When Ryan Flaherty
heads to the ballpark, he knows he'll be in the Tennessee lineup. He just doesn't know where.
The Chicago Cubs prospect has played all four infield spots for the Smokies as well as left and right field. In fact, his playing time has been split almost evenly between the infield and outfield.
"Being able to play a lot of positions is good for me and the organization," Flaherty said. "If it helps me get to the Major Leagues, that would be great."
The former Vanderbilt standout brings plenty of power to the plate wherever he plays in the field. Through the weekend, he was second in the Southern League with eight homers and 35 RBIs. He had 10 RBIs in a recent series against Huntsville alone.
Flaherty, 24, was a supplemental first-round selection in the 2008 Draft after playing shortstop next to Pedro Alvarez -- the No. 2 overall pick that year -- and batting cleanup for the Commodores behind Pittsburgh's current third baseman.
The original projection was that Flaherty would move to third, but the Cubs have 2007 first-rounder Josh Vitters and 2009 second-rounder D.J. LeMahieu as future options there.
All three are usually in the Smokies lineup, with Vitters starting most games at third and the red-hot LaMahieu at second. For Flaherty, there is no regular position.
Through Sunday, the native of Maine had started 11 times in left field, nine times at shortstop, seven times at second base, twice in right field and once each at first and third base.
Mainly a shortstop or second baseman prior to this season, Flaherty got some exposure to the outfield and first base in the Arizona Fall League.
"I want to get to where I feel the same at each position," Flaherty said. "I think I'm starting to get close to that. I really don't have a favorite."
Flaherty started last season as the Smokies' regular second baseman, teaming with shortstop Starling Castro. But, though Castro quickly hit his way to Chicago, Flaherty's early struggles at the plate meant a step down to Daytona in the Florida State League.
"I think I tried to do too much," Flaherty said of his .183 average in 23 games with the Smokies.
The left-handed hitter batted .286 with 46 extra-base hits in 108 games with Daytona and got off to a hot start with Tennessee this year, batting .350 with seven homers and 21 RBIs during April.
"I don't think playing a lot of different positions detracts from my hitting at all," said Flaherty, whose average was .299 through the weekend. "I've tried to separate it."
Flaherty is just one part of an ultra-productive Tennessee lineup. The Smokies were batting .302 as a team and averaging 6.4 runs per game. LeMahieu was the hottest player at the moment, batting .464 in May to lift his average to .355 and carrying a 16-game hitting streak through Sunday.
"We got off to a great start and really haven't cooled off," Flaherty said.
Goldschmidt bombs away: Mobile first baseman Paul Goldschmidt was tied for the Minor League lead in homers with 14 through Monday. His .709 slugging mark and 38 RBIs both ranked fifth.
Smokies lose Jackson: Tennessee's Brett Jackson, ranked as the preseason No. 46 prospect by MLB.com, had to go on the disabled list after straining ligaments in the little finger of his left hand sliding into second base. The center fielder was hitting .295 with four homers and 13 stolen bases for the Smokies.
M-Braves dominate: Mississippi pitchers had the three best ERA marks in the Southern League among qualifiers through Monday -- Paul Clemens at 1.99, J.J. Hoover at 2.16 and Randall Delgado at 2.38. Despite a 3.51 team ERA that ranks second in the circuit, the M-Braves' record stands at 16-22.