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Your Random D-Backs: 2006 Tennessee Smokies, Part 2

This would be the part where we talk a bit about the unknown pitching staff.

This is Bill Meyer Stadium. There is a minor league baseball game being played in the Double A Southern League. It is located in Knoxville, Tennessee. The teams are the Braves vs. the Smokies. Photo by: Joe Sohm/Visions of America/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Last week we introduced the 2006 Tennessee Smokies and the position players. This week we take a look at the pitchers.

The Smokies’ pitching staff sported a 3.59 ERA, which seems just fine although it was a bit over the league average that stood at 3.46. It gives an idea on how strong the pitching is in the Southern League in 2006, as the league average was more than half a point lower than in 2005 and 2007. Almost the entire top 50 of pitching leaders had an ERA lower than 3.00 where maybe Homer Bailey stood out amongst all of them, pitching to a 1.59 ERA in 13 starts for the Cincinnati Double A team.

Smoking starters

The starting rotation for the Tennessee Smokies was a good pack as well.

Looking back, and we already gave him an honourable mention last week, Micah Owings was probably the biggest pitching name on the roster. He would last just 12 starts in Knoxville as he was promoted to Tucson after pitching to a fine 2.91 ERA.

The void he left would be filled up by Matt Chico. The 2003 3rd round pick had been performing well in Lancaster in A+ with a 1.172 WHIP and earned a late May call-up to Double A, right before Owings was promoted. He continued to perform well a level higher and pitched to a 2.22 in 13 starts. That performance caught the eye of the Washington Nationals to whom he was traded in exchange for Livan Hernandez at the beginning of August. The Nationals would add him in 2007 to the major league roster and Chico made 31 starts for them that season. Some months into the 2008 season and he had to undergo Tommy John surgery and except for a few more innings in 2010 never made it back to the majors. He spent some years in the Nationals’ minor league system, was cut loose in 2011 and spent 2012 in Indy ball. Ever since that his tracks on the Internet have been absent.

Garrett Mock would join Matt Chico in the Livan Hernandez trade to Washington. His performance for the Tennessee Smokies was less impressive. He pitched to a 4.95 ERA in 23 starts and one of his problems was the long ball, which surely kept his W-L ratio to a subpar .333. In Washington his road to the MLB took a year longer, but was just as unsuccessful as Chico’s and in 2010 he’d throw his final innings at the highest level. Funny thing is, in 2013 he returned in the Diamondbacks’ organization and made 11 starts for the Reno Aces. After that the 2004 3rd round pick returned to his beloved Texas and he has been working in various Sales functions ever since 2014.

Clemson University product Steven Jackson probably had his best professional baseball season in 2006 for the Tennessee Smokies. He was one of the better pitchers with a 2.65 ERA although that performance was not backed up by his 8-11 W-L record. That performance wasn’t carried over to the Arizona Fall League but was still enough to send him to New York as one of the four prospects that got Randy Johnson back. The South Carolina native would reach the major leagues in 2009, albeit for the Pittsburgh Pirates, but couldn’t translate his strong strikeout numbers to the highest level and announced in 2012 he’d retire from baseball. A Sumter native, he informed local press that he was planning to stay in the Lowcountry and it is safe to assume he probably still resides there as in 2017 he appeared in an article where it was reported that as a former Yankee he would suit up for a local Yankees vs. Braves legends game.

Another gem in the pitcher pack that was included in the Randy Johnson trade was Ross Ohlendorf, who was picked out of Princeton in the 2004 4th round. He was a bit of a wild guy as underlined by the 8 HBP and 15 in 2006, beside the occasional homerun he would give up. But his 3.29 was still okay and his 1.176 just fine and with 177.2 innings in 27 starts he was the running motor of the 2006 Smokies. He would finish the season in Tucson and in 2007, while with the Yankees, he had a promising debut at the major league level. After an abysmal 2008 season, the Yankees shipped him off to Pittsburgh where the Pirates again used him as a starter. He logged a lot of innings for the Pirates in 2010 and 2011, including a weird 1-11 win-loss record, but after that got injured and then bumped around to San Diego, Washington, the Rangers and, finally, Cincinnati before going overseas and pitch, without much success, two years for Yakult in the Japanese NPB. That was in 2017, after which he retires from baseball. Ohlendorf makes for an interesting player and I am sure that he will return in due time in this stream of articles.

