Take That Baseball America

Thursday, April 03 2008 @ 10:50 PM EDT

Contributed by: Marc Hulet

The minor league season opened with a bang on Thursday as the Syracuse Chiefs became the first club in the minors to take the field, as they faced the Cincinnati Reds' Triple-A affiliate, the Louisville Bats. The Chiefs also played the game on grass, after the old turf was removed from the stadium in the off-season.

Syracuse 2 Louisville 0

We all know how much Baseball America loves Jay Bruce and Homer Bailey, as the publication considers Bruce the best prospect in baseball and Bailey found his way onto the Top 100 prospects in baseball list at No. 9. And, well, BA doesn't like our favourite organization as much... although Travis Snider did make it onto the list at No. 11.

On this day, however, the Jays - thanks to left-hander David Purcey - were king. Purcey held the Bats' batters to two hits over six innings of work. He walked two and struck out seven, including Bruce twice. The Chiefs hurler threw 90 pitches, including 57 for strikes. Of the 11 outs he recorded in the field, though, nine were via the flyball... including two that were caught up against the wall by centre fielder Wayne Lydon. It remains to be seen whether his high-fastball/flyball approach will work in the majors. Purcey also started off extremely well the last two seasons before wilting after four or five starts.

Following Purcey from the pen were two fellow left-handers in Bill Murphy, obtained near the end of spring from the Arizona organization, and Mike Gosling, who was obtained in the off-season from the Reds organization. Murphy struck out two during an inning of work and Gosling struck out one during his inning-plus of work. After Gosling allowed a hit to start the ninth inning, former Rays reliever Shawn Camp entered the game, struck out a batter and recored the save for Purcey's first win of the season.

On the offensive side of things, left-fielder Adam Lind scored the game-winning run with his fourth-inning homer. Jorge Velandia, signed as a free agent just before camp broke, scored an insurance run in the eighth inning. After hitting a triple, the diminutive veteran Triple-A shortstop scored on second baseman Joe Inglett's RBI double.

Catcher Robinzon Diaz went 2-for-3 and had two broken-bat singles against Reds starter Bailey. Both Inglett and Velandia also had two hits on the day for the Chiefs. Right-fielder Russ Adams, hitting clean-up, went 0-for-3. First baseman Curtis Thigpen went 0-for-4 and looked a little jumpy, connecting on the first pitch in his first two at-bats (the second time resulted in a double play with two on and one out). Sergio Santos, who is getting accustomed to his new home at third base, went 0-for-3 with a strikeout.

Bailey went seven innings for the Reds and allowed five hits and one run. He walked one and struck out two to take the loss. Former National and Red Gary Majewski was on the mound for the second Chiefs run. Bruce finished 1-for-4 with two strikeouts. Veteran catcher Ryan Hanigan had two hits for the Bats and both came against Purcey. Former Yankee Andy Phillips went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts.

Connecticut 3 New Hampshire 2

The New Hampshire Fisher Cats lost the first game of the season but it was a battle won for Canada as Scott Richmond and A.J. Wideman, both from the Great White North, pitched well. Richmond, signed out of independent baseball in the off-season, went five innings and allowed only three hits and walked one. He also struck out six batters. Unfortunately one of the hits he allowed was a two-run homer to catcher Adam Witter. Wideman went two innings and allowed just one hit, while striking out one. Brazilian southpaw Jo Matumoto worked the final scoreless inning. Both Richmond and Matumoto picked runners off first.

Connecticut starter Adam Cowart wasn't sharp but he was effective as he went 4.1innings and allowed only two runs (one earned) on six hits. He didn't walk a batter and struck out one. Four relievers combined to keep the Fisher Cats off the board.

Offensively, the Fisher Cats out-hit Connecticut nine to four but could not find the winning formula. Lead-off hitter Aaron Mathews went 2-for-5 and scored one run. Catcher Brian Jeroloman, batting second, went 1-for-5 and drove in a run but did not walk (gasp). He also threw out one runner trying to steal a base (while also allowing one stolen base). Shortstop Ryan Klosterman is looking to improve upon a disappointing 2007 in New Hampshire and went 2-for-3, with a run scored and a stolen base. Second baseman Scott Campbell, a New Zealand native who skipped over Lansing to play in Dunedin in 2008, went 2-for-4, while batting ninth.

Outfielder Ryan Patterson had a rough night and went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts. Fellow outfielder Jacob Butler also went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts.

Dunedin2 Cleawater 1

Dunedin started out in a winning way on Thursday despite striding to the plate in the first inning to find rehabbing MLB reliever Brad Lidge on the mound. Lidge actually allowed a home run to centre fielder Sean Shoffit during his lone inning of work. He allowed two hits, one walk and struck out two. 2007 first round draft pick Joe Savery then took the mound for Clearwater and went five innings and allowed no runs. The Jays mustered three hits and five walks against the former top college pitcher, but he also struck out seven. Three other relievers worked for the Thrashers and Andy Cruse allowed the winning run to cross the plate in the seventh inning.

Top prospect Adrian Cardenas went 3-for-4 with two doubles. Third baseman Welinson Baez went 0-for-2 but drove in the lone run.

Jays right-hander Adrian Martin received the start for Dunedin and he went four innings and allowed only one run on seven hits. He struck out two and did not walk a batter. Former independent league hurler Chad Blackwell went two innings and allowed one hit for the win. Edward Rodriguez worked two innings for a hold and struck out three. Converted starter Zach Dials used his sinker/slider combination to secure the save.

Offensively for the Jays, Dunedin returnee Cory Patton went 2-for-4 with two doubles, a walk and a strikeout. First baseman Brian