Thu: Gavin Floyd (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. Nathan Karns (0-0, 0.00 ERA)
Fri: Ervin Santana (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. LHP Enny Romero (0-0, 0.00 ERA)
Sat: LHP Daniel Rodriguez (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. Matt Andriese (0-0, 0.00 ERA)
Sun: Mitch Atkins (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. LHP Mike Montgomery (0-0, 0.00 ERA)
Pitching: The Gwinnett Braves will open their series against the Durham Bulls with two MLB veterans leading the group. Both Floyd and Santana will be on strict pitch counts, as they work their way back to the Major Leagues. Rodriguez, who missed most of last season with elbow ailments in his throwing arm, will make his first start since June 2nd and Atkins will join the G-Braves after spending 2013 with Double-A Mississippi.
Floyd will try to get the Braves off to a good start in 2014, as he is a perfect 3-0 against the Bulls in his career, but hasn’t pitched in a Triple-A contest in seven years. Rodriguez and Atkins haven’t fared well against the Bulls in their respective careers. Rodriguez gave up seven runs in 0.1 IP in his lose start against the Tampa Bay affiliate, while Atkins is 1-1 with a 5.50 ERA in three career starts against Durham.
Nathan Karns will be the opening day starter. The right-hander was a part of the monster trade, which saw the Tampa Bay Rays exchange catcher Jose Lobaton, pitcher Felipe Rivero and outfielder Drew Vettelson for the Washington Nationals’ Karns. The right-hander is a game-changer as he tosses a mid 90’s fastball, hard sinker and a heavy slider. Last season, he struck out 155 batters in 133.0 IP with Double-A Harrisburg.
Karns wasn’t the only one dominating the Double-A circuit. Romero was spectacular in the Southern League, going 11-7 with a 2.76 ERA in 27 starts for the Montgomery Biscuits. He made one start for Triple-A Durham (8IP, 0R, 2K) and one for Tampa Bay (5IP, 0R) to end the season. He will get the start in game two of the series.
Andriese will make his first start in International League as he was a part of the San Diego Padres organization in 2013, while Montgomery will put his 2-3 record with a 5.27 ERA in five career starts against Gwinnett on the line in game four.
Batting: Offense will be showcased in the series, as both teams have potent attacks. The Braves will have two-time RBI champion Ernesto Mejia leading the middle of the order. In 2013, Mejia struggled against the Bulls, hitting .192 (14-for-73) with two homers, eight RBIs and 26 strikeouts. While, Mejia struggled against the Bulls, Jose Constanza thrived at the dish against Durham pitching. The outfielder batted .340 (17-for-50) with two doubles, two RBIs and six stolen bases in 12 contests against the Bulls. Constanza is the lone active G-Brave to hold a batting average over .300 against Durham in 2013.
While, the G-Braves struggled to hit Bulls’ pitching, Cole Figueroa welcomed G-Braves pitching. The infielder hit .355 (27-for-76) with three doubles, two triples, one homer and 14 RBIs in 20 games against Gwinnett in 2013.
He will be joined veterans Wilson Betemit and Vince Belnome around the infield. Betemit is coming off of an injury-riddled 2013 campaign, but in 2012, he hit .261 with 19 doubles, 12 homers and 40 RBIs in 102 games with Baltimore. He will try to find his stroke in 2014 with Durham.
Belnome hasn’t had a problem hitting at the minor league level. He is a lifetime .300 hitter at the MiLB level, clubbing 58 homers and driving in 312 runners. Despite struggling against the G-Braves in 2013 (.151, 12K), he hit .300 and drove in 67 runs while earning an IL All-Star Game nod.
Bull Rushed: The Gwinnett Braves will look to get off to a good start in 2014 against the Durham Bulls, as they went 6-15 against Durham in 2013. Durham’s stranglehold was more apparent at Durham Bulls Athletic Park, as they won nine of ten games at home.
The IL Preview concludes with the Gwinnett Braves. Last season, Gwinnett had a forgettable season, finishing last in the IL with a 60-84 mark. Injuries at the Major League level and constant turnover at the minor league level crippled the Gwinnett roster.
The Braves will be led by new skipper Brian Snitker. The former Atlanta Braves third base coach has managerial experience at the minor league level, coaching over 2,000 games (1140-1145 record). He will have a good group of players leading the charge in 2014.
Pitching: The Braves pitching staff took a big hit with the losses of Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy during Spring Training. The losses will trickle down to the minor league level, as two potential G-Braves in David Hale and Gus Schlosser will start in Atlanta.
The G-Braves will start the season with Zach Stewart, Mitch Atkins, Daniel Rodriguez, Cody Martin and Yunesky Maya. All five pitchers have pitched at the Triple-A level and come with experience. Atkins has won 33 games between the Pacific Coast League and International League. Last season, he went 5-2 with a 3.47 ERA in 17 games for Double-A Mississippi.
Martin enters the season with the least amount of experience on the staff, but will be leaned on to built upon his successful 2013 campaign. In 13 games (11 starts), he went 3-4 with a 3.49 ERA with 66 strikeouts in 69.2 IP with the G-Braves.
The bullpen will feature a slew of flamethrowers, as Wirfin Obispo, Mark Lamm, Juan Jaime and Luis Vasquez will be eager to close outs games. Obispo returns to Gwinnett after going 2-4 with a 3.53 ERA in 54 relief appearances. He recorded nine saves, striking out 70 batters in 63.2 innings.
Infield: Offensively, the diamond will be loaded with a deep-talented group. Ernesto Mejia, who hit a career-high 28 homers in 2013, returns for his third season with the G-Braves. He has led the IL in RBIs two straight seasons.
Tommy La Stella will join him on the right side. The former Coastal Carolina alum is a lifetime .327 minor league hitter. The second baseman made an impression with Atlanta during Spring Training, batting .255 with four doubles and five RBIs. He will get his first taste of Triple-A baseball in 2014.
The Atlanta Braves No.2 prospect according to Baseball America, Christian Bethancourt will get his first taste of Triple-A as well. He hit .277 (99-for-358) with 21 doubles, 12 homers and 45 RBIs in 90 games for the M-Braves. He set a club record by reaching base in 40-straight games from June 13 to August 14, batting .338 (54-for-160) with 12 doubles, 10 homers and 27 RBI during the streak.
Tyler Greene and Edward Salcedo will fill out the left side. Both players have the ability to drive in runs and steal bases. Salcedo has swiped 80 bags and drove in 211 runners in 471 minor league contests, while Greene has over 150 stolen bases and 373 RBIs in his ten year career.
Outfield: The Gwinnett Braves will be fortunate to feature a major-league like outfield, as Jose Constanza, Todd Cunningham and Joey Terdoslavich will be manning one of the three outfield positions. Terdoslavich returns after a banner season with Gwinnett. He was named an International League midseason and postseason All-Star after hitting .318 (102-for-321) with 24 doubles, 18 home runs and 58 RBI in 85 games. He was named Gwinnett’s Most Valuable player by Atlanta and Gwinnett. He was as selected to represent Team USA in the 15th annual SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game, but did not participate due to his MLB call-up on 7/4.
Constanza returns for his fourth season with Gwinnett. The longest tenured G-Brave returns for his fourth season with the ball club. Constanza enters the season as the G-Braves all-time hits (306), triples (11) and stolen bases (58) leader. In three seasons, he has tallied a .301 (306-for-1,118) batting average with 19 doubles and 69 RBIs.
Cunningham, the switch-hitting outfielder led the squad in hitting with a .265 (113-for-427) batting average. He tallied 13 doubles, five triples, two home runs, 38 RBI and 20 stolen bases in 116 games.
Projected Depth Chart:
The Durham Bulls will begin their title defense with another star-studded team. Last season, the Bulls posted an International League best 87-57 mark and rolled through the IL playoffs to claim their fourth Governor’s Cup.
However, they would fall to the Omaha Storm Chasers 2-1 in the Triple-A Championship.
Charlie Montoyo returns to the helm to lead the Bulls for the eighth straight season. He will go on without outfielder Wil Myers and pitchers Jake Odorizzi and Chris Archer, but he will have another loaded roster.
Pitching: Last year, it all started and ended with pitching. The Bulls posted a team ERA of 3.33 and had a 16-game winner in J.D. Martin. The IL All-Star has moved on and will be playing his baseball overseas, and with the 50-game suspension of Alex Colome, the IL champs will have four spots to fill in 2014.
Nathan Karns will take over one of the spots. The former Washington Nationals’ farmhand will be a big part of the rotation. Last year, Karns went 10-6 with a 3.26 ERA in 23 starts for Harrisburg. He made his major league debut in September, making three starts for the Nationals. The right-hander is a fire-baller, featuring a mid 90-s fastball, hard sinker-splitter and wipeout curveball. He has some control issues, which will keep him from starting on the Rays to begin the season.
