Tue: LHP Daniel Rodriguez (2-1, 2.40) vs. Trevor Bauer (1-0, 0.75)
Wed: Mitch Atkins (1-2, 5.40) vs. LHP T.J. House (1-1, 2.45)
Thu: TBA vs. RHP Tyler Cloyd (1-2, 7.56)
Fri: RHP Zach Stewart (1-0, 5.06) vs. Josh Tomlin (0-1, 4.00)
The Gwinnett Braves are on a roll, winning seven straight games and taking full possession of first place in the Wild Card standings. With the 6-3 win over the Charlotte Knights on Monday night, the G-Braves tied their franchise record for consecutive wins at seven. Gwinnett has accomplished the feat four times before last night, once in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2013.
Pitching: Gwinnett will have their hands full this week with the Clippers’ staff. On Tuesday night, they will face the No. 3 prospect in the Indians organization, Bauer. In two starts for the Clippers, Bauer has been outstanding, hurling 12.0 innings of one run ball with 18 strikeouts.
Left-hander T.J. House will be especially tough on Wednesday night. The southpaw comes in with a 1-1 mark and a 2.45 ERA. He has fanned nine in 11.0 innings, while posting a 0.91 WHIP. House made one start against Gwinnett in 2013, hurling 6.0 innings, allowing two runs on 10 hits in the no-decision.
Bauer has fared the best against the G-Braves in his career, going 0-0 with a 2.19 ERA in two starts. Tomlin made one start against Gwinnett in 2013, going 5.0 innings, allowing seven hits, three runs in the no-decision.
Gwinnett will counter with Rodriguez, Atkins and Stewart, while they wait for their Thursday starter to be announced.
Rodriguez has been the Braves’ best starter in the month of April. In three starts, he is 2-1 with a 2.40 ERA. He has tossed five innings in each of his three starts, while punching out 19 batters.
Stewart will be the only Braves pitcher with previous experience against the Clippers. Last season, the right-hander went 1-1 with a 3.75 ERA in two starts against Columbus for the Charlotte Knights. This season, Stewart has been solid for the G-Braves, going 1-0 with a 5.06 ERA. In his last start on 4/20, he went a season-high six innings, allowing three runs for his first win of the season.
Batting: The G-Braves are scolding hot at the dish, as they enter the series with a league-high 97 runs. They also own the third-highest batting average in the league (.280).
Phil Gosselin is leading the way with a .404 (19-for-47) batting average. The infielder enters the series with the second highest batting average in the league, behind Gregory Polanco of the Indianapolis Indians.
Ernesto Mejia and Tommy La Stella aren’t too far behind. Mejia is fifth in the league with a .379 (25-for-66) batting average. He has seven homers and 22 RBIs. He is second in the league in dingers and is tied for first in RBI. While, La Stella enters with a .346 (10th in IL) batting average. Since moving to third in the order, La Stella is hitting .375 (12-for-32) with one double and eight RBIs.
Columbus has been in the middle of the pack offensively, but Jesus Aguilar and Jose Ramirez have been standouts. Aguilar is hitting .386 (22-for-57) with five doubles, five homers and 13 RBIs, while Ramirez is hitting .333 (21-for-63) with two doubles, three homers and 10 RBIs. Aguilar is the No.15 prospect in the Cleveland organization according to Baseball America, while Ramirez is the No.9 prospect.
Following Mike Minor’s rehab start on Saturday night with the Gwinnett, Grant McCauley (790 the Zone) and David Friedlander (Gwinnett Daily Post) caught up with the left-hander. In his four rehab appearance, Minor went 6.0 innings, allowing three runs.
D.F: After that rough first inning you have to be pretty pleased with how you bounced back?
“Yeah. It was a tough first inning but other than I started working in some breaking pitches and changeups. I feel like I got them off balance a little bit.”
G.M: As you gone through this process is there a way you have integrated each of your pitches as you gone along or is it more about building arm strength and getting yourself ready.?
“I think it’s a little bit of both. I think the main thing is going out there and being healthy and getting the pitch count up. Then in the third, fourth, fifth, sixth innings try to work in some breaking pitches. Obviously early on, I tried to get the fastball established on both sides of the plate and then try and throw some breaking balls in there for strikes. “
D. F: What do you feel like you corrected from the first inning to the second?
“It really wasn’t anything. It was kind of the same thing. I left some pitches over the plate and they were aggressive. I left some balls over the middle of the plate and they took some good cuts. They were aggressive and hit the ball hard.”
G.M: Pitch count is up to 80, do you feel like you’re ready to go make that start in five days?
“Yeah, I think so. I could have thrown up to 90 this time. I think last time I threw 69 pitches or so. This time it was 80, I didn’t look at my velo(city) but I think it was alright. I’m glad I came out healthy and feel pretty good.”
G.M: Obviously, you have kept tabs on what the big club is doing. Their starting rotation is doing pretty well. How excited are you to get back up there and contribute.
“Those guys have been doing a heck of a job and I don’t want to let them down coming in there. I think we have the league-leading ERA right now, and hopefully I won’t skyrocket that, but I think I will be alright.”
Mon: Zach Stewart (0-0, 5.40) vs. Mike Wright (0-0, 0.00)
Tues: Cody Martin (0-1, 6.43) vs. Kevin Gausman (0-0, 2.08)
The Gwinnett Braves and Norfolk Tides meet for the fourth time this season on Monday night. Gwinnett took the first series matchup, winning two of three at Norfolk. In the three contests, Gwinnett scored 18 runs.
Pitching: The Tides will feature two star-studded prospects in Gausman and Wright.
Gausman has been dominant in two starts for the Tides. He is 0-0 with a 2.08 ERA with ten strikeouts in 8.2 innings. He pitched against the G-Braves on Thursday, going 4.0 innings, allowing two runs and striking out four in the no-decision. Last season, the hard-throwing right-hander breezed through the minor league ranks, making 13 minor league starts before he was summoned by the Baltimore Orioles to make his Major League debut on May 23. He appeared in 20 games for the Orioles, going 3-5 with a 5.66 ERA and striking out 49 batters in 47.2. Enters the 2014 season the No.2 prospect in the Orioles organization according to Baseball America.
Wright will make his second start of the season on Monday. He has gone 5.0 innings without allowing a run. . The former third rounder in the 2011 draft out of the University of East Carolina features a mid-90’s fastball, slider, curve and change-up. Wright enters the season as the No.8 ranked prospect in the Orioles system according to Baseball America.
The Braves will counter with Stewart and Martin. Stewart pitched well against the Tides last week, going 5.0 innings, allowing three runs on the three hits, while Martin was hit around for four runs in 4.0 innings. Martin enters the season as the Braves No. 11 prospect in the organization according to Baseball America.
Hitting: Both teams are scuffling at the dish. In the weekend series against the Bulls, the G-Braves scored five runs, while Norfolk holds a team-batting average of .232 (9th in the IL).
Norfolk is led by Caleb Joseph at the plate. The infielder is hitting .367 (11-for-30) with three doubles, one homer and six RBIs. In two games against Gwinnett in 2014, he is 2-for-8 with a homer and two RBIs. Former first round pick Jemile Weeks is off to a solid start for Norfolk. In eight games, the second baseman is batting .333 (9-for-27) with one double, two triples and two RBIs. Last night, he snapped his seven-game hitting streak with a 0-for-2 performance against Charlotte.
Gwinnett has cooled off after scoring 41 runs in their first seven games.
Phil Gosselin is still leading the way with a .481 (13-for-27) batting average with four doubles and three RBIs. He has been solid playing all three positions on the diamond. In two games against the Tides, he hit 6-for-9 with four runs and two doubles. Ernesto Mejia leads the league with six homers and has 12 RBIs in 10 games. In his last two games, he is 4-for-7 with one homer and two RBIs.
Home Win: Last season, the Braves started the season 4-0 at home. This year they are off to an 0-3 start.
On Sunday afternoon, Gavin Floyd took the mound for the Gwinnett Braves in his third rehab start of the 2014 season. The right-hander went 3.2 innings, allowing two hits, two runs-one earned with three walks and three strikeouts. Despite a rough first two innings, Floyd retired the last six batters he faced. He threw 73 pitches and 43 strikes in the 3-1 loss to Durham.
After the game I stopped by to check in on the Atlanta Brave.
How did you feel out there?
GF: “First couple innings I was just trying to make adjustments because I was rushing a little bit. I was able to make that adjustment in the third and fourth inning. I was glad I was able to make that adjustment and end the game on a good note.”
You had a rocky few first inning, what did you start doing differently in the last two frames?
GF: “My pace was quick. Everything was going too fast. I kept jumping at the plate. So I refocused and took a breather. I was able to slow myself down a little bit and make pitches.”
What were you trying to accomplish with this start? Was it a result oriented start or just another live workday?
GF: “Obviously you want results as a pitcher. In an ideal world, I wish I would have gone all five innings and pitched 75, but I’m glad I’m going through this. I had a good start last time, and today is a little bump in the road. I had tough two first innings, but I got a chance to figure it out. I need these things to get ready for when I do come back. I feel like being able to make an adjustment like that and being able to make good pitches will only help me out. I think that’s good thing to be able to get in a groove and work through some things on the mound. This will only help to make the adjustments a lot quicker when I do come back.”
How do you feel health wise?
GF: I feel good. Elbow is good. Stamina is too.
Fri: LHP Daniel Rodriguez (1-0, 1.80) vs. LHP Mike Montgomery (1-0, 0.00)
Sat: Mitch Atkins (0-1, 6.75) vs. LHP Erik Bedard (0-0, 2.25)
Sun: Gavin Floyd (0-0, 5.06) vs. Nathan Karns (0-1, 13.50)
The Gwinnett Braves will welcome the Durham Bulls for a three game set starting on Friday, April 11 at Coolray Field.
Last weekend, the squads met for a four game set at Durham Bulls Athletic Park. They ended up splitting the series, as Durham took game one and four, while the Braves took care of business in game two and three.
Pitching: The home opener will feature two southpaws that shut down the respective opposition last weekend. Rodriguez tossed 5.0 IP, allowing two hits, one run and struck out nine as he recorded the victory on Saturday night; while, Montgomery dominated Sunday’s matinee, tossing 5.0 innings of scoreless baseball in the Bulls 8-1 victory. He allowed three hits, three walks and struck out seven.
Game three will feature Gavin Floyd, as he makes his third rehab start with the Gwinnett Braves. After a shaky first start, Floyd was solid on Tuesday night. He tossed 4.0 innings, scattering three hits, allowing one run and striking out two. He threw 60 pitches, 37 for strikes in the no decision victory by the Braves.
Former Nationals prospect Nathan Karns will get the ball in game three. The right-hander has got off to a slow start, allowing 11 runs in 7.1 innings (13.50 ERA). He has walked ten batters and struck out ten, so he has electric stuff but is hampered with control issues. He will look to get back on track on Sunday afternoon.
The Braves will have to get to the Bulls pitching staff early, as the back end of the bullpen has been tough on opponents. Right-hander Kirby Yates is a perfect 3-for-3 in save opportunities and has allowed one hit, no runs with four strikeouts in 4.0 innings.
Batting: Ernesto Mejia has headlined the G-Braves offense with five homers and 10 RBIs in seven games, but Phil Gosselin and Tommy La Stella are off to solid starts. Gosselin leads the team with a .500 (10-for-20) batting average with a team-high three doubles. In three games against Durham last weekend, Gosselin went 4-for-11 with three runs scored, one double and one RBI. La Stella has been just as good, batting .308 (4-for-13) with one double and three triples. La Stella has also drawn four walks in five games.
Durham is off to great start offensively, scoring 40 runs in eight games. They have relied on the long ball, slugging eight round trippers this season. Wilson Betemit, Justin Christian, Kevin Kiermaier and Jerry Sands have each clubbed two. Sands is off to the best start of the four of them, batting .333 (10-for-30) with six doubles and six RBIs.
Staying Figgy with it: Cole Figueroa is off to another great start for the Durham Bulls… The infielder is batting .463 (6-for-13) with two doubles. In his career, he has batted .356 (42-for-118) with 16 runs scored, six doubles, two triples, one homer and 20 RBIs against the G-Braves. Last season, Figueroa batted .355 (27-for-76) with six extra-base hits and 14 RBIs, while only striking out twice in 18 games against Gwinnett.
Mon: Zach Stewart (0-0, 0.00) vs. Suk-min Yoon (0-0, 0.00)
Tues: Gavin Floyd (0-0, 13.50) vs. Mike Wright (0-0, 0.00)
Wed: Cody Martin (0-0, 3.00) vs. Kevin Gausman (0-0, 0.00)
Thu: LHP Daniel Rodriguez (1-0, 1.80) vs. Steve Johnson (0-0, 3.00)
The Gwinnett Braves and Norfolk Tides meet for the first time in the 2014 campaign at Harbor Park in Norfolk, VA starting Monday night. The four-game set will conclude the G-Braves current road trip, as they split with Durham to start the season.
Pitching: The G-Braves pitching staff has been touched up for 23 runs (21 ER) in 34.0 IP and are last in the IL with a 5.56 team ERA through the first four games of the season… Daniel Rodriguez had the strongest showing of the weekend. The southpaw went 5.0 innings, allowing one run on two hits, while striking out nine. He recorded his first win of the season and first victory since May 28, 2013. He will get the ball in game four of the series. Last season, he made one start against the Tides, tossing 4.2 innings, scattering three hits and allowing three runs. He was not a part of the decision, as the G-Braves won the contest 5-4 in extra innings on April 15.
