First Game: April 9 at 7:15 p.m. at Smokies Stadium following a 72-62 record in 2013, the second-best mark in the Southern League.
The Smokies boast three of Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects, including the eighth-best overall prospect in infielder Kris Bryant, as well as right-hander C.J. Edwards (#28 overall) and outfielder Jorge Soler (#41 overall).
11 players on the roster wore a Smokies jersey for at least one game last season, including pitchers Hunter Cervenka, P.J. Francescon, Matt Loosen, Dae-Eun Rhee, Armanda Rivero and Tony Zych, along with catchers Taylor Davis and Rafael Lopez, in addition to infielder Jonathan Mota, and outfielders John Andreoli and Rubi Silva. Silva was especially a key contributor for Tennessee last season, compiling a .284 batting average (133-468), along with 15 homers and 52 RBI.
Ten 2014 Smokies, meanwhile, are making the leap from High-A Daytona to play at the Double-A level for the first time, including Bryant, Edwards and Soler, along with pitchers Corey Black, Jeff Lorick, and Ivan Pineyro, infielders Stephen Bruno, Wes Darvill and Dustin Geiger, as well as outfielder Zeke DeVoss.
The Smokies should possess a mix of power and speed, with Bryant and Geiger leading the charge. The 22-year-old Bryant, who was selected as the second overall pick in last year’s draft blasted 31 homers with the University of San Diego to lead all NCAA players, while Geiger crushed 17 longballs for High-A Daytona last season. Speed demons Andreoli and DeVoss, the top two base stealers in the Cubs organizations, figure to wreak havoc on the basepaths.
Starting pitching should be strong as well with newcoming right-handers Corey Black and Ivan Pineyro, along with Edwards, in addition to returning righties Matt Loosen and Dae-Eun Rhee. Black and Pineyro, the 15th and 21st-best Cubs prospects respectively according to Baseball America, were both acquired via trades during the 2013 season. Loosen owned a 3-3 record and 6.14 ERA (45 ER in 66.0 IP) in 16 outings (13 starts) for Tennessee last year, while Rhee posted a 5-1 mark and 3.34 ERA (22 ER in 59.1 IP) in his 11 starts with the Smokies last season.
With a strong mix of pitching and hitting, Tennessee looks primed to make another solid Southern League run this season after falling one win short of reaching the league’s championship series in 2013.
Rosters and players will change throughout the season, but if this core group of players remains, it could very well be a fun and exciting year in Kodak during the 2014 campaign.