NASHVILLE, Tenn. - The Nashville Sounds - the Triple-A affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers - have announced their tentative Opening Day 25-man roster, a group highlighted by the Brewers' 2012 minor league player and pitcher of the year, nine returning players from the 2012 squad, and eight members of Milwaukee's 40-man roster.
Well-decorated first baseman Hunter Morris advances to Nashville after an outstanding 2012 campaign at Double-A Huntsville, where he netted Southern League MVP honors, a minor league Gold Glove Award, and was named the Brewers' Robin Yount Performance Award winner as the organization's player of the year.
The 24-year-old slugger hit .303 with 28 home runs and 113 RBIs in 136 games for the Stars last season, finishing second in the minors in RBIs and pacing the Southern League in six offensive categories (home runs, RBIs, hits, slugging percentage, extra-base hits, and total bases).
Right-handed starting pitcher Hiram Burgos - the Brewers' 2012 Robin Yount Performance Award winner as the organization's top pitcher - returns to Nashville, where he ended his superb 2012 campaign.
The 25-year-old ranked 3rd in the minors with a 1.95 ERA over 28 games (27 starts) and 171 innings between Advanced-A Brevard County, Double-A Huntsville, and Triple-A Nashville. Burgos, credited with "best changeup" in the Brewers chain by Baseball America, led the Milwaukee farm system with 153 strikeouts in 171 innings in 2012 while collecting 10 wins.
Four of the Brewers' top 10 prospects (as ranked by Baseball America) will open the season in Nashville: right-hander Tyler Thornburg (#2), Morris (#4), right-hander Johnny Hellweg (#6), and second baseman Scooter Gennett (#8).
The 23-year-old Thornburg combined to go 10-4 with a 3.20 ERA in 21 starts between Double-A Huntsville and Triple-A Nashville last summer. He also made his major league debut with Milwaukee, where he posted a 4.50 ERA in eight games (three starts) over three stints. Thornburg, who struck out 116 batters in his 112 2/3 minor league innings a year ago, was named to the Southern League midseason All-Star team and is ranked by Baseball America as having the organization's "best curveball."
Thornburg will be joined in the Nashville rotation by the 6-foot-9 Hellweg, who was acquired by the Brewers from the Angels in the Zack Greinke trade last July. The big right-hander - who is credited with possessing the "best fastball" in the Brewers system by Baseball America - split last year between Arkansas and Huntsville at the Double-A level, combining to go 7-11 with a 3.29 ERA in 28 games (23 starts) over 139 2/3 innings. Hellweg capped his year with an appearance in the Arizona Fall League.
Recognized as the "best hitter for average" in the Milwaukee chain by Baseball America, the 22-year-old Gennett will be the youngest member of the Sounds. He advances to the Triple-A level for the first time after being selected to the Southern League's midseason and postseason All-Star teams last year for Huntsville, where he hit .293 in 133 games and finished second in his league in hits (behind Morris).
Nine players return to Music City from the 2012 Sounds squad, including starting pitchers Burgos and Thornburg; relievers Donovan Hand, Jesus Sanchez, and Rob Wooten; catcher Dayton Buller; infielders Sean Halton (the 2012 Sounds MVP) and Hainley Statia; and outfielder Caleb Gindl.
Halton, who will transition to right field for the Sounds this season due to Morris' presence at first base, led Nashville with 17 home runs and 57 RBIs in 119 games to earn club MVP honors in 2012.
Two additional recognizable faces return to Nashville: starting pitcher Frankie De La Cruz and catcher Anderson De La Rosa. De La Cruz pitched for the Sounds in 2011, when he finished fourth in the PCL with a 3.38 ERA and 126 strikeouts. De La Rosa appeared in 12 games for Nashville in 2010, batting .263.
Five players are slated to make their first career stop at the Triple-A level with the Sounds in 2013: right-handed relievers Kyle Heckathorn and Michael Olmsted, infielders Gennett and Morris, and outfielder Josh Prince.
Seven members of the Sounds' tentative roster boast major league experience: starting pitchers De La Cruz, Zach Kroenke, and Thornburg; relievers Jim Hoey and Chris Jakubauskas; catcher Blake Lalli; and infielder Blake Davis, who led Triple-A International League shortstops in fielding percentage last year. Of that group, only Thornburg (Brewers) and Lalli (Cubs) appeared in the big leagues in 2012.
Manager Mike Guerrero returns for his second season at the helm of the Sounds and will be joined by returning pitching coach Fred Dabney and strength and conditioning coach Andrew Emmick, along with a pair newcomers to the staff: coach Bob Skube and trainer Aaron Hoback.
The Sounds open their 2013 season on Thursday, April 4 at Greer Stadium with a 7:05 p.m. matchup against the New Orleans Zephyrs, the Triple-A affiliate of the Miami Marlins.
Ticket packages are currently on sale. Call (615) 690-HITS or visit the Sounds' website at www.nashvillesounds.com to order or for more information.