The Tennessee Smokies had a great season by any standard. They won the first half division title easily to qualify for the playoffs, knocked out Chattanooga in the first round of the playoffs without much trouble, and along the way saw several of their top players be promoted upwards within the Cub system. They lost the Southern League Championship Series to Mobile, but every game in that series was close. The Smokies were clearly one of the best Double A teams in 2011, despite their disappointing finish.
Tennessee is also where a significant amount of the Cubs more advanced top talent began 2011. Many of those players ended the year in Iowa, and I talked about them when I recapped Iowa’s season last week. Today it is time to run down the final roster for the Tennessee Smokies and try to get a sense of how these players stack up, and what we can expect from them in the future.
Jeff Beliveau – Beliveau is one of the brightest highlights of the Cubs 2011 Farm System. Between Daytona and Tennessee, Beliveau emerged as a left handed reliever with strike-out artist stuff. He does not walk many hitters and is sparing of the hits as well. He could start next season in Iowa, but he might just finish the year in Chicago.
Dan Berlind – The Cubs found Berlind in an independent league and assigned him to Peoria to start the season. He was not very good in Peoria, but he wasn’t very bad either. He jumped to Iowa briefly, and finished the year with the Smokies. Berlind probably pitched well enough to return to the Cubs system next season, but he has work to do if he is going to break into the majors.
David Cales – Cales began the year as the closer for Tennessee, but quickly went on the DL and stayed there for the rest of the season. He could have a future as a big league reliever unless he is halted by the injury.
Esmailin Caridad – Once upon a time Caridad had such good stuff he was expected to be the Cubs set up man. Those days are gone, and with Caridad’s lackluster performance in Iowa and Tennessee, Caridad’s status as one of the Cubs most intriguing pitching prospects is likely gone as well.
Marco Carrillo – Carrillo worked as a starter and a reliever in Iowa and Tennessee. He is not a particularly overpowering pitcher, but he had quite a bit of success with the Smokies. He should open the season with Iowa in 2012, and he is definitely a pitcher to keep an eye on as the season progresses.
Hung-Wen Chen – Chen spent much of the year in the Triple-A Mexican League where he collected 8 saves and an ERA of just 1.82. There is a lot to like in Chen’s numbers, particularly as a reliever. If he is still in the Cubs system next year, he could be pitching for a mid-season call up.
Rafael Dolis – Dolis, who just made his major league debut, took over the closer duties for Tennessee when Cales went down with an injury. He was very effective working out of the bullpen, and it is likely that his future in the majors will be as an eighth or ninth inning guy. I’d like to see him take one more shot at starting, though, hopefully with Iowa next year.
Ty’relle Harris – Harris was having a pretty good season when he was the victim of a hit-and-run. The injuries he sustained to his legs effectively ended his season, and it is too early to say for sure if he will be able to resume his career. If he can come back, he will almost certainly go right back into the bullpen. He will need to cut back on the walks to earn a shot with the Cubs.
Marcus Hatley – 2011 was Hatley’s first full season of pitching after elbow surgery, and also his first full season working exclusively as a reliever. The results were encouraging enough for him to pitch at three different levels, and to turn in some consistent results at each level. He will need to be careful of the walks, but I see no reason to think this guy can’t make it to Chicago in another year or so.
Eric Jokisch – Jokisch had one of the best season in the entire farm system before an injury cut his time with Tennessee short. He was impressive most of the season with Peoria, and he was very effective in his short time with Tennessee. Barring injury, Jokisch will likely begin next season in Tennessee looking to solidify his status as one of the Cubs best left handed starting pitcher prospects.
Oswaldo Martinez – Another dedicated reliever, Martinez spent much of the year as part of a solid Daytona bullpen. His numbers against right handed hitters in Tennessee are a little concerning, but I look forward to seeing if he can build off his success this season in the next year or two.
Trey McNutt – The good news is that McNutt’s arm is fine. The bad news is that nothing else went right for the Cubs top pitching prospect. Blisters and a bad collision limited him to just 95 innings, and he was not at his best for all of those. This season is not an accurate portrayal of McNutt. Just ignore it. He still has the stuff to be a closer or front of the rotation starter. He could hit the majors as soon as late 2012.
Brooks Raley – Meet my darkhorse candidate to sneak into the Chicago rotation out of spring training. Raley is a deceptive lefty with unimpressive numbers who pitched very effectively for the Smokies down the stretch. Raley looks like a back of the rotation starter, but I think he could be pretty good in that role. I hope to see him in Chicago sometime in 2012.
Kevin Rhoderick – Another dedicated reliever, Rhoderick jumped to Double A in his first full season as a professional, and I see no reason to think he won’t handle Triple A just as easily next season. He could be in Chicago’s pen in late 2012.