Rocky relievers

The relievers weren’t as successful as the starters on the Smokies team and the team had just a total of 35 saves, which was bottom league, and that might sound odd for a team that ended the season above .500.

Of all relievers one of them stood out, and that was Doug Slaten. Doug Slaten was just a 17th round pick in the 2000 draft. He repeated Double A in 2006 and didn’t have a particular strong record in the minors until 2006. At 26 years of age he was hardly a prospect either, but pitched to a 1.88 ERA in 40 games in Tennessee, earning him Mid-Season All Star honours and a promotion in July to Tucson where he continued his impressive season with a 0.45 ERA in 20 innings. The Diamondbacks promoted him to the MLB in September 2006 and he’d make his debut as a typical LOOGY in 5.2 innings in 9 games, with an impressive 0.00 ERA and 0.882 WHIP. The 2007 season wasn’t that bad either, but not as successful as his brief appearance in 2006. In 2008 he travelled between Triple A and the Majors, just like in 2009. After that season, he was released from the organisation. In the following 3 seasons he returned to the MLB while at the Nationals and Pirates, but never experienced the success he had in his first two years. It looks like he would sign for the SK Wyverns in 2013 but either not makes the roster due to the foreign players limit or decides to return home to the USA anyhow. Then things get quiet until in 2016 his obituary appears. An unexpected and sudden death can only have us wonder what might have happened, although the mentioning of a donation to a “Mental Health Services” organisation might give some clue. May he rest in peace.

Saves leader of the team, after the promotion of Doug Slaten, becomes Bill White. White repeated Double A as well in 2006, as a 27 year old. Ever since being drafted out of Jacksonville State University in the 3rd round of the 2000 draft, White’s problem had always been his command. His career league average in the minors would become a 5.3 BB/9, so by those standards his 4.7 BB/9 for the Smokies was actually good. But that would still be the worst rate on the 2006 Tennessee Smokies staff, so it is no surprise he spent the entire season in Knoxville. After the conclusion of the season he would be released and would visit Washington, Arlington and (probably - internet isn’t conclusive on this) Philadelphia in the following seasons. For the Texas Rangers he’d make his MLB debut, appearing eventually in 17 games for them, but the combined 9.45 ERA was hardly a guarantee for success. After a stint in Indy ball in 2010 White retires. He finishes his bachelors at JSU and is assistant coach for two different Community Colleges in Alabama until he takes up a job in 2022 as assistant coach for the Skyhawks of the University of Tennessee at Martin.

The rest of the 2006 Tennessee Smokies bullpen is made up by players who would never make it to the Major Leagues.

Dustin Glant is a 7th round pick in the 2003 draft but very hittable. He enters Double A with a track record that doesn’t inspire much hope and pitches that season to a 4.79 ERA in 62 innings. In 2008 he is released from the organisation after a 7.51 ERA in Reno. After a couple of seasons in Indy ball he calls it quits and takes up a job as pitching coach. He works for the Yankees’ Triple A until in 2021 his Hoosiers come calling and offer him a job as pitching coach in Indiana.

Australian born and 28 year old Matty Wilkinson repeats in Double A (Mobile) in 2007 after pitching to a 4.19 ERA in 2006. During the 2007 season the 45th round pick of the 2001 draft is released and disappears from professional baseball. In 2008 he takes up a job in sales and is currently a sales manager in Illinois.

Chris Kinsey pitches 55 innings for the Smokies and even gets a brief call-up to Tucson. He repeats Double A in 2007 in Mobile and is released early in the 2008 season after getting shelled in Tucson. The 4th round pick of the 2003 draft then leaves professional baseball at the age of 25. I could not find any information on his current whereabouts.

A similar fate awaited Clint Goocher. He too is released from the Diamondbacks early in the 2008 season and apparently returns to his native Texas where he nowadays has a job in sales.

The rest of the crew

Tony Peña lasted just a month in Tennessee and got a call-up to Triple A in May, only to make his debut with the Diamondbacks some months later in July. He would have a strong 2007 season in the MLB but eventually the hitters caught up and punished the Dominican with the low strikeout rate. He would eventually stick in the majors until the end of the 2011 season, but by then the Diamondbacks had already sent him to the Chicago White Sox for yet another forgotten player like Brandon Allen. Afterwards Peña would pitch in Mexico, Taiwan and the independent Atlantic League. But most of us might remember him as the prospect who played for a couple of years under a false identity.

