The Tennessee Smokies in conjunction with the Chicago Cubs have announced their initial roster for the upcoming 2015 campaign, which includes two of Baseball America’s top 50 overall prospects, and seven of the publication’s top 30 Cubs farmhands. The first roster comprises of 14 pitchers, three catchers, six infielders and four outfielders, with the team’s first game of the year set for Thursday, April 9 on the road in Pearl, Mississippi against the Mississippi Braves. The initial roster in PDF form can be found here.
Headlining the duo is catcher Kyle Schwarber, who was rated by Baseball America as the 19th-best overall prospect and fourth-best Cubs farmhand prior to this season. The fourth overall selection of the 2014 MLB Draft by the Cubs out of Indiana University enjoyed a solid first professional season, combining to post a .344 batting average (90-262) with 18 homers and 53 RBI in 72 contests between three different levels. The backstop received Organizational All-Star honors from MiLB.com for his efforts, and is regarded as the “Best Hitter For Average” in the Cubs system by Baseball America.
Returning to East Tennessee to begin the year is right-hander C.J. Edwards, who was tabbed the No. 38 overall prospect in baseball by Baseball America, as well as the fifth-best prospect in the Cubs organization. The South Carolina native started ten contests for the Smokies last season, tallying a 1-2 record and 2.44 ERA (13 ER in 48.0 IP), missing the middle part of the season due to injury. Originally selected by the Texas Rangers in the 48th round of the 2011 MLB Draft, the 23-year-old was acquired by the Cubs as part of a trade on July 22, 2013 that sent RHP Matt Garza to Texas.
Likely in the Tennessee rotation are returnees Corey Black, Ivan Pineyro and Felix Pena, while southpaw Rob Zastryzny is slated to break in with that group as well. Black led the Smokies in most pitching categories and was named a Southern League All-Star in 2014 after compiling a 6-7 record and 3.47 ERA (48 ER in 124.1 IP). The left-handed Zastryzny spent all of 2014 with High-A Daytona, recording a 4-6 clip and 4.66 ERA (33 ER in 110.0 IP) in 23 starts, and is considered the 14th-best prospect in the Cubs organization by Baseball America.
Supporting the starters will be a mix of veterans, including a pair of 2014 Southern League All-Stars in Hunter Cervenka and P.J. Francescon, in addition to some fresh faces. Among the newcomers are Michael Jensen, Stephen Perakslis and Andres Santiago. Jensen and Perakslis combined for an 11-5 record and 3.43 ERA (49 ER in 128.2 IP) in 71 appearances with High-A Daytona, while Santiago spent all of last year in the Southern League with the Chattanooga Lookouts..
A pair of sluggers will man the Smokies infield this season with the return of Dustin Geiger, as well as newcomer Dan Vogelbach. Geiger ranked second in doubles, tied for second in roundtrippers and third in hits and total bases among all Tennessee batters last season, while Vogelbach, Baseball America’s No. 25 Cubs prospect, rises to the Double-A ranks for the first time. The left-handed slugger last season paced the High-A Daytona Cubs in many offensive categories, including runs scored, hits, doubles, home runs, RBI, total bases and walks. The Smokies will also have several slick fielders on display in the middle of the infield in returnee Elliot Soto, and newcomer Ryan Dent.
In total, 16 players on the 2015 roster wore a Smokies uniform last season, including three of the four outfielders listed. Albert Almora, recognized by MLB.com as the 58th-best overall prospect, headlines the trio, while newcomer Bijan Rademacher is also regarded as one of the Chicago Cubs’ top outfield prospects. The 21-year-old Almora dazzled Smokies fans with several outstanding catches in the outfield after joining the club from High-A Daytona on July 23, and combined to hit for a .270 mark (137-508) with nine longballs and 60 RBI in 125 contests between Daytona and Tennessee. Fellow 2014 Smokies Anthony Giansanti and Pin-Chieh Chen return to Kodak for this season, with the duo combining to play in 138 contests last year.
Buddy Bailey returns to Kodak for his fifth season at the helm of the Smokies, and is joined by fellow 2014 holdovers in hitting coach Desi Wilson and pitching coach Storm Davis. The lone new face on the coaching staff is assistant coach Guillermo Martinez, who served last year as an assistant coach of the Short-Season Boise Hawks.
The Smokies will begin their season on Thursday, April 9 on the road against the Mississippi Braves, the Double-A affiliate of the Atlanta Braves. The team will then return to Kodak to begin their 2015 home slate versus the Pensacola Blue Wahoos, the Double-A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds, on Wednesday, April 15 at 11:30 a.m. Opening Night is scheduled for the very next evening on Thursday, April 16, with first pitch scheduled for 7:05 p.m.
Single-game tickets are now on sale, in addition to season ticket and multi-voucher ticket plans, and can be purchased online at www.smokiesbaseball.com, or by calling the Smokies Ticket Office at (865) 286-2300.