Ryan Searle – Searle was a dominate reliever for Daytona before his promotion to Tennessee where he was converted into a starter. I like the numbers. When he holds down the walks, I think he is a better starter than he is a reliever. I look forward to seeing what he can do with Iowa next season.
Jeff Stevens – Stevens was expected to spend much of the season in the Chicago bullpen, but instead struggled so mightily in Iowa he was dropped to Tennessee. He knows what he needs to do to pitch in Chicago, and he should get another chance to show that he can do it in spring training.
Larry Suarez – The big Venezuelan struggled in Tennessee after breezing through Peoria and Daytona. The Cubs have used him in both the rotation and the bullpen, and I am not certain which will become his permanent home. He shows plenty of promise, and he will definitely be a player we keep track of in 2012.
Robert Whitenack – Whitenack exploded into 2011, surging into the upper ranks of the Cubs Top Prospects list. And then his arm blew up and required surgery. Now, the goal is simply to come back. Most guys do these days, and if Whitenack can he could be part of the 2013 Cubs rotation.
Steve Clevenger – Clevenger is in the majors now and should get a chance to compete for the backup catcher job in spring training. I might suggest trading Soto and letting Welington Castillo and Clevenger split the catching duties in 2012, but few teams are willing to enter a season with two rookie catchers. That probably means Clevenger will spend much of the year in Iowa.
Luis Flores – Flores failed a drug test this season. His future is uncertain, but it is doubtful he will be with the Cubs organization much longer.
Blake Lalli – Lalli had a good season as a veteran backup catcher for the Smokies. He isn’t likely to make it to Chicago, but he is a very valuable part of the Cubs organization just as a veteran minor league catcher.
Matt Camp – Camp failed a drug test this season. His future is uncertain, but it is doubtful he will be with the Cubs organization much longer.
Carlos Figueroa – Figueroa is listed on the disabled list, but apparently has not played in any games as a minor league professional yet. I have no additional data on this guy.
Junior Lake – Lake has that blend of power and speed that could make him a star. He is still very raw, but despite that the tools are there to be seen. He should return to Tennessee to start next season, but with a good first half he could find himself in Iowa. If no one has taken the Cubs third base job by the end of 2012, we might just see Lake claim it.
David Macias – In his third full season as professional, Macias is having trouble sticking at the Double A level. If he is going to make his mark, he will have to do so as a better version of Darwin Barney. He should return to Tennessee next season.
Jonathan Mota – The young shorstop started the year in Iowa, but was sent to Tennessee to free up the position for Marwin Gonzalez. Mota isn’t a bad player, but he is buried in an organization that is deep with infielders and features a very young star as the major league shortstop. If he is going to make the majors, it will probably be with someone else.
Rebel Ridling – With an average of .309 and an OPS of .887, Ridling put himself on the Cubs radar at first base and in left field. His numbers are likely to improve when he goes to the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League next season. I think we will see Ridling get a crack at the majors by the end of 2013.
Nate Samson – Samson took a step back at the plate this season, and that is not something a light hitting infielder can afford to do in the deep Cubs system. He will probably return to Tennessee next year, but he has a lot of work to do if he wants to make it to Chicago.
Josh Vitters – Depending on who you talk to, Vitters is either one of the best hitters in the Cubs system, or a complete bust as a prospect. I’m in the first catagory. Vitters needs to clean up his defense at third or else learn to play first base and the outfield, and he needs to learn some patience. He spent time at first this season with the Smokies and may starting learning left field in the AFL, and late in the season he started to show a surprising amount of patience and plate discipline. I think he goes to Iowa next year, and I think he forces the Cubs to find a position for him by the end of the season.
James Adduci – Adduci is a speedy center fielder who is has been in the minors for a long time, but still has a shot to break into the majors one day. If he has a good year in Iowa next season, he could put himself in a position to claim a job on the Cubs bench as the fourth or fifth outfielder.
Jae-Hoon Ha – Ha has solidified his status as one of the Cubs top outfield prospects, right behind Brett Jackson and Matthew Szczur. He does a little bit of everything, and while he still needs polish (particularly on the stolen bases), he plays well enough that we have to consider him a candidate to take over right field for the Cubs in the not-too-distant future. He could start next season in Tennessee, but he should spend most of it in Iowa.
Nelson Perez – Perez is a left handed slugger who turned in a good season split between Daytona and Tennessee. He should return to the Smokies next season with a chance to enter his name on the list of candidates for future outfield openings in Chicago.
Ty Wright – There is a lot to like about Wright, but his power numbers are disappearing when he hits Triple A. The average and patience are there, but if he can’t put up PCL-style power numbers while playing in the PCL, he probably won’t get a chance in Chicago. He has nothing left to prove in Tennessee and should get another crack at Triple-A pitching in 2012.