The Gwinnett Braves will kick off the 2009 season Thursday morning in Charlotte. Yes, a morning game to start the season. Welcome to the minor leagues.
The new Triple-A team is on schedule to open its new stadium next Friday, April 17th. But until then they will start with four games in Charlotte and then four games in Durham.
This year's team will be focused around pitching. Tommy Hanson, the best right-handed pitching prospect in baseball, will start Thursday and lead the rotation. He'll be followed by Jo Jo Reyes, James Parr, Charlie Morton, and Todd Redmond.
Kris Medlen, who was a finalist for the Atlanta bullpen, will be stretched out and work on the back end of some games. The plan right now is to have him in the rotation, but with it a little crowded right now Medlen may piggyback with someone to start the season.
Luis Valdez and Manny Acosta will get the opportunity to close games for Gwinnett. And the Braves feel they have three solid lefty relievers in Boone Logan, Francisley Bueno, and Mariano Gomez. Another lefty, Juan Perez, will start the season on the disabled list after coming down with chicken pox late in camp.
Vladimir Nunez, who pitched in 23 games for Atlanta last year and was effective, will also be in Gwinnett's bullpen.
The Braves feel that any of these eleven pitchers could go up to Atlanta if needed and contribute. That is a luxury not many organizations enjoy.
With Clint Sammons in Atlanta, the catching duties will be split between Alvin Colina and J.C. Boscan. One will probably have to go down to Double-A once David Ross returns to the Atlanta roster.
The Gwinnett infield will have Barbaro Canizares at first base, Brooks Conrad at second, Diory Hernandez at shortstop, and Van Pope at third base. Wes Timmons and J.C. Holt will also see playing time.
Joe Borchard and Reid Gorecki will each get playing time in right field, while Gregor Blanco will play center and Brandon Jones in left.
Manager Dave Brundage will have a very talented team this season. The spotlight will be on the pitching staff, and specifically on the rotation. It's going to be hard to find a better Triple-A rotation, with all five pitchers legit prospects, two of whom were in the Atlanta rotation for much of the second half of last season.
Bill Shanks hosts The Bill Shanks Show on
WFSM Fox Sports 1670 in Macon, Georgia and The Braves Show Talk Show. Shanks writes a weekly baseball column for The Macon Telegraph and is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team. You can email Bill at email@example.com.
Baseball fans will have a great chance to see the future Braves with the team now in north Atlanta, and the treat will be this team also has a chance to be very, very good.
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