SEVIERVILLE - The Tennessee Smokies, in conjunction with the Chicago Cubs, have announced their initial 2017 Opening Day roster for the upcoming 2017 campaign, which includes a couple of top pitchers in the Cubs' farm system. The roster comprises of 14 pitchers, three catchers, four infielders, and five outfielders, with the team's first game scheduled for Thursday, April 6 on the road to face the Pensacola Blue Wahoos.
Among the 26 players assigned to the squad's initial roster, 13 of them played with the Smokies at some time during the 2015 regular season. Leading the group of returnees are several of the Cubs' top prospects including, Duane Underwood, Yasiel Balaguert, and Trevor Clifton.
Yasiel Balaguert will lead the offense for the Smokies to start the season as he comes off a 19 HR and 96 RBI campaign last season in Myrtle Beach and will add a lot of pop to the lineup. Joining him in the outfield as part of a completely new group will be Jeffrey Baez, who is also getting the call-up from the Pelicans club form last season. Baez is considered as one of the top base stealers in the Cubs' farm system. Rounding out the outfield will be Charcer Burks, who will also be a catalyst to steal bases this season, and Roberto Caro makes his way onto the roster and Trey Martin will return to the club for Opening Day.
The infield for the Smokies returns three guys who saw action with the Smokies last season. David Bote and Jason Vossler will be the two main catalysts for the corner infielder spots as Bote is coming off a season where he batted .328 with 45 RBI's in only 91 games. Vossler played 89 games at third last season for the Pelicans before getting called up to the Smokies. Andrew Ely will step in at second base this season as he looks to keep up the stellar season that he had with the glove lasts season. Carlos Penalver will finish up the middle infield by seeing most of his time at shortstop.
Tennessee will start the season with three guys behind the dish. Ian Rice provided the Pelicans with power last season with 15 homers and 58 RBI's. Cael Brockmeyer returns to Sevierville after being in Myrtle Beach and Iowa last season as he and Rice look to be the top two catchers for the club to start the season. Erick Castillo will round up the catchers as he is assigned to the club for the first time in his career.
Clifton will be the primary go-to pitcher this season as he is ranked as the number 8 prospect in the Cubs' system. Not far from his hometown of Maryville, TN, Clifton will have a chance to play in front of his friends and family this season after posting a strong 2.72 ERA in 23 starts last season in Myrtle Beach, the Class-A affiliate of the Cubs.
Duane Underwood will also be a key component of the starting rotation to begin the season. Underwood is the number 15 prospect in the Cubs' system and makes his return to Smokies Stadium to begin the season. Likely to join the two in the rotation are Brad Markey, who led the Smokies in ERA last season with a 3.17, Zach Hedges, who posted a 2.75 ERA in Myrtle Beach and with the Smokies last season, and finally Preston Morrison will begin his first stint in Double-A after a 12-4 season in South Bend and Myrtle Beach.
Tennessee's bullpen will likely have Ryan McNell begin the season as the primary closer as he finished up last season with 22 saves for the Pelicans. Dave Berg makes his return to the Smokies' bullpen after having four saves with the Smokies last season. Other returnees include Gerrardo Concepcion, who had a stint with the big-league club last season, Stephen Peraklis, James Pugliese, and Jen-Ho Tseng.
Newcomers for the bullpen start with Daniel Corcino and Jhondaniel Medina, who the Cubs signed this offseason as free agents. Corcino finished the season with a 3.32 ERA in 30 appearances and Medina had 70 strikeouts in 69.2 innings last season. Daury Torrez also gets the promotion from Myrtle Beach after a solid 3.56 ERA and 2 saves out of the bullpen for the Pelicans last season.
Mark Johnson returns for his second season as the Smokies' manager. Terry Clark also returns to the dugout as the pitching coach for this season as a few new faces will join the two. Ricardo Medina will serve as an assistant coach and Jacob Cruz has stepped in as the hitting coach for this season as he preplaces Desi Wilson, who was moved up the chain to the Triple-A affiliate Iowa Cubs.
The Smokies' 2017 roster is preliminary and subject to change. The Smokies will commence their 2017 home campaign against the Mississippi Braves on Wednesday, April 12, 2017. The full schedule for this season and information regarding single-game tickets, season tickets, and mini plans can be found online at smokiesbaseball.com, or by calling the Smokies Ticket Office at 865-286-2300.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.