Despite dropping three games to the Knights, the Tides’ pitching staff has been real strong in 2014. In four games, they have posted a 2.50 ERA, while striking out 43 batters in 36.0 IP.
Yoon and Wright will make their first starts of the 2014 season on Monday and Tuesday. Yoon, 27, is coming over from the Korean League. In 2011, he was named the Korean Baseball Organization MVP after leading the league in wins (17), ERA (2.45) and strikeouts (178).
Wright is coming off of a strong 2013 campaign, as he dominated the Double-A circuit, going 11-3 with a 3.26 ERA in 26 starts for Bowie. On September 2, he was called up to Triple-A Norfolk to make his debut. He delivered seven shutout innings, scattering six hits and striking out two. The former third rounder in the 2011 draft out of the University of East Carolina features a mid-90’s fastball, slider, curve and change-up. Wright enters the season as the No.8 ranked prospect in the Orioles system according to Baseball America.
Gausmann and Johnson will round out the Norfolk rotation for the weekday series. Both right-handers threw in the opening weekend series against Charlotte, but received no decisions. They combined to strike out 10 batters in 7.1 innings.
Batting: Ernesto Mejia is coming off of a huge week with the G-Braves. In four games, he hit .308 (4-for-13) with four homers and seven RBIs. He was named IL Batter of the Week for his outstanding work at the dish. Last season, Mejia hit .347 (25-for-72) with five doubles, eight homers and 16 RBIs in 19 games against the Tides.
Infielder Phil Gosselin also had a solid opening week. The right-handed hitter batted .364 (1-for-11) with one double and one RBI, while playing shortstop and third base. Gosselin fared well against Norfolk in 2013, hitting .275 (14-for-51) with two homers and six RBIs.
Norfolk is off to a slow start offensively, scoring six runs in four games against Charlotte.
Henry Urrutia is batting .143 (2-for-14) with one RBI and two strikeouts. Last season, he hit .316 with two homers and 13 RBIs in 29 games with Norfolk. He was even better against Gwinnett, batting .356 (16-for-46) with two doubles, one triple, one homer and 10 RBIs. He will try and get Norfolk back on track this week.
Tides News: The Orioles have acquired right-hander Preston Guilmet from the Indians in exchange for infielder Torsten Boss. Guilmet was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk.
The Gwinnett Braves (0-1) started off the season with another tough loss to the Durham Bulls (1-0) on Thursday night at Durham Bulls Athletic Park. Facing a 6-2 deficit in the top of the third inning, the Bulls battled back, scoring one run in the fourth inning, three in the fifth and one in the seventh to claim the victory 7-6.
Bulls’ shortstop Cole Figueroa scored the game-winner, as he continued to haunt the G-Braves by going 2-for-3 with two runs scored in the contest.
In 30 games against the Braves, Figueroa has tallied a .354 (40-for-113) batting average with 15 runs scored, six doubles, two triples, one homer and 20 RBIs. Last season, Figueroa batted .355 (27-76) with six extra-base hits and 14 RBIs, while only striking out twice.
So, what makes Figueroa so good against the Braves?
In 113 official at bats, the infielder has fanned five times. His .044 strikeout per at bat average is well below his career strikeout per at bat average of .103 (225 K / 2180 AB). In addition to his low strikeout rate against the G-Braves, Figueroa has a BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play) of .358 against Gwinnett.
Some sabermetricians would suggest that Figueroa is getting lucky, as his BABIP is greater than his BA.
But, line drive hitters tend to have high BABIP’s. Figueroa is a great example, as he holds a BABIP of .312 in his career, opposed to a lifetime batting average of .291 (635-for-2180).
So, luck has nothing to do with it and the G-Braves will have to deal with Figueroa another three days at the DBAP.
Gwinnett will face Figueroa and the Bulls in game two of this four game series at 7:05 PM tonight.
Background Check: Stephen Cole Figueroa is a Tallahassee, FL native, but played his collegiate baseball at the University of Florida. He was drafted in the sixth round of the 2008 First Year Player Draft by the San Diego Padres. In 2010, he was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays along with RHP’s Brandon Gomes and Adam Russell and LHP Cesar Ramos in exchange for shortstop Jason Bartlett. Figueroa is entering his fourth season with the Rays organization and his seventh in professional baseball.
G-Braves News & Notes: Ryan Buchter was optioned from Atlanta prior to last night’s contest. The southpaw tossed a scoreless eighth inning. Buchter made the Opening Day roster, but did not appear in a game in his first call-up to the big leagues.
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: