Sleepers No More: Five Smokies are Impressing on the Farm
Vosler, Burks, Bote, Baez, & Rice are making sure everyone knows their names.
As Cubs fans, we have grown so accustomed to seeing freak athletes in their early 20s get called up to Chicago to make an immediate impact. Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Javier Baez, and Albert Almora are exactly who you think about when you think of the word “prospects.”
But there are more than just superstars that make their way through the system. Role players can be found all around the country among each level of the minor leagues. Players included in this list are considered to be pinch-hitting extraordinaires, integral fourth outfielders, back-end starters, and middle relievers.
There are a few players in Tennessee that are having great seasons so far in 2017 that have quickly made a name for themselves. The four position players that have performed admirably enough to take a dive into today are not players that will be cleanup hitters for a World Series champion team, or even players that can expect to get 500 at-bats on a Major League roster over the course of a season. What you can expect from these players is for them to carve out a very decent professional career as a role player of some sort.
Jason Vosler (23) — 256 PA, .274/.375/.521/.896, 13 HR, 1 SB, 21.1% K, 12.1% BB, .303 BABIP, 158 wRC+
We’ll start off the list with one of the hottest prospects in the entire system. Vosler is an infielder that has really started to develop some power. Before this season Vosler lacked the power needed to properly progress through the system. With his impressive 13 home runs already this year, he is now just one dinger away from tying his entire career output prior to 2017.
While he has played third base in every game so far this year, he has logged innings at each of the other infield positions over the course of his Minor League career. This is just the first season where Vosler has shown any signs of continued success, but if he can continue his strong season in Tennessee and even into next year in Iowa, I think he can prove that he can be a potential bench bat that could prove valuable at the Major League level.
Charcer Burks (22) — 251 PA, .313/.406/.458/.864, 5 HR, 9 SB, 16.7% K, 12.4% BB, .367 BABIP, 155 wRC+
Over the past few seasons Burks has placed himself squarely on the outside of the bubble looking into most top prospect lists. The five year pro has shown that he has the tools to be a very successful player with his combination of speed and power potential but the stats have not necessarily backed up those skills that say he could be make an impact in Chicago. Instead, he has hovered just above league average at most of his stops around the league according to wRC+ stats.
With a very successful start to 2017, Burks has proven that he could be a very solid fourth outfielder at the Major League level with continued improvement. Now 22 years old, Charcer has set himself up to finish up the year in Tennessee with a potential call-up to Iowa before the end of the year. Depending on how things shake out, I wouldn’t be shocked to see a promotion to Chicago at some point in 2018.
David Bote (24) — 274 PA, .277/.369/.417/.786, 6 HR, 3 SB, 20.4% K, 10.2% BB, .335 BABIP, 131 wRC+
Prior to 2017, if you would have confused David Bote and Jason Vosler I would not have blamed you. Both infielders seemed to be organization guys and players that were destined to come off the bench to give a different infielder a day off from day to day somewhere like Myrtle Beach or Tennessee. Much like Vosler, the 24 year old Bote has also seemed to figure it out this season. Bote is much more gap to gap with his power and pairs it with speed that is good enough and defense (mostly at second base) that is also decent enough to be league average at the Major League level.
The biggest thing that plays into Bote’s favor is the fact that he is very flexible. While playing anywhere on the diamond can improve your stock as a player, so can the ability to bounce from league to league. David played at three different levels last year (A+, AA, and AAA). In my eyes, he seems like a perfect candidate for a player that bounces back and forth from Iowa to Chicago, much like the role Tommy La Stella has taken on the past couple of seasons.
Jeffrey Baez (23) — 229 PA, .202/.268/.365/.633, 8 HR, 6 SB, 19.7% K, 7.4% BB, .218 BABIP, 83 wRC+
Loaded with talent, Baez has by far had the least successful summer of the five players on this list. His 83 wRC+ is well below league average and his slash line is abysmal. While the positives are few and far between, he is cut from the same cloth as Charcer Burks in that he is a very toolsy outfielder that could play all three outfield positions. His power and speed combination paired with very good outfield defense has him ready to break out at any point.
Once that breakout season does happen, I fully expect Baez to shoot through the upper minors and vault his way into the Chicago promotion conversation. While he still needs to see a major increase in production statistically, the skill level is there and Jeffrey Baez will always be a name to watch as long as he is still in the system.
Ian Rice (23) — 193 PA, .247/.352/.464/.816, 9 HR, 0 SB, 24.9% K, 13.0% BB, .294 BABIP, 139 wRC+
You want a guy on the cusp of breaking out as one of the top bats in the entire system? Look no further than Ian Rice. The 23 year old catcher has shown the ability to get on base at a very high clip due to his impressive walk rate. He has also shown a lot of power so far in his time in the minors. His defense behind the plate is definitely not the best as he has struggled throwing out runners as well as his blocking balls in the dirt. He has seen time at first base as well but it will be his bat that carries him.
His progression all the way up to Chicago depends on how the front office wants to handle him. If they want Rice to continue up the system as he continues to hit, then he will see Chicago next season for sure. If they want his glove behind the plate to improve first, then we will all have to wait on Ian Rice.
You can keep up with these guys and all of the Tennessee Smokies roster by following them on Twitter or listening to their games on the MiLB First Pitch app.
All stats are courtesy of Fangraphs and are current as of 6/22.
Greg Huss is currently a student at Ball State University in Indiana. Born and raised in Central Illinois, he spends far too much of his free time following the entire Cubs organization. You can follow him on Twitter here.