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For openers, prospects in full bloom

First day of season spans gamut from pitching perfection to hot bats
April 4, 2008
It started with Syracuse starter David Purcey's first offering to Louisville's Andy Green shortly after 2 p.m. ET and ended with Lake Elsinore's Mike Baxter grounding out to first base just after 1:45 a.m. ET. In between, Minor League's Opening Day was filled with highlights aplenty.

Top prospects

The top picks -- most of them anyway -- did what they were supposed to do. While the top two guys on's Top 50 list -- Jay Bruce and Evan Longoria -- went a combined 1-for-7 with three strikeouts, many others did just fine, evidently not getting the memo that pitchers are ahead of hitters this time of year.

Cameron Maybin had just one hit in his Marlins organization debut, but the No. 3 prospect made it count, homering for the Carolina Mudcats in his Southern League debut. It was part of a three-run fourth inning that made a winner out of fellow Willis/Cabrera-trade returnee Burke Badenhop, who went 6 1/3 innings, scattering six and allowing just one unearned run and no walks.

No. 7 prospect Colby Rasmus didn't seem to have too much trouble with the climb to Triple-A. Hitting leadoff, he doubled to start the game against Oklahoma and came around to score. He singled in the third and again in the fourth, to start off his PCL career 3-for-3. All of that was accomplished against No. 25 prospect Eric Hurley as the RedHawks came back to beat the Redbirds, 4-3, in 10 innings.

The No. 2 overall pick from last year's draft, Mike Moustakas (he's also the No. 22 prospect), played shortstop and hit cleanup for the Burlington Bees in the Midwest League. He went 1-for-4 with one strikeout as the Bees blanked the Chiefs, 2-0.

Homer Bailey, No. 9 on that Top 50, shook off another tough spring and went seven strong innings in the season's opener, allowing just one run. Unfortunately for him and Louisville, fellow 2004 first-round pick David Purcey was a little better. The lefty went six shutout frames as Syracuse won, 2-0.

Some might be let down by the lack of strikeouts (three), but no one can really complain about Rick Porcello's pro debut. The No. 14 prospect gave up just one hit and walked two in his five innings of work to record his first win.

No. 20 prospect Jake McGee didn't disappoint in his opening day start for Montgomery. He allowed just one run on three hits over six innings, striking out seven but without any walks. Alas, Biscuit fans went home discouraged as Chattanooga scored once in the seventh and twice more in the eighth to win, 4-1 and give Daryl Thompson (6 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 5 K) a win in his Double-A debut.

Elvis Andrus (No. 38) enjoyed his Double-A debut, going 2-for-5 with two RBIs in Frisco's 6-3 win over Springfield. He won't turn 20 until the end of August. As an aside, Matt Harrison made his Rangers organization debut in that game, picking up the 'W' by allowing just one run on four hits over 5 2/3 IP, walking no one and whiffing six.

Other 2007 first-rounders

Matt LaPorta, the No. 7 pick in last year's draft, hit a grand slam in the fourth off of M-Braves reliever Brad Nelson, backing Steve Hammond, who in his second-go-round in Huntsville, gave up one unearned run and just two hits while striking out nine in six innings of work.

Rockies, or should we say Tulsa Drillers, reliever Casey Weathers (No. 8 pick) pitched a perfect frame, striking out one in his Texas League debut.

Joe Savery (Phillies, No. 19) will make his living as a starter, but for one day, he entered in relief. Brad Lidge, the Phillies' usual closer, started and went one inning in a rehab stint (he gave up a run on two hits) for Clearwater. Savery had some command issues, walking five over five innings, but he also put up zeros on the scoreboard while fanning seven.

Other non-top 50 prospects

Jonathan Herrera was a Texas League All-Star for Tulsa a year ago. If his Opening Day is any indication, he'll earn another nod in the Pacific Coast League. The Colorado Springs second baseman homered twice and drove in four runs against Tucson.

One step behind him in the Rockies system is Daniel Carte. The outfielder also went yard twice, for Tulsa, driving in three runs. But the Drillers lost the game to Corpus Christi in 11 innings.

Last year's Texas League pitcher of the year, Josh Geer, kept it up in his Triple-A debut. He yielded just one hit -- a home run from vet Justin Leone -- over seven innings as Portland held on to beat Fresno, 8-4. It's not often you can say a Beaver beat a Grizzly.

The big question facing the Mets system was who else is there other than Fernando Martinez (he went 1-for-4 leading off for Binghamton, by the way). Jon Niese may be stepping up big time. He gave up just one hit and struck out five (vs. just one walk) over five shutout innings to get the win for the B-Mets against Trenton. A win against the Yankees at any level has to make Mets fans happy.