In addition to Karns, the Bulls will have Enny Romero. Romero was spectacular in the Southern League, going 11-7 with a 2.76 ERA in 27 starts for the Montgomery Biscuits. He made one start for Triple-A Durham (8IP, 0R, 2K) and one for Tampa (5IP, 0R) to end the season. He enters the season the No.6 ranked prospect in the Rays organization according to Baseball America.
If you add Merrill Kelly (8 wins), Mike Montgomery (7 wins) and MLB veteran Erik Bedard, the Rays rotation will be loaded once again.
Infield: The group around the horn will be led by Triple-A All Star Vince Belnome. The infielder hit .300 with eight homers and 67 RBIs last season. He recorded a team-high 133 hits.
Hak-Ju Lee will be another player to keep an eye on, as he will start the season recovering from a torn ACL, but will return to the Bulls lineup in 2014. Prior to tearing all three ligaments in his left knee, Lee was hitting .462 (19-for-45) with three doubles, one triple, one homer and seven RBIs for the Durham Bulls. He enters the season as the No.2 ranked prospect in the Tampa Rays organization according to Baseball America.
Outfield: Originally a 31st round pick in the 2010 draft, Kevin Kiermaier has exceeded all expectations in the Tampa organization. Regarded as one of the best outfielders in minor league baseball, Kiermaier has great instincts to the baseball and plus arm that allows him to play all three outfield positions. In 39 games with the Bulls, he hit .263 (36-for-137) with seven doubles, six triples, one homer and 13 RBIs. He enters the season as the No. 10 ranked prospect in the Tampa Rays organization according to Baseball America.
At Durham: April 3-5, July 2-3, August 22-25
At Gwinnett: April 11-13, July 17-20, August 26-27
Projected Depth Chart:
The Norfolk Tides are coming off a solid season in 2013, going 77-67 in the South division.
Last season, the Tides and Rochester Red Wings finished tied for the Wild Card spot, but Rochester advanced with a better head-to-head record against the Tides.
Third year skipper Ron Johnson will lead a very strong Norfolk team in 2014.
Pitching: The pitching staff could lead the group in 2014. The staff may feature talented prospects in Kevin Gausman and Eduardo Rodriguez, while having solid veterans in T.J. McFarland and Steve Johnson.
Gausman has moved through the minor league ranks pretty quickly. Last season, he made his major league debut in May after eight starts in Double-A Bowie. Gausman has an electric fastball that’s clocked in the mid-90’s and a split-finger fastball that he uses as his strikeout pitch. Gausman attacks the zone and works the count in his favor, as he has only walked 28 batters in 145 innings.
He will likely be joined by Rodriguez, who is rated the No.3 prospect in the Orioles organization according to Baseball America. The Orioles took a chance on a 17-year old Rodriguez in 2010, signing the southpaw to a $175,000 international contract. Since then, he has ascended through the minor league ranks, reaching Double-A at the young age of 20. He still has some growing up to do, but with a low-90’s fastball, slider and changeup, he would be ready to make the jump to the Majors by the end of the season.
Infield: The infield will have some solid veterans all over the diamond. David Adams is coming off a solid season for the Scranton Wilkes-Barre Railriders in 2013. In 59 games, he hit .268 with five homers and 21 RBIs. He made his major league debut on 5/15, and played in 43 games for the Yankees, batting .193 with two homers and 19 RBIs.
In addition to Adams, will be Cord Phelps. Phelps played in 65 games with Columbus last season, hitting .267 with nine homers and 46 RBIs. Phelps is a lifetime .283 hitter with 53 homers and 300 RBIs, he will likely play one of the middle infield positions.
Jamile Weeks, Brett Wallace and Johnny Monell will likely fill out the rest of the infield. Weeks and Wallace were former first round picks in their respective drafts.
Outfield: The outfield will feature some speedsters and power. Quintin Berry and Julio Borbon will set the table and be movers on the basepaths, while Henry Urretia will provide the pop. Urretia is coming off of a phenomenal campaign, hitting .347 with nine homers and 50 RBIs across Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk in 2013. He was called up to the big leagues in July and played in 24 games with Orioles, hitting .276 with one triple and two RBIs. Berry and Borbon will be tough around the basepaths, as they stole a combined 44 bags in 2013.
At Norfolk: Arpil 7-10, July 10-13, August 15-17
At Gwinnett: April 14-15, May 22-25, August 7-10
Projected Depth Chart: