This will be part 1 of a total of 2 articles on the 2006 Tennessee Smokies.
A Plummer plumbing the Smokies
In 2006 the Tennessee Smokies were in their second and final year as the Diamondbacks’ AA affiliate. The Smokies and Diamondbacks had been forced to marry each other in 2005 and perhaps it was not a consented marriage: The Smokies had been the Double A team of the Cardinals before 2005, but the Cards ran away with the original El Paso Diablos, who were the Double A team of the Diamondbacks, and moved them to Springfield.
As such Knoxville had become the new home town of Double A minor league baseball for Arizona and its inaugural season of that in 2005 had not been much of a success story.
Coming of a 64-76 season with Tony Perezchica as manager, the Tennessee Smokies were supposed to compete in 2006 under the auspices of Bill Plummer, the former back-up catcher of Johnny Bench in Cincinnati, who had taken care of several teams in the Diamondbacks’ minor league system ever since joining it in 2002. Ten years after having managed the Jackson Suns in the Detroit Tigers’ system, it was a return for Plummer to Double A and the Southern League.
Plummer was able to turn the Tennessee Smokies around with a team that hadn’t changed that much when compared to its previous season, but he had to plumb the holes that left Dan Uggla, who had slugged .502 and would be picked in the infamous 2005 Rule 5 draft, and Chris Carter, who had gotten a promotion to Triple A after posting a .960 OPS.
The Tennessee Smokies would finish the 2006 season with a 70-69 record (they wouldn’t play the final game of the season due to bad weather) and 5th out of 10 in the Southern League. That achievement would get Bill Plummer a promotion to Tucson in Triple A. The former manager of the 1995 Seattle Mariners would stay two years in Tucson and then take up a job as minor league catching coordinator in Arizona. After a few stints behind the wall in Mexico and Venezuela he’d return to Arizona in 2013, spent a year at Visalia, and finally retired in 2017 after adding a few more years as catching coordinator.
The future stars on the 2006 Smokies
As the results probably imply, Bill Plummer didn’t particularly own a roster full of upcoming stars, but some players were destined to make an impact in the majors.
Most appealing name would be Miguel Montero. The 22-year old Venezuelan catcher would soon hit the top 100 prospect lists and started 81 games behind the dish before earning an early promotion to the Tucson Sidewinders.
Carlos González was a rising star in the Diamondbacks organisation. He had already gained traction on the prospect lists as a 20 year old, got all kinds of awards at Lancaster, the Diamondbacks A+ team, but didn’t join the Smokies until mid August. He hit a modest .218 in just 18 games and was adapting to a tougher environment, although the next season he would continue to make a name for himself and finally ended up in Oakland after the 2007 Dan Haren trade.
After having shaken up the earth in Lancaster, Mark Reynolds would continue to hit bombs in Tennessee as he was the team’s leader in OPS. Of less concern were the 37 strikeouts in 137 plate appearances at that moment. Little did we know that he’d be less than a year removed from making his debut in the majors with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
And then the honourable mention for Micah Owings. The 2005 3rd round draftee pitched to a very good 2.91 ERA, which earned him a June promotion to Tucson. His potent bat was lingering with a .761 OPS, although he only had 25 plate appearances for Tennessee.
The regulars on the 2006 Smokies
Batting wise, the 2006 Tennessee Smokies were top of the league, so it wasn’t that bad of a performance of these kids. Their batting average was 2nd out of 10, their on base percentage 4th, the slugging 1st, the OPS 2nd. It was the team with least strikeouts, although it lacked a bit in the walks.
2003 2nd round pick Jamie D’Antona had a down year in 2005 in Knoxville but would become one of the team’s batting leaders in 2006 and got All Star honours. First baseman D’Antona battled with some real future big names for the batting title: league leaders in OPS were Joey Votto and Ryan Braun with Matt Kemp closely behind. D’Antona himself unfortunately didn’t reach that far, but did end up getting a cup of coffee in the majors in 2008. After that he played in Japan and tried to return to the Majors with the Marlins in 2011, but without success. He was last seen on the internet in 2017 as hitting coach for his former university team Wake Forest and if I ever found out what he does nowadays I’ll let you know in an article because there is some stuff to write about.
Jesus Cota was born in Mexico but got drafted out of Tucson’s Pima Comunity College in 2000. Cota shared a platoon with D’Antona at 1st base but struggled mightily at the plate in 126 games and was cut loose at the end of the season. He found a new baseball career in Mexico where he continued to play until the end of the 2016 season when he retired.
