By Russell Vannozzi
With the Major League Baseball season fast approaching, a number of Nashville natives are gearing up for the start of the 162-game season. Several former Vanderbilt, Lipscomb, Middle Tennessee and high school players are excelling in the professional baseball ranks. Here’s a quick rundown of Tennessee natives to watch this season, which begins on Sunday.
Mookie Betts, OF, Boston Red Sox (Overton High School): Betts takes the crown for Nashville’s best current MLB player. The right fielder was named to the 2016 American League All-Star team and finished as the runner-up for the AL’s Most Valuable Player. Betts hit a pair of home runs and had 10 RBI in 47 at-bats during spring training.
Dansby Swanson, SS, Atlanta Braves (Vanderbilt University): The former Commodore star is set for his first full season in the big leagues after spending the last few months of the 2016 season with the Braves. Swanson will get to play in front of plenty of familiar faces as SunTrust Park opens in his hometown of Marietta, Georgia.
Tony Kemp, OF/2B, Houston Astros (Vanderbilt University, Centennial High School): Kemp will begin the year with the Triple-A Fresno Grizzlies after being cut by the Astros. Kemp made his MLB debut last summer and will likely be recalled by Houston at some point during the season. His ability to play multiple positions and bat left-handed make him an asset to the team.
Pedro Alvarez, OF, Baltimore Orioles (Vanderbilt University): Alvarez’s future is in limbo after making a position switch to the outfield. The former Vanderbilt slugger could be sent to the minors to work on his outfield skills before rejoining the team. He’s currently hitting .296 with five RBI in spring training games.
Caleb Joseph, C, Baltimore Orioles (Lipscomb University, Franklin High School): Joseph appears to be primed for a comeback season after a dismal 2016 campaign in which he did not record an RBI. Baltimore starting catcher Matt Wieters, is gone and the team signed Wellington Castillo to replace him. Joseph will be the backup after hitting 12-for-44 (.273 average) with two home runs this spring.
Zac Curtis, RHP, Seattle Mariners (Middle Tennessee State, Hendersonville High School): Curtis will begin his season with the Double-A Arkansas Travelers after being dealt from Arizona in an off-season trade. The Hendersonville product had a rough spring and allowed six earned runs in just 1.1 innings pitched.
Bryce Brentz, OF, Boston Red Sox (Middle Tennessee State): The veteran slugger is on the outside looking in for a spot in Boston’s outfield. According to the Boston Globe, Brentz is out of minor league options, meaning he would be designated for assignment if he does not make the team. Several teams could be interested in his services, as power-hitting outfielders are in high demand.
Former Vanderbilt stars David Price (Boston Red Sox) and Sonny Gray (Oakland A’s) will both begin the season on the disabled list as they suffer from nagging arm injuries. Walker Buehler, a first-round pick in 2015, will likely start his season in the minors after recovering from Tommy John surgery. However, the Dodgers are high on him and could call him up to the big leagues at some point during the year.
Ex-Lipscomb standouts Josh Smith (Oakland A’s) and Rex Brothers (Atlanta Braves) will also begin their respective season in the minors. Smith has been assigned to the Nashville Sounds while it’s unclear where Brothers will play after reportedly agreeing to a minor-league deal with the Braves.
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