Seven of Baseball America’s top 30 Chicago Cubs prospects are expected to begin the 2014 season in a Smokies uniform according to the publication’s Prospect Handbook, including three of the top six.
Infielder Kris Bryant, rated by Baseball America as the second-best prospect in the Cubs’ system and ninth-best prospect overall in baseball, finished his first season in professional baseball with High-A Daytona, helping the club win the Florida State League Championship. Selected by the Cubs as the second overall pick in the 2013 MLB Draft, Bryant led all of college baseball with 31 homers, topping more than 200 collegiate programs’ single-season totals, en route to being honored with the Golden Spikes Award, given to the top amateur baseball player in the country. Following the 2013 regular season, the 22-year-old participated in the Arizona Fall League, winning Most Valuable Player honors after blasting a league-leading six longballs.
Right-handed pitcher C.J. Edwards, the third-best prospect among Cubs farmhands and 28th-best overall in baseball, was acquired by the Cubs as part of the deal that sent RHP Matt Garza to the Texas Rangers. Despite being selected by the Rangers in the 48th round of the 2011 MLB Draft, the 22-year-old burst onto the scene last season by combining for an 8-2 record and 1.86 ERA (24 ER in 116.1 IP) in 24 starts between Low-A Hickory and High-A Daytona. Edwards was part of a D-Cubs rotation that did not yield a single earned run in Daytona’s Florida State League postseason run that culminated in a league title. Baseball America also recognized Edwards as possessing the “Best Fastball” and “Best Curveball” in the Cubs system.
A rotation-mate of Edwards’, right-hander Pierce Johnson, was ranked the sixth-best Cubs prospect by Baseball America and also tabbed as the No. 87 prospect overall by the publication. The 22-year-old finished 2013 second among Cubs farmhands in earned-run average (2.74), in addition to ranking in a tie for second in wins (11) and fourth in strikeouts (124), and combined for an 11-6 record between Low-A Kane County and High-A Daytona. Selected by the Cubs in the first supplemental round of the 2013 MLB Draft out of Missouri State University, Johnson helped the D-Cubs win the Florida State League Championship in 2013, and in addition was recognized by Baseball America as possessing the “Best Slider” in the Cubs organization.
Another hurler from the D-Cubs rotation, right-hander Corey Black, was rated the No. 15 prospect in the Cubs organization by Baseball America. Black was obtained by the Cubs last year on July 26 via a trade from the New York Yankees that sent outfielder Alfonso Soriano to New York. In his five outings with Daytona following the acquisition, the 22-year-old recorded a 4-0 mark and 2.88 ERA (8 ER in 25.0 IP) and helped the D-Cubs win the Florida State League title. Black was a fourth round selection by the Yankees in the 2012 MLB Draft out of Faulkner College in Alabama.
The fourth member of that rotation, right-hander Ivan Pineyro,was ranked by Baseball America as the 21st-best prospect in the Cubs system. Pineyro was also acquired by the Cubs via trade, being swapped from the Washington Nationals on July 8, 2013 in a deal that sent outfielder Scott Hairston to our nation’s capital. In his eight outings with the D-Cubs after the trade, the 22-year-old compiled a 3-1 record and 3.40 ERA (17 ER in 45.0 IP), and fired seven shutout frames in the second game of the Florida State League Finals against High-A Charlotte. The native of the Dominican Republic was signed by the Nationals as a non-drafted free agent on July 2, 2010.
Right-hander Zach Cates, rated the No. 27 Cubs prospect by Baseball America, spent his entire season with High-A Daytona, recording a 9-9 clip and 4.12 ERA (50 ER in 109.1 IP) in 28 games (20 starts) for the D-Cubs. Cates was acquired by the Cubs organization along with infield Anthony Rizzo in a December 6, 2012 trade that sent former Smokies right-hander Andrew Cashner to the San Diego Padres. The Padres selected the 24-year-old Cates in the third round of the 2010 draft out of Northeast Texas Community College.
And finally, right-handed hurler Ben Wells, who was rated by Baseball America as the No. 29 Cubs prospect, is also projected by the publication to begin this year with the Smokies. A seventh round selection by the Cubs in the 2010 MLB Draft out of Bryant High School in Arkansas, Wells owned a 9-6 record and 3.28 ERA (41 ER in 112.1 IP) in 23 games (21 starts) last season for High-Daytona. The earned-run average ranked the 21-year-old fourth among all Cubs farmhands, as well as fifth in the Florida State League in that category. Wells was also part of the D-Cubs rotation that did not yield an earned run in postseason play en route to a Florida State League Championship.
The Smokies begin their 2014 campaign on the road against the Pensacola Blue Wahoos, the Double-A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds ,on Thursday, April 3, before beginning their home slate at Smokies Park on Wednesday April 9. First pitch for that contest in Kodak is set for 7:15 p.m. against the Chattanooga Lookouts, the Double-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Season ticket and multi-game packages are available and can be purchased online by clicking here, or by contacting the Tennessee Smokies Ticket Office at (865) 286-2315. Single-game tickets for Tennessee’s 70 scheduled home contests are also slated to go on sale later this month.