.
Sleeper Prospect for 2017
Jeffrey Baez is an intriguing prospect who can hit for power, has speed, and is an excellent defender. The issue is he is also a warm weather player. He hit almost .400 in the second half at South Bend in 2015 and he waited until August 2016 to get it going at Myrtle Beach. I think if he can come out and get off to a good start in 2017, he might become a special player.
While 2016 may not have worked out the way the Smokies wanted, they will have a nice foundation for 2017 with some returning players looking to improve their skills. To me, though, I think the 2016 season was about missed opportunities for the Smokies. For some of the top prospects, all is not lost.