Strumpf, Morel, Velazquez Return To What Promises To Be a Loaded Double-A Tennessee Offense

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Strumpf, Morel, Velazquez Return To What Promises To Be a Loaded Double-A Tennessee Offense

Chicago Cubs

The Cubs Double-A affiliate Tennessee Smokies have released their preliminary 28-man roster, for what will be the team’s second-to-last season in Kodak, Tennessee (before a 2024 move to Knoxville). The Smokies, helmed this year by Michael Ryan, begin the 2022 season on Friday with a three-game set against the Chattanooga Lookouts.

The Cubs decision to keep a veteran-heavy squad in Iowa is ultimately Tennessee’s gain, as the Smokies will return a handful of their most potent 2021 bats for the 2022 season. Nelson Velazquez, Chase Strumpf, Christopher Morel, and Nelson Maldonado will return to Kodak for Opening Day, despite having worked with the Triple-A group for the majority of Spring Training. This lineup should have plenty of thump.

Four members of the rotation have recent history throwing 98 mph or faster, with the return of Riley Thompson being the standout news for me. Thompson missed the 2021 season with a shoulder injury, meaning the last time he pitched in a professional game was five perfect innings in the 2019 Midwest League championship clincher. Thompson was a standout in Spring Training.

This goes without saying for a minor league team, but I expect a particular large amount of movement with this roster in 2022, as a number of players feel ready for Triple-A.

Projected Lineup

  1. Darius Hill, LF, LH
  2. Chase Strumpf, 3B, RH
  3. Bryce Ball, 1B, LH
  4. Nelson Velazquez, CF, RH
  5. Yonathan Perlaza, RF, SH
  6. Nelson Maldonado, DH, RH
  7. Christopher Morel, UT, RH
  8. Bryce Windham, C, LH
  9. Luis Vazquez, SS, RH

It should be pointed out at the top that Morel is likely to play six different positions with the squad – three in the infield, three in the outfield – so he’ll jump around for whoever needs a day off. Bryce Windham will likely see a few different positions as well; he’ll share the catching job with Wenson and Balego.  I also expect a job share at first base and DH between Ball and Maldonado.

Despite it going this long into the post without mentioning Yonathan Perlaza, do not be surprised if he ends up the best hitter on the team.

Good to see Vazquez was able to get healthy after an injury delayed him during camp. The same cannot be said of Andy Weber, who should join the team eventually, when healed from whatever ails him down in Arizona.

Projected Rotation

  1. Cam Sanders, RH
  2. Riley Thompson, RH
  3. Ryan Jensen, RH
  4. Anderson Espinoza, RH
  5. Javier Assad, RH
  6. Peyton Remy, RH

I think the team will ultimately only go with five starters, but I’m not sure whether Assad or Remy will be given the job. Pitchers aren’t quite all the way stretched out, so there will be some piggybacking, especially for Anderson Espinoza, who as a member of the 40-man roster was locked out longer than his other Smokie teammates.

Watch Cam Sanders closely out of the gate, because he’s someone that with a good month could find himself in Iowa, and with a bad month could be transitioned into a short-inning reliever. Thompson and Jensen are two highly thought of prospects that will both be Rule 5 eligible at the end of the year, so it’s a big season for both to establish themselves as likely 2023 MLB contributors.

Note that we expect Brailyn Marquez and Alexander Vizcaino to eventually join his group, but have not been given a timetable on either. Marquez had a delayed start to camp after contracting COVID, while Vizcaino is currently on the Restricted List for an unknown reason.

Projected Bullpen

  • Brandon Hughes, LH
  • Dauris Valdez, RH
  • Burl Carraway, LH
  • Bryan Hudson, LH
  • Eury Ramos, RH
  • Scott Kobos, LH
  • Graham Lawson, RH
  • Brandon Leibrandt, LH
  • Blake Whitney, RH

God bless the left-hand heavy lineups that have to face this Smokies bullpen in the late innings. Hughes and Kobos were two of the most successful relievers in the organization in 2021, while Carraway and Hudson offer plenty of funk that messes lefties up. Any of the four could theoretically succeed in Triple-A right now. Dauris Valdez and Eury Ramos, the team’s top late-inning right-handed options, are both slated to be minor league free agents at the end of the season.

Projected Bench

  • Cam Balego, C/1B/3B
  • Harry Wenson, C
  • Christian Donahue, UT

The offense is a bit short-handed right now, which makes it even more helpful to have super utility man Christian Donahue around. Wenson is a favorite among pitchers in the system to throw to, and Balego had some bad injury luck in 2021 stop him from having a chance to build on a great 2019 season.

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Author: Bryan Smith

Bryan Smith is a Minor League Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @cubprospects.