The Lynchburg Hillcats are proud to announce their Opening Day roster has been set. Players and coaches have arrived in the "Hill City" and are gearing up for the season opener in just three days at home against the Potomac Nationals.
This year's Opening Day roster will boast eight top-30 prospects from the Braves organization and nine players who spent at least a portion of the 2011 season with the Hillcats. Three players also played at the Double-A level in Mississippi a year ago.
Edward Salcedo, sixth rated prospect for the Braves, ranks highest on the prospect list among his teammates. He was a hot commodity on the foreign free agent market in 2007 but could not sign for two years while Major League Baseball investigated his identity and birth date. He eventually signed with the Atlanta Braves in February 2010 for $1.6 million, a franchise record for a foreign amateur. He spent last season with Single-A Rome where he played a team-high 132 games, led his team in runs (83), and was second in RBIs (68) and doubles (27). He will play third base for the Hillcats this season. Baseball America projects he will be Atlanta's third baseman by 2015.
Joining Salcedo on the infield will be fellow prospects SS Nick Ahmed (15th) and 2B Tommy La Stella (28th). Ahmed, second round pick in 2011, is a strong defender with an arm that has hit 94 mph on the radar gun. He stole 18 bases last year with Rookie-level Danville and shows good range on defense. La Stella, eighth round pick in 2011, hit .328 in 63 games with Rome last season. The Coastal Carolina University standout was named the Big South Player of the Year before signing in 2011. Jakob Dalfonso, Chris Garcia, and Emerson Landoni make up the rest of the infield. Dalfonso and Garcia spent 2011 in Rome, while Landoni played for the Advance-A Tampa Yankees in the Florida State League.
A supplemental first round pick from the 2010 draft, Matt Lipka, will roam center field this season for Lynchburg. Currently rated 14th in the Braves system, he was drafted as a shortstop but will make the transition to the outfield where he'll be able to make better use of his plus speed. He led Rome with 28 steals in 2011. David Rohm, Kyle Rose, and Robby Hefflinger complete the outfield unit. All three spent last season in Rome. Hefflinger began last season in Lynchburg, but went to Rome after 12 games for the remainder of the season.
Returners Braeden Schlehuber and Ryan Query are will be back behind the plate for the Hillcats, along with 27th rated Braves prospect Evan Gattis. Gattis won the South Atlantic League batting title last year with Rome, recording a .322 clip. The 25-year-old is the oldest of the three backstops. He committed to play ball at Texas A&M out of high school but never made it there. He wound up at Seminole State Junior College in Oklahoma but hurt his knee and spent the next three years away from baseball. He returned to the game at the University of Texas, Permian Basin. Drafted by the Braves in the 23rd round of the 2010 draft, Gattis has emerged as a surprise prospect.
The Hillcats will begin the season with 14 pitchers on their roster, 12 of which are currently active. J.R. Graham, 13th rated prospect, and Cody Martin, 19th rated, headline the young group of talent. Graham, fourth round, and Martin, seventh round, were both drafted in 2011. Graham went to Danville where he was able to get some experience starting at the professional level. He went 5-2 with a 1.72 ERA and will skip over Rome for Lynchburg this season. Martin made a quick stop in Danville before moving up to Rome last season. His low-90s fastball and mid-80s slider get him plenty of misses at the plate, as he posted a 13.2 strikeout per nine innings pitched ratio last year.
Six pitchers on the roster spent at least part of 2011 in the "Hill City." However, two of those six returners will start the year on the disabled list, Dimasther Delgado, 18th rated prospect, and Chad Rodgers.
The most notable returner will be RHP Andrew Wilson, who is also a former Liberty Flame. Wilson saved five games for the Hillcats last season and posted a 2.70 ERA out of the bullpen before earning a promotion to Double-A Mississippi where he put up similarly impressive numbers, 2.13 ERA in six appearances. The rest of the pitching staff is as follows: Caleb Brewer, Matt Chaffee, Juan Jamie, Aaron Northcraft, Ronan Pacheco, Gus Schlosser, Chasen Shreve, Blaine Sims, and Ryan Weber.
The Hillcats kick-off the 2012 season at home Friday, April 6 at 6:05pm. The Potomac Nationals will be in town. Opening weekend at City Stadium is packed with giveaways and a fireworks show Friday night presented by Liberty University. Call 434-528-1144 or visit lynchburg-hillcats.com for tickets.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.