The expectations for the Tennessee Smokies were a little high heading into the season. Most of the players on the roster were part of back-to-back championships at Myrtle Beach in 2015 and 2016. After a 2-5 start, the Smokies have now gone on an 13-5 run. Manager Mark Johnson has the team playing well in all facets of the game as they currently sit in second place in the in the Southern League’s North Division.
Despite injuries to starting pitchers Jake Stinnett and Erick Leal, the Smokies’ starting rotation has been outstanding. Zach Hedges and Jen-Ho Tseng both had ERA’s under two for the month. Trevor Clifton, who is usually a slow starter in April, had an ERA just above three in April. Duane Underwood and Preston Morrison both had up-and-down months on the mound.
The hitting took a while to come around, but Charcer Burks and David Bote hit all month long. Ian Rice has continued his advanced approach at the plate with an OBP over .400 despite an average just above the Mendoza line. Outfielder Trey Martin was off to his best start ever before a hamstring injury ended his April.
Jason Vosler finally got it going the last week of this month when he hit three home runs in one game. He hit two more — one in extras — on May 1 to give him 7 on the year, second to Ian Happ in the system.
Closer Ryan McNeil probably had the worst first week of the season I’ve seen in a long time, but it didn’t stop him from having three great weeks in April. In fact, the bullpen is the strength of this team. Dave Berg looks to have figured it out in his second season with the Smokies. Brad Markey seems to be transitioning to a relief role with ease. Daury Torrez, James Pugliese, and Steve Perakslis are putting their experience to use to get off to their best starts in their careers. Combined, the relief corps has turned most games into six-inning affairs.
Putting it all together
I have been pleasantly surprised by the play of Jake Hannemann this spring. He has always been a great defensive outfielder and has flashed some skills from time to time but has never really put it all together for a full season. Hannemann spent most of April in extended spring training, but he carried the hitting prowess he showed in Mesa right into Tennessee. After one week he is hitting .280 and is coming up big in key moments.
Now that he is on the 40-man roster, I think more is expected of him from the both Cubs from himself. At 26, Hanemann will not be given unlimited time to develop. However, if he keeps doing what he is done all month, that will not be an issue.
Let’s put this is bluntly as possible, AAA Iowa has some starting pitching issues. Between injuries and some players taken off the scrapheap, the starting staff has an ERA of well over 8.00, except for Eddie Butler. It would not surprise me to see Hedges and/or Tseng get the call to Des Moines in May. I think Trevor Clifton will most likely spend most of the year in Tennessee. On the other hand, if things continue to go poorly for the I-Cubs, Clifton could be in Des Moines by the Fourth of July.
May should be an interesting month.
*15-10 Record was as of May 1, 2017.
*Jason Vosler card made from a picture by the Tennessee Smokies