The Cubs Double-A affiliate in 2010, the Tennessee Smokies, led the Southern League in each of the three slash line components. The team held a .285 batting average, a .353 on-base percentage, and a .441 slugging percentage. The Montgomery Biscuits played in the same league, yet only hit .248/.325/.364. Tampa Bay’s well-stocked pitching depth is evident, but heavens to Murgatroyd the Biscuits offense was pitiful last season.
Over the offseason, the Rays raided the Smokies lineup. According to OPS, the Rays acquired the Smokies top two hitters through the Matt Garza trade, as outfielder Brandon Guyer and Robinson Chirinos joined the Rays. In a quieter acquisition, the Rays also signed Russ Canzler, the Smoky with the third-best OPS, to a minor-league deal.
Guyer and Chirinos come with plenty of fan fare and with good reason, but Canzler is not a ballplayer that should be overlooked. Below is a comparison of their 2010 seasons:
While the strikeouts are concerning, the brute power of Canzler showed up for the first time in his minor league career –previously he had never finished with an ISO of more than .200. Where Canzler stands out is the rawness of his power. If you take strikeouts of the equation and simply look at ISO on balls in play, then Canzler finishes with a .381 mark –Chirinos (.301) and Guyer (.283) fall well shy of his mark.
Canzler has the classic underdog. The former 30th-round pick (albeit out of high school) lacks the pedigree of Guyer (a fifth-round pick out of college) and Chirinos (an international signee). A lack of production prior to 2010 and questionable contact rates led the Cubs to decide against placing Canzler on the 40-man roster, lest they feel the sting of another Brian Dopirak or even Brandon Sing. Because of this, Canzler qualified for minor league free agency –much in the same way Elliot Johnson could have if the Rays had chosen against adding him to the 40-man roster.
Because Canzler was drafted out of high school, he was a fairly young minor league free agent. Considering him a prospect at this point is a reach, however he is only a level away from the major leagues and could be a late bloomer. So far, 24 plate appearances into his Triple-A career, Canzler is hitting .350/.480/.600 with a one-to-one walk-to-strikeout ratio.
The Cubs system bared fruits for the Rays front office to pluck this offseason. Canzler might not be the freshest or prettiest peach of the bunch, but he wound up in the basket and could be in the bowl soon enough.