Tennessee Smokies

A look at the Tennessee Smokies in April

Paul Blackburn, Bijan Rademacher and Chesny Young have not only had great starts for the Smokies but of any players in the Cubs minors.

Paul Blackburn had the best month of his pro career, limiting Southern League hitters to a .210 average while only allowing one earned run over 31 innings. The 22-year-old made five starts, going 3-0 with a 0.29 ERA. He walked five, recorded 15 strikeouts, and averaged nine ground ball outs per outing. The former first-round compensation pick out of Heritage High School (California) in 2012 had two stints on the DL last year and was limited to 89 innings in 18 starts at Myrtle Beach.

Bijan Rademacher was one of the Southern League’s top hitters with four homers, 14 RBI and 4 runs scored in 21 games with a slash of .351/.493/.614. The 24-year-old had an eight-game hit streak (April 18-25) but finished the month 3-for-17. He ranks second in the SL in OPS (1.107) and OBP (.493).

As good as Rademacher has been, Chesny Young may have had a better April. After spending 2015 needing a different glove every day and still winning the Carolina League batting title, the 23-year-old is leading the Southern League in hitting with a .402 average and is tops in hits (33). Making 21 starts at second, Young has swiped 11 bases and smacked two homers, after only homering once in his first 560 at-bats.

Jacob Hannemann closed out the month on a terror, slugging all four of his homers in the final 10 games. Hitting .258/.327/.472 in 21 games, Hannemann’s swiped 10 bases and covers plenty of ground in center. The 2013 third-round pick is in his fourth year with Cubs organization after getting a late start to his pro baseball career.

Victor Caratini was hitting .148 mid-way through April but an eight-game hitting streak brought his slash up to .246/.388/.354 in 19 games. Caratini caught 14 games and threw out 5-for-21 base runners. SS Carlos Penalver has started 22 games at short and driven in 10 runs, hitting .220 with five runs scored. The usually sure-handed infielder has been charged with four errors in 85 chances.

Some of the Cubs top prospects have struggled to open the season. OF Billy McKinney ended last year on the DL with a broken knee cap and while he’s not showing any problems with the knee, the 21-year-old is hitting .206/.289/.235 with only two extra base hits, both doubles. 

3B Jeimer Candelario knocked in six runs on April 26 against Mobile with a double and a homer but there wasn’t much else to celebrate in April as the 22-year-old hit .203/.347/.342 in 22 games. 

OF Mark Zagunis is batting .239 (16-for-67) but is still getting on-base with a .354 average. The Cubs third-round pick in 2014 doesn’t have a homer and only three of his hits have gone for extra bases.

Ryan Dent (.133/.229/.133, 15 G) and Anthony Giansanti (.200/.250/.333, 15 G) have served as utility players during the first month. David Freitas is hitting .321/.406/.357 in nine games. Kelly Dugan (0-for-4, 1 G) just joined the team and Taylor Davis hit .339/.365/.429 in 10 games before being promoted to Iowa.

Other than Blackburn, no one in the rotation has had much success. Brad Markey is 3-0 with a 3.13 ERA but allowed 25 hits and nine walks in 23 innings. Rob Zastryzny (2-1, 4.34 ERA, 29 IP) leads the staff with 22 strikeouts while Tyler Skulina (1-1, 5.12 ERA, 19.1 IP) and Jen-Ho Tseng (1-2, 5.82 ERA) have four starts each. The Cubs top pitching prospect, Duane Underwood, made his first start on April 29, working four innings with a fastball in the mid-90s.

The best arm out of the bullpen is Gerardo Concepcion, who hasn’t allowed a run in 12.1 innings over six games. Four hits, three walks and two hit batters is all that Concepcion’s allowed while striking out 10. Starling Peralta (0-0, 3.48 ERA, 7 G, 10.1 IP, 4 BB, 8 K) and Juan Paniagua (0-2, 2.00 ERA, 8 G, 9 IP, 4 BB, 7 K) have two saves each while Michael Jensen’s tossed 10.2 relief innings in six games (1-0, 5.06 ERA, 7 BB, 9 K).

Other bullpen arms include David Garner (0-1, 4.66 ERA, 8 G, 9.2 IP, 13K), Corey Black (0-4, 4.00 ERA, 7 G, 1 SV, 9 iP, 5 BB 12K), and Josh Conway (0-2, 5.40 ERA, 9 G, 8.1 IP, 8 BB, 7 K)

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