Birmingham's Lucas Harrell also put up five scoreless innings. The White Sox right-hander missed all of 2007 following shoulder surgery but quickly brushed the rust off, allowing just one hit and one walk while striking out four as the Barons beat Tennessee, 2-0.'s Class A Advanced Relief Pitcher of the Year Sergio Romo proved just as difficult to hit in his Double-A debut. The Connecticut closer pitched a perfect ninth, striking out the side to preserve a 3-2 win over New Hampshire.

Fautino De Los Santos impressed his new organization, the A's, all spring and kept it going in Stockton, giving up two runs on five hits over six innings while striking out six (and walking just one).

Ryan Rohlinger put himself on the map with a strong showing in Giants' big league camp this spring. He's trying to show it wasn't a fluke with San Jose by going 3-for-4 with a double and two RBIs in the Giants' 12-1 rout of Bakersfield.

Reds 3B prospect Juan Francisco seems to like the Florida State League. In his debut, he went 4-for-5 with three doubles and a stolen base. More importantly for a guy who whiffed 161 times in 2007, he didn't carry his bat back to the dugout once all night.

Adrian Cardenas made his FSL debut a success, albeit in a losing effort. The second baseman went 3-for-4 with two RBIs for Clearwater against Dunedin.

Yankees prospect Dellin Betances missed most of last year due to injury, but looked pretty strong in his full-season debut with Charleston. The Brooklyn native went five innings, allowing two runs on three hits and two walks while striking out a career-high eight.

Michael Antonini isn't exactly a well-known name, but you might want to learn it. The Mets' 18th round pick from last year's draft made his full-season debut with Savannah and put up six no-hit innings. The southpaw walked just one and struck out four.

The veterans/rehab assignments

You couldn't be any better than Kei Igawa was for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. The 28-year-old lefty went six perfect frames, striking out seven.

Bartolo Colon came close. Pitching for Pawtucket, the former Angels star gave up one hit over five scoreless innings, walking one and striking five, showing that perhaps he's got something left in the tank.

Ryan Feierabend isn't exactly a grizzly vet at age 22, but he's technically not a prospect because of service time. He certainly pitched like one Thursday, blanking Sacramento on four hits, walking three and striking out seven over six innings as the Rainiers beat the River Cats, 2-0. He beat southpaw Greg Smith in a nifty matchup. Smith gave up just the two runs over six innings, normally enough to win in the PCL.

Word earlier was that Randy Johnson would not be ready to return on April 14 to Arizona as originally hoped. He showed why pitching for Triple-A Tucson. Granted, it was in Colorado Springs, where there isn't a humidor, but the Big Unit gave up five runs on eight hits and two walks, striking out just one. If it makes you feel any better, the Rockies first-round pick from 2006, Greg Reynolds, gave up seven earned over four innings in his PCL debut.

Orlando Hernandez wasn't as bad, but he was also a couple of levels down in the Florida State League. Pitching for St. Lucie, El Duque went five innings, allowing three hits and two runs while striking out six.

The FSL wasn't so kind to Francisco Liriano, who is trying to build up arm strength and return to the Twins rotation. He may need a while, if this first outing was any indication. The lefty gave up six hits and four earned runs over 5 1/3 IP, though he did strike out eight for Fort Myers. Sarasota won the game, 8-6.

There weren't just recognizable pitchers making noise. Remember Josh Barfield? He's not sulking in Triple-A Buffalo. He went 4-for-5 with a pair of RBIs for the Bisons in their 9-4 victory in Norfolk.

Jeremy Hermida hit cleanup for the Jupiter Hammerheads, something he may have last done in 2004. He went 1-for-4 with a double and a run scored as Jupiter lost to their Roger Dean Stadium roommates, the Palm Beach Cardinals, 5-4.

New (road) teams

There are a pair of new clubs in the Minors this season. Both open their brand-new parks in about a week, but the teams began their first seasons with mixed results.

The Northwest Arkansas Naturals (formerly the Wichita Wranglers) opened in San Antonio. Much like their big league brethren, the Royals, the Naturals began victoriously, beating the Missions, 6-4. Things didn't go as well for the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, who were blanked by Igawa and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, 4-0.

Rain, rain go away

Mother Nature wasn't kind to all openers. Two PCL games were washed out, in Iowa and Omaha. The Baysox were drenched as well, as rain canceled the Eastern League tilt in Bowie. Another EL game between Akron and Harrisburg was suspended in after nine complete innings with the game tied at 5. That one will be completed Friday. The Midwest League got hit pretty hard: Beloit, Clinton and Quad Cities couldn't escape the raindrops either as their games against Kane County, Cedar Rapids and Wisconsin respectively never got underway. The South Atlantic League lost just one game, the scheduled contest in Hickory with the Crawdads having to wait one more day to take on the West Virginia Power ... weather permitting, of course.

Carolina on your mind?

Wondering why there was no mention of that fine circuit? No need to worry. The Class A Advanced league gets started Friday with a full slate of games. Perhaps that stereotype of things taking their own sweet time in the South has the ring of truth to it.

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for