Pereira, a Bay Area native and product of the University of San Francisco, anchored the Connecticut staff last year, posting a 3.39 ERA, good for fifth in the Eastern League. Espineli finished one spot behind him with a 3.45 mark while repeating at Double-A. The 25-year-old made a brief jump to the Grizzlies' bullpen in 2005, his first full professional season, giving up 13 earned runs over 18.1 innings of work.
Adam Cowart, will make the jump from Augusta to be the opening night starter for Connecticut. The 24-year-old righty finished third in the Sally League with a 2.39 ERA, but because he relies on a deceptive sidearm delivery rather than exceptional stuff, struck out just 95 in 169.2 innings. Since the club tabbed him in the 35th round of the 2006 draft, he has allowed just 239 runners in 253 innings of work.
With Paul Oseguera sidelined to open the season, Garrett Broshuis will follow Cowart as he begins his third straight spring in Norwich. The righty from Missouri dropped his ERA by more than a full run in his repeat performance last year, but tallied just 74 strikeouts against 36 walks on the year.
Dave McKae likely also will repeat with the Defenders. After an impressive start to the year in San Jose in 2007, the righty was solid following his mid-season promotion, posting a 4.24 ERA. Over three professional seasons, McKae has averaged well below two walks per nine innings, but his home runs and average allowed jumped significantly in his first taste of Double-A.
Joe Martinez, 25, appears set to continue his year-by-year rise. The righty, who has experience working in the cold as a product of Boston College, held opponents to a respectable .276 average in the Cal League while going 10-10 for San Jose last year.
A small blister problem limited Oseguera's work in the desert, but once he has had a few weeks to build up his innings count, he will become the rotation's lone lefty. Taken as a reliever out of UCLA, he impressed in his move to the starting role for San Jose last year, posting the league's fourth best ERA with solid peripherals.
San Jose will feature the deepest rotation in the organization.
Although he will likely be the fourth starter, all eyes will focus on righty Tim Alderson as he begins his first year out of high school in the challenging Cal League. Armed with remarkable control and a nasty curve, the tall 19-year-old comes in with only five professional innings.
Righty Kevin Pucetas and lefty Ben Snyder, who finished one-two in the Sally League ERA race for Augusta last year, will front the rotation with lefties Clayton Tanner and Jesse English rounding out the staff until Henry Sosa is ready to return from knee surgery in May or June.
Pucetas, a 17th-round selection in 2006, relied primarily on an advanced changeup to compliment an average fastball while posting a 1.86 ERA over 145 innings in the Sally League. Despite the impressive numbers, he will need to show that his stuff can play against more advanced hitters and will likely have to prove himself at each level.
Although Tanner's numbers weren't quite as impressive for Augusta, the 20-year-old native of Australia has just as much potential as the guys in front of him. English, still just 23, is trying to get his career back on track after missing most of 2004 and all of 2005. Last year, he worked 34 innings between Salem and San Jose, but is finally thought to be healthy enough to get a significant workload this summer.
With a number of young arms in Augusta, the organization is still making a decision on how many guys to piggy-back to open the year. It appears likely that the last two spots in the rotation will be shared among four pitchers when the season opens with whichever relieves in one appearance starting the next time around and vice-versa. In the mix for those jobs are righties Oliver Odle and T.J. Brewer and lefties Madison Bumgarner, Craig Clark and Steven Calicutt.
The organization has high hopes for Bumgarner, who will still be just 18 years old until August. One of last year's first-round picks, the hard-throwing lefty will need to demonstrate an ability to work with something other than just his fastball, and is likely to be protected in one of the piggy-back spots early in the year.
Odle, Clark and Brewer also came out of last year's draft class, although all are college arms. In Salem-Keizer, Brewer, 23, posted a 3.05 ERA with 52 strikeouts over 14 appearances. He allowed one run or fewer in half those games.
Clark, 23, was a fourteenth-round pick out of Penn State following a strong senior year. In his pro debut, he came up a few innings short of nudging Brewer out of third in the Northwest League ERA race, posting a 2.98 mark.
Odle spent most of his first professional summer in Arizona after a two-year career at Oklahoma State. The righty put up a 3.23 ERA in 13 appearances before a late-season callup with Salem, where he won the title-clinching game with a strong five inning performance.
Calicutt appears set to return to Augusta. After he opened the year in the rotation and struggled, the 24-year-old bounced back nicely after the All-Star break to reclaim a rotation spot. Over his final seven appearances, he yielded just seven earned runs in 32 innings.