LSU’s Greg Smith was performing rather well in the minor league system of the Diamondbacks and got a mid-season promotion from Lancaster to the Smokies. There he continued to pitch well in 11 starts. In 2007 he would end up in Tucson and keep the damage limited as a starter only to shine in the Arizona Fall League. Smith ended up with Oakland after the 2007 season when he became part of the prospect package that would fetch Dan Haren. With Oakland he would make his debut in the majors in 2008 and start 32 games, pitching to a 4.16 ERA. But that would be it, as long sickness and arm injuries completely derailed his career in Denver. Until 2016 he travelled through the minor league ranks with different organisations, but couldn’t return to the MLB except for a couple of innings in 2010.

2nd round pick in the 2000 draft Mike Schultz had been tossed around between the different levels in the Arizona minor league system and had to start the season in 2006 in Knoxville. He lasted just two weeks and was promoted to Tucson with a 1.54 ERA in 11.2 innings. In 2007 he pitched in AAA but would end up making his major league debut in April, pitching just one inning in a loss against the Giants. After that he spent 6 seasons overseas in the NPB, making appearances for the Hiroshima Carp and the Orix Buffaloes. Schultz is nowadays a baseball coach.

Bill Murphy got sent down from Tucson in 2006 in the month of August. That didn’t really work out as his 5.57 ERA was one of the worst of all Smokies’ pitchers. A year later the pitcher, who got in 2004 to Arizona in a trade with the Dodgers involving Steven Finley, would make his debut for the Diamondbacks in the MLB but had huge troubles keeping batters of base in just 6.1 innings of work. In 2007 Jim McLennan had an interview with him. He would be released early 2008 and claimed off waivers by the Blue Jays with whom he’d pitch in an additional 11 innings before trying his luck overseas. He spent time in Japan and China and finally hung up the glove after a few years in Indy ball in 2015.

In 2006 it looks like the Diamondbacks tried to convert Jonathan Castellanos to a reliever, but without much success. A year later the Mexican would again pitch as a starter, only now in Mobile, but was cut in June of that year and latched on with Monterrey in the Mexican LMB. Ever since and until 2019 he has pitched in the Mexican baseball league, logging more than 1,600 innings in 14 seasons of baseball. Last year he still pitched in an independent Mexican baseball league but it looks that there is quite a possibility that at 40 years of age he will retire.

AJ Shappi got a late promotion to Tennessee in 2006 and had some troubles adapting to the new environment. He repeated Double A in 2007 and 2008, although he had stellar numbers in his final season. That earned him a promotion to Tucson where he had to endure a 6.02 ERA. With just 25 years of age there was probably still some room for improvement, but the California native moves on and gets a bacherlor in Chemistry. He starts a job in Chemistry and later takes on a sales job in the Chemistry industry.

Strikeout master Matt Elliott is also a late addition to the Smokies roster and appears in only 9 games. His 2007 season in Double A is up for improvement, so he repeats in 2008 at that level, but probably gets hurt somewhere during the season as he pitches in only 17 innings that season. In 2009 he gets demoted to Visalia and is cut shorty thereafter. After a few seasons in Indy ball he hangs up the cleats. It looks like he still resides in the Phoenix area, with a sales job.

In his second season for the Smokies Adam Bass would start in just 9 games before getting promoted to AAA. In Tucson he did fine and in 2007 he would make appearances as both a starter and reliever. After 50 innings and a good 2.16 ERA the Diamondbacks allowed him to move to the Rakuten Golden Eagles in the Japanese NPB, but there he gave up 30 hits in 15.1 innings. Japan had seen enough and Bass tried again in the US with the Padres, but had apparently lost control and command over his pitches. Bass gave up on baseball, earned his masters degree at the University of Alabama at Huntsville (where the D-Backs had drafted him out of in 2003) and took up a job in finances. He still lives and works in the Huntsville area.

Smokey Bear

As for the Tennessee Smokies, their contract with the Diamondbacks ended after the 2006 season. Right after the season end they reach a development contract with the Chicago Cubs and have been their AA affilliate ever since, even adapting their identity somewhat to their MLB parent.

The Diamondbacks on the other hand got to an agreement with the Mobile BayBears, who had been a Double A partner of the San Diego Padres until then. That relationship lasted until 2017.