By Andrew Green / Tennessee Smokies
In conjunction with the Chicago Cubs, the Tennessee Smokies announced their initial roster for the 2014 season, which includes three of Baseball America’s top 100 overall prospects. The roster comprises of 12 pitchers, three catchers, six infielders and five outfielders, with the team’s season opening contest set for Thursday, April 3 on the road in Pensacola, Florida. The entire roster can be viewed by clicking here.
Included among those four top prospects is infielder Kris Bryant, who is ranked by Baseball America as the eighth-best prospect overall in baseball. The 2013 Golden Spikes Award Winner, which is given to the best amateur baseball player in the country, was selected as the second overall pick by the Cubs in last year’s MLB Draft out of the University of San Diego after blasting an NCAA-best 31 homers. After signing with the Cubs, the 22-year-old participated in 36 games combined with three different Cubs affiliates in 2013, totaling a .336 average (43-128) with nine homers and 32 RBI.
Joining Bryant in the Tennessee infield will be Dustin Geiger, who smashed 17 homers last season with High-A Daytona, 2013 Smokie Jonathan Mota, and newcomers Stephen Bruno, Wes Darvill and Jeudy Valdez. In 109 contests with Tennessee last season, Mota accumulated a .276 average (83-301), adding seven longballs and 40 RBI.
The second of those three top 100 prospects headlines the Smokies’ hurlers, with right-hander C.J. Edwards slated to start the season with Tennessee. Edwards, rated the 28th-best overall prospect by Baseball America, was acquired by the Cubs organization last year on July 29th as part of a trade with the Texas Rangers that sent right-hander Matt Garza to the Lone Star State. Between Low-A Hickory and High-A Daytona, the 22-year-old posted an 8-2 record and 1.86 ERA (24 ER in 116.1 IP) and fanned 155.
Likely joining Edwards in the Smokies rotation are new arrivals Corey Black and Ivan Pineyro, who both also pitched with Daytona last season, along with returning right-handers Matt Loosen and Dae-Eun Rhee. Edwards, Black and Pineyro all helped combine to not allow an earned run in the 2013 Florida State League postseason en route to a league championship for the D-Cubs.
The Smokies relieving corps includes four 2013 Smokies, with Hunter Cervenka, P.J. Francescon, Armando Rivero and Tony Zych all seeing action with Tennessee last season. Joining them will be newcomers Lendy Castillo, Jeff Lorick and Ryan Searle, who all pitched for Daytona in 2013. Castillo brings Major League experience to the Smokies after making the Cubs’ Opening Day roster in 2012, and making 13 appearances with Chicago.
Baseball America’s 41st-best overall prospect, outfielder Jorge Soler, also played with the Daytona Cubs last season and will begin 2014 in a Smokies uniform. Limited to 55 games due to injuries last season, the Cuba-born Soler tallied a .281 average (59-210) to go along with eight homers and 35 RBI for the D-Cubs. The 22-year-old, who signed a nine-year Major League contract with the Cubs in 2012, followed the 2013 regular season by participating in the prestigious Arizona Fall League with the Mesa Solar Sox.
A mix of power and speed will patrol the outfield along with Soler, including 2013 Smokies outfielderRubi Silva, who ranked second in the Southern League last year in total bases (226) in addition to tied for second in slugging percentage (.483) and triples, and third in extra-base hits. Fellow 2013 Tennessee outfielder John Andreoli and newcomer Zeke DeVoss, the two top base stealers among Cubs farmhands in 2013, figure to wreak havoc on the basepaths, while Anthony Giansanti comes back to Kodak after seeing action in 40 games for the Smokies last season.
In total, 11 players who wore a Tennessee Smokies uniform return to Kodak this season, including two of the three catchers listed on the initial roster. 2013 Southern League Mid-Season All-Star Rafael Lopez is back with the Smokies after recording a .247 average (78-316) with eight homers and 43 RBI in 95 contests last season. After playing in six games for Tennessee last season, Taylor Davis returns to the Smokies, while Smokies novice Charles Cutler, who spent all of last season with the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Double-A affiliate Altoona Curve, rounds out the backstops. Davis, along with Giansanti, are listed on Tennessee’s Disabled List.
Buddy Bailey will guide the 2014 Smokies in his fourth season as manager of the Tennessee Smokies, and will be joined by 2013 hitting coach Desi Wilson, along with pitching coach Storm Davis, who arrives in Tennessee for his first season after serving in the same capacity last year with High-A Daytona. Shane Nelson begins his first season as the Smokies’ athletic trainer, while Mike Mcgee will also serve in his first season with Tennessee as strength coach.
The Smokies begin their 2014 campaign on the road in Pensacola on Thursday, April 3 at 8:15 p.m. ET against the Pensacola Blue Wahoos, the Double-A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds. Tennessee’s 2014 home slate starts on Wednesday, April 9 versus the Chattanooga Lookouts, the Double-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers. First pitch for the home opener at Smokies Stadium is set for 7:15 p.m.
Season tickets, along with multi-game and single-game tickets, are still available and can be purchased at the Smokies ticket office in person at Smokies Stadium, online at smokiesbaseball.com, or by calling (865) 286-2300.