This week the Chicago Cubs announced that they have renewed their player development relationship with their Double A franchise, the Tennessee Smokies. The Smokies have done well since they joined with the Cubs in 2007, including multiple division titles, and the 2011 season should be no exception. Cubs and Smokies fans in the Knoxville, TN area should have a chance to see some fairly exciting prospects this season. While minor league rosters are far from finalized at this point, it is likely that some of the Cubs top prospects will spend at least part of the year in Tennessee.
Highlighting the list of prominent outfield names that could spend time Double A this season is outfielder Brett Jackson. He finished the year there in 2010 and there is a good chance he will go straight to Iowa. If he does play for the Smokies he probably won’t play for them long, so if you want to see him in a Double A ballpark, get there early in the season. Kyler Burke is likely to be a Smokey as well. Michael Burgess, the power hitting outfielder who came back from the Nationals in the Gorzelanny trade is another possibility. Matt Szczur is unlikely to climb that high in one season, but I wouldn’t rule it out.
Later in the season it is possible that Hayden Simpson, the 2010 first round pick, will be in a Smokey uniform. If he looks good in spring training he’ll probably start the season in Peoria. Like Trey McNutt last season, if he does well on the A level teams, he just might work his way up to Double A by the end of the season. Of course, as crowded as the Triple A pitching rotation looks to be, McNutt might also spend some time with the Smokies early on. A.J. Morris is likely to spend some time with the Smokies, but he may not be there for long.
The most interesting portion of the roster could very well be on the infield where Ryan Flaherty, Junior Lake, and DJ LeMahieu are all likely to put in an appearance. Each of these guys has a chance to be a regular on the Cubs in a year or two, probably at second or third. And speaking of third base, Josh Vitters is a possible Smokey himself. Like Jackson, if Vitters starts the season in Double A, he probably won’t be there long.
There should be a lot of excitement among Cub and Smokey fans this season. With a lot of talent moving through eastern Tennessee, there are plenty of good reasons to head to the ballpark this summer.