Partner Update: Smokies start rolling in May

Over the next month I will be using Friday and/or Saturday to provide updates on each affiliate. That includes what’s happening in Arizona and all the way to Iowa. First up are the Tennessee Smokies.

After struggling for most of April, the Smokies are starting to put some distance between themselves and the .500 mark. Injuries in the starting rotation have been a major concern, but it appears the Smokies are getting into a groove. At 22-15, they are just a game and a half away from a playoff spot.


While the Smokies may have the most top 30 prospects at their affiliate, their bullpen has been just a nail. Between Eduarniel Nunez, Zac Leigh and Frankie Scalzo, they can take you down in a number of ways. It was good to see Nunez promoted to Iowa on Tuesday. That will provide even more opportunities for Michael Arias at the end of the matches.

The Smokies also have some guys who can hit. Triantos has been solid all year working with Moises Ballesteros, who plays Mr. Consistency was. After a difficult start, Kevin Alcantara is back in form together with Haydn McGeary.

Matt Shaw has been up and down. He got off to a blistering start and hasn’t seen much since for a number of weeks.

The man I most want to see playing on this team is Pablo Aliendo. I always dug his vibe and energy in the clubhouse and behind the plate. Pablo is having his best year in the batter’s box, as he virtually owned the Southern League in April. Last night he walked away with a single. And he shows some power too.

After a rough start, Luis Verdugo tore it up for the Smokies in May. Heading into this week, he had an .809 OPS for the month and was hitting over .300 after hitting .267 in April. It was a lot of fun to see him work hard in South Bend last year to get back to Tennessee and hopefully the confidence he gained in the second half of last year continues to pay off this year!

Working out the starting rotation will be a goal for the second half of May. Brandon Birdsell will be the anchor of the rotation and he has pitched quite well at times. Birdsell is still adapting and has a two-step-forward, one-step-back kind of approach.

I’m impressed with Matthew Thompson, who came over from the White Sox in the Bailey Horn trade. He should also be joined in the rotation by recently signed free agent Nick McGowin. Although McGowin is 32, he more or less fills a need at AA and did well in his first start with 4.1 innings and eight strikeouts. His second start was also quite good, as he played six innings and gave up two runs.

The other two slots are still under discussion. Brody McCullough just went on the 7-day IL while Chris Kachmar has been something of a jack of all trades this year, filling in when needed. That leaves Connor Noland and possibly Jake Wong to round out the rotation for the next month for now.

Developing consistency at Double-A isn’t the easiest thing. For most of this team. Getting Shaw back on track will be crucial going forward, along with stabilizing the rotation. Now that Nunez is in Iowa, someone else will get a chance in the back of the pen. It will be interesting to see who does and who performs well.

Yohendrick Pinango arrived from South Bend on Tuesday and I’m curious to see how his newfound maturity helps him adjust. When June 1st rolls around in a few weeks, I don’t expect much movement between South Bend and Tennessee. If so, it will most likely be in the pitching department.

I’m not sure if guys in a different position are moving to Iowa. Moises Ballesteros, Aliendo and James Triantos should be close.