The last time we saw the Tennessee Smokies take the field in 2019, their ranks included eight players that currently find themselves on MLB rosters. Pretty good for a team that went 58-81 and finished in last place in their division, more than 30 games out of first place. But it’s a new year and after all the mayhem of minor league reconstruction, the Smokies find themselves with the same parent club, at the same level, and in the most widely unchanged league across the country.
Before the 2020 minor league season got shut down, the then-High-A Myrtle Beach Pelicans were getting all the hype thanks to a projected lineup that was going to include some of the top prospects in the system. One year later, the expectation of some razzle-dazzle has been shifted to Double-A. While the next level may have more players who can immediately help the Cubs, this is typically where you can often find the most intriguing collection of prospects to keep your eye on.
While that isn’t immediately reflected in the opening day roster, it is only a matter of time before the Smokies have a stacked roster.
C – Miguel Amaya
1B – Jake Slaughter
2B – Levi Jordan
3B – Chris Morel
SS – Andy Weber
LF – Jared Young
CF – Connor Myers
RF- Vance Vizcaino
DH – Tyler Payne
CI’s Top 20 Hitters
Miguel Amaya (2)
Chris Morel (8)
Andy Weber (10
Although this list currently only contains three names, it will soon have two more added once Brennen Davis fully heals from getting hit in the face by a pitch and DJ Artis gets some seasoning in Mesa. Even without those players, having three of the top 10 hitters in the system is enough to be sure you tune in every night to some Tennessee baseball.
Amaya is just a couple years away from being ready for a full-time catching gig in the bigs, Morel is the most exciting player in the organization outside of Javy Báez, and Weber might be the most underrated and underappreciated prospect in the entire system.
CI’s Top 20 Pitchers
Cam Sanders (16)
Only one name? How could that be? If Weber is the most underrated prospect in the system, Sanders is an extremely close second. The front office is showing they believe in him as much as I do with a promotion up to Double-A, skipping High-A South Bend in the process.
Just because Sanders is the only top 20 arm on the roster, that doesn’t mean the pitching staff is one to sleep on. There are two relievers on the team (Ethan Roberts and Manny Rodriguez) that just missed my Top 20 Arms rankings this spring, two guys that have put up eye-popping statistics in recent years (Ryan Lawlor and Wyatt Short), and a new Cubs acquisition that hits triple-digits on the gun (Dauris Valdez).
Add in the fact that No. 1 Brailyn Márquez and No. 6 Riley Thompson could potentially be up from Arizona very soon, and this pitching staff is even better than it appears on paper.
The bullpen is absolutely stacked as all five pitchers mentioned above could end up closing down games for the Smokies. As the season wears on, we could see each and every one of them getting big-time outs in Iowa.
There are plenty of guys here who could be in Chicago by the end of the year for a variety of reasons. If the MLB team is competing for a division title, Márquez could once again appear out of the bullpen. A massive sell-off at the trade deadline could open up some opportunities for Amaya and Rodriguez. If the injury bug strikes, Weber, Lawlor, and Roberts could all be in pinstripes.
When it comes down to it, this 2021 Smokies team is going to compete for a league title. The bullpen and lineup could lead the team to victory in the first half of the year thanks to their talent alone. The second half could be headlined by some of the top pitching prospects in the system in Ryan Jensen and Kohl Franklin. It’s going to be quite the year in Kodak.