At 2nd base we had international signee Danny Richar who, like many others in those early 2000s, suffered from the promotion virus that forced players to move up in the Diamondbacks’ system. He had a good year in 2006, got All Star honours and was sent to the Arizona Fall League. In 2007 he was part of a player swap with the Chicago White Sox, for whom he’d make his MLB debut and where he got a fair part of at bats at the highest level. He was part of the Reds’ roster the following two years and played his final game in the majors in 2009 against the team that had signed him out of the Dominican Republic in 2002. After that he would play in Indy ball and the Mexican LMB until retirement in 2018.
Another Mexican made 3B his territory in Knoxville. Little did light-hitting Agustín Murillo know that soon his time with the Diamondbacks would be up. After a meager 2006 he’d repeat Double A in 2007, at Mobile, and would be lend (didn’t know that exists in baseball) to Monterrey in the LMB in 2008. For 2009 he would return to the Diamondbacks and was assigned to the Reno Aces. There he tested positive for Clenbuterol and got a 50 game suspension. By the end of the year he was released. Just like his Tennessee colleagues Coto and Richar he would enjoy a long baseball career in Mexico. Better said: he still enjoys a baseball career as at the age of 40 he is currently batting for the Toros de Tijuana.
Venezuelan Alberto Gonzalez mastered shortstop for the Tennessee Smokies in 2006. He was a useful albeit not spectacular player in the Diamondbacks’ minor league system. Gonzalez would end that 2006 season with a couple of at bats for the Tucson Sidewinders. In 2007 he was part of the package of prospects that were sent to New York to get Randy Johnson back in snake skin. He would make his MLB debut that same year with the Yankees but in 2009 was shipped to Washington. Afterwards he would appear for the Padres, Rangers and Cubs. That were 7 seasons of major league baseball, not bad for a 60 OPS+ hitter (950 at bats, -0.9 bWAR), who was more valued for his glove than his bat. After his last stint in the majors in 2013 he was minor league filler for some seasons until 2016 and ever since has been mainly active in the Venezuelan Winter League. A couple of months ago he still played, for the Navegantes de Magallanes, at the age of 38.
In center field we had Dominican Jerry Gil, whom we wrote about last week, who was trying to get back to the majors but was sent down by the Diamondbacks to AA to learn new positions.
In right field 2004 First Team All-American and 2nd round pick from LSU Jon Zeringue was struggling with himself to show that his pick wasn’t a lost one. But after a successful 2004 debut season in Single A for the Lancaster JetHawks he never lived up to the status that might come with a 56 overall pick. His .599 OPS was even worse than a year before and he would be sent down to Lancaster again during the season. The D-Backs released him during the 2007 season and his professional baseball career would be over after 2008 when he spent some time at the Oakland A’s. Ever since that it looks like he has disappeared from the Internet despite the foul mouth tweet Jim McLennan wrote about.
And, to conclude the team of regulars, in left field we had yet another kid who didn’t make it that far: Alex Frazier. The odds for him were quite low as a 30th round pick in 2001 out of a community college in Florida. His .650 OPS in Double A at 25 years of age wasn’t going to cut it so the Diamondbacks let hem go after the 2006 season. He’d then play a couple of season in Indy ball and it looks like he retires after the 2008 season. Come 2020 he appears in an article where it is mentioned he is a police offer in Los Angeles. In the article a full colour photograph of him and his family with one of his kids in a...Diamondbacks uniform!
Of all other position players, only catcher Wilkin Castillo would make it to the majors. You might not know him and even I was pretty surprised to see he even played a couple of games for the Marlins as recently as in 2019.
The main back-up catcher, however, was Phil Avlas. He ended his professional baseball career in 2010 after playing for Maui Na Koa Ikaika on Makakilo’s Hawaii. He appears on a couple of YouTube videos, being interviewed by actor and the club’s CEO Branscombe Richmond. Nowadays he can apparently be hired as a personal baseball coach.
Outfielder Jarred Ball briefly reached Tucson in 2007 but would soon disappear from the baseball scene. He is a baseball instructor and fire fighter in Houston nowadays.
Infielder Matt Morgan suffered a similar fate and left baseball behind him in 2008. His name is too common to find more information.
Phoenix local Steve Garrabrants couldn’t make the fairy tale of seeing a local boy in a Diamondbacks uniform. His disappointing 2006 season in Knoxville would mean the end of his tenure in Arizona, and not much later in pro ball. There is a funny video of him in 2007 on YouTube right before he leaves to Lancaster, who at that moment are the new Class A affiliate of the Red Sox. Recently his name was involved in some kind of a shady story about a bank and the Trump Tower, but there is no information on his current whereabouts.
Kentucky native Adam Haley suffered a similar fate in the Diamondbacks organisation: his 2006 season in Tennessee proved to be his last as he was let go during the season and would end up in the Detroit Tigers’ organisation although he lasted just one year there. He might be the Adam Haley who appears on LinkedIn as the Director of Sports Media for the Lincoln Memorial University, but who knows.
Next week: part 2 of the 2006 Tennessee Smokies.