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Following Vols in Minor League Baseball
- Updated: April 11, 2013
As kids in Little League baseball games, they dreamed of the day they’d be announced over the stadium loudspeaker as the newest star player for the Yankees, Red Sox, Braves, Pirates, or Cardinals. Now in their 20s, they will spend this summer of 2013 on the road chasing the dream a bit further as the newest stars for teams with nicknames such as the Kernels, Grasshoppers, Barons, Knights and Manatees. Besides a love for baseball these 14 minor leaguers have another thing all in common: they were once members of the UT Diamond Vols baseball squad.
This summer, I’ll help AVY’s faithful readers follow along as these former Vols pursue their major league baseball dreams. No matter whether they’re now wearing Kernel green or Manatee gray, they’ll remain Vols for Life and carry a bit of the Orange with them. With a little luck and a lot of practice they will join the ranks of other former Vols currently in the majors: J.P. Arencibia, R.A. Dickey, Yan Gomes, Chase Headley, Todd Helton, and Luke Hochevar. (Julio Borbon is a former Vol trapped as of press time between the majors and the minors. He was recently Designated for Assignment by the Texas Rangers. We’ll know more about whether he ends up on a new major league team or in the Rangers farm system sometime next week.)
The first pitch on the Minor League Baseball season was April 4, and the players are starting to get acquainted with their new teams, towns and leagues. So this week, let’s get reacquainted with the 14 former Vols in the minor leagues and learn about their new assignments.
AAA and AA
AAA baseball is at the top of the Minor League ladder and that’s where you’ll find Duente Heath pitching for the Charlotte Knights, the top farm team for the American League’s Chicago White Sox. Heath pitched for the Diamond Vols as a junior in 2006 before he was drafted by the Atlanta Braves and joined the minor league circuit. This is his third year on the Charlotte Knights roster and his fourth in AAA baseball. He played one season with the Gwinett Braves in 2008. In 2012, Heath took to the mound for the major leaguers during a brief September cup of coffee tour. He pitched in three different games, with his longest outing lasting an inning against the Los Angeles Angels. He’s on the 40-man roster, so he could be called up at any time to the Windy City. Is this the year Heath finally breaks through? I’ll be providing updates as the Charlotte Knights make their way through the International League season.
While AAA baseball is usually the last step before the majors, AA baseball has become a more frequent launching pad in the past few decades. Major league teams have not been shy about promoting a promising player straight from AA to the Majors. It’s also a volatile place for rosters as players are promoted upward or downward regularly to make room on the rosters for others in the system. You’ll also see frequent trades taking place at the AA level as part of those “players to be named later” transaction announcements. AA baseball is fun to watch and three former Vols are starting at this level in 2013.
Memphis native Blake Forsythe is behind the plate this season as one of the catchers for the Eastern League’s Binghamton Mets in New York. The former All-SEC player is already bringing some offensive power to the B-Mets in the first days of the season. We’ll see if he his slugging earns the attention of the front office at Citi Field.
Forsythe’s former UT teammate Kentrail Davis was a first-round draft pick of the Milwaukee Brewers in 2010 and is starting his second season with that franchise’s AA farm team, the Southern League’s Huntsville Stars.
Pitcher Stephen McCray is bringing the Volunteer spirit to the home of the Crimson Tide, playing for the Birmingham Barons, the Chicago White Sox AA farm team. This is McCray’s first season in AA, after splitting the 2012 between Single A and Advanced-A White Sox farms.
Knoxville-based Vols fans will have opportunities to see Davis and McCray when their respective teams visit the area to play against the Southern League’s Tennessee Smokies.
There are four former Vols playing in two Advanced-A leagues at the beginning of the 2013 season.
Matt Duffy’s major league quest takes him further from UT’s shadow than any of his other fellow Volunteers. The Massachusetts native and Houston Astros draftee is starting the season as a third baseman for the California League’s Lancaster JetHawks.
Three former Vols will have the opportunity to face off against each other in the Florida State League.
Knoxville-native Cody Hawn, a triple crown winner on the UT diamond, begins his second season with the Brevard County Manatees on the Milwaukee Brewers farm.
Nick Hernandez, a Florida native will feel right at home pitching for the Philadelphia Phillies’ Florida State club: the Clearwater Threshers.
As a child, Charley Thurber may have dreamed of playing for his home state New York Mets. In the meantime he is patrolling the outfield of the St. Lucie Mets for his first year in Advanced-A baseball.
Another four former Vols are paying their minor league dues in Single A baseball this season. Knoxville-based Vols fans who don’t mind a short road trip might be able to catch these players when their teams visit opponents in Asheville, North Carolina; Greenville, South Carolina; and Bowling Green, Kentucky.
Southpaw pitcher Steven Gruver will be taking the mound for the Cedar Rapids Kernels for his second year in the Midwest League. The Kernels are a Minnesota Twins farm team.
Will Locante, also a southpaw Volunteer, is playing in the Midwest League for the Arizona Diamondbacks’ farm team: the South Bend Silver Hawks.
Meanwhile Drew Steckenrider will bring his power arm to North Carolina as a right-handed pitcher for the Greensboro Grasshoppers in the South Atlantic League, a farm outfit for the Miami Marlins.
Khayyan Norfork is trying to work his way up to the Washington Nationals by playing his second season for the South Atlantic League’s Hagerstown Suns in Maryland. Norfork primarily played second base at UT, but looks to be converting to a third baseman for the Nats.
The last rung on the minor league ladder is short season rookie ball. The rookie leagues don’t start play until June. Currently, it appears that former Farragut High School and UT Diamond Vol Matt Ramsey will be playing for the Gulf Coast League Rays (Tampa Bay), while shortstop Zach Osborne looks set to return to the Grand Junction Rockies in the Pioneer League. We’ll discuss these more once the season starts later this summer.
So that’s the cast of characters. I’ll be updating you regularly on their progress and hope to provide a few surprises along the way. If you have any questions about the players and their progress, feel free to leave a comment here and I’ll try to find answers as I communicate with each of the teams. I’ll also share some scheduling opportunities for a minor league road trip or two and report on milestones and setbacks as I can.
Until then, buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack because I’m all Vol, y’all.