FORT MILL, S.C.—A sizeable crowd of media, for a Triple-A game anyway, had gathered in the Gwinnett Braves’ visitor’s clubhouse in Knights Castle.
It was the first game for the Braves after 42 years in Richmond, and Gwinnett had debuted in spectacular fashion. In a game that started at 11:15 a.m., winning 9-1 behind 13 strikeouts from Medlen and starting pitcher Tommy Hanson and home runs from Triple-A vets Barbaro Canizares and Brooks Conrad.
The assembled media in the clubhouse awaited Hanson, already showered, clad in a white polo shirt and jeans. While the 6-foot-6 righthander and No. 4 prospect in the game was finishing his postgame meal, Medlen already had ice on his right shoulder and was pleasantly surprised to have two reporters at his locker.
He was even more surprised when all the questions weren’t about Hanson. After all, Medlen is a Top 10 prospect himself, ranking ninth in the Braves’ Top 10 that Hanson topped.
"He’s really good and set the tempo today," Medlen said of Hanson, who didn’t give up a run and struck out 10 in 4 1/3 innings, before a pitch count of 84 caused him to come out of the game. "He can go out and make pitches, and I can go out and make pitches. I think I showed that today.
"He’s gotten a lot of publicity lately, and that’s great—he’s earned it. I think in the minor leagues, you have to root for all your teammates to make it. (But) it was nice this offseason to get a little attention. I know the Braves know I can pitch, but it’s still nice to get recognized."
Medlen and Hanson have recognized each other since junior college. Hanson was a draft-and-follow at Riverside (Calif.) JC, while Medlen was undrafted and playing at Santa Anna (Calif.) JC. Both are powerhouse programs, among the most consistent in SoCal’s Juco ranks. Medlen was a switch-hitting shortstop and relief pitcher at Santa Ana while Hanson ranked among the state’s top pitchers.
"We knew each other," Medlen said. "He K’d me up a few times, but I got a couple of hits off him—bunt hits. He’s so big out there, I knew I could bunt on him."
Hanson added, "He got a couple of bunt hits off me, and he never lets me forget about it either. We were signed by the same scout (Tom Battista), we’ve been roommates since (Rookie-level) Danville and we’re roommates again this year.
"He wound up getting the win today I guess; I bet I’ll hear about that too. I was going to pick up dinner but not anymore."
The friendly rivalry between two of the Braves’ most advanced pitching prospects should continue soon in the majors. Hanson dominated a solid veteran Charlotte lineup despite some first-inning jitters and wildness, as he walked two and had a wild pitch in the 28-pitch frame. But he settled down, getting out of that bases-loaded, one-out jam with a pair of strikeouts and striking out the side after giving up a leadoff triple in the second.
Medlen, meanwhile, was ruthlessly efficient, not allowing a baserunner in 3 2/3 innings, striking out the first two batters he faced with two on and one out in the fifth when Gwinnett’s lead was just 3-0.
"You can’t off to a much better start," Gwinnett manager Dave Brundage said. "Hanson ran out of pitches. He thew 84 (and was on a count of 85-90). He threw close to 50 in the first two innings, and that’s going to happen when you strike people out like he does.
"Then Medlen gave us a great outing. He got us out of the fifth, and I thought that was the turning point in the game."
It was a near-perfect start for Hanson, Medlen and the Braves, and probably too perfect for Gwinnett. Hanson and Medlen look like they might be too good to stay in Triple-A too long.
AROUND THE HORN
• There was a lot to like about Brett Wallace’s (Cardinals) 2009 debut. He went 4-for-5 with two home runs, but what may be most significant is how he hit the home runs.
By this point, Wallace’s reputation has ensured that pitchers are rarely going to challenge him with fastballs in. They’ll stay away, content to see if he gets pull-happy. But in the season opener, he drove both his home runs out to the left center field power alley, going opposite field when Frisco kept pitching him away.
"I think that’s the key for me," Wallace told the Springfield (Mo.) News-Leader. "A lot of people want to throw me away. If I can stay short and stay through the ball, I’ll have success."
• Tony Delmonico (Dodgers) showed off his power last year, as the former Tennessee and Florida State product hit .340/.443/.716 at short-season Ogden. But he had little potential as a second baseman, and his 10 errors in 30 games at Ogden sealed the deal.
But the Dodgers are always looking for infielders who can convert to catching. It’s something that turned Russ Martin into a star, turned Carlos Santana into a top prospect and turned Lucas May from an org player into a prospect. Now Delmonico, a 2008 sixth-round pick, is the latest catching project, and at least on day one, it’s looking pretty good.
Delmonico had the best day of any prospect on Thursday, going 3-for-4 with two home runs and a triple. Delmonico’s 11 total bases set a Great Lake Loons record.
Behind the plate. Delmonico still has a lot of work to do, as you would expect. He allowed a passed ball and three wild pitches in his first official game behind the plate while throwing out 1 of 3 stolen base attempts. but the Dodgers like his arm, his hands and his ability to take instruction, which makes this catching conversion one to keep an eye on.
• Casey Crosby (Tigers) did make a brief cameo in the Gulf Coast League for five innings last year, but this was the 20-year-old lefty’s first chance to really step onto the pro stage, a year and a half after he signed with the Tigers as a fifth-round pick with an above-slot $748,5000 bonus. He didn’t disappoint, as he struck out five of the first six batters he faced, retired the first 12 South Bend batters he faced and didn’t allow a ball to reach the outfield until the fourth. He ended up allowing two runs in 5 2/3 innings. It was an excellent debut for the lefty who had spent almost all of 2008 rehabbing from Tommy John surgery.
"Crosby was outstanding and the key for him was he was getting ahead, locating his pitches down in the zone and he threw all of his pitches (fastball, curve and changeup) for strikes," West Michigan manager Joe DePastino told the Grand Rapids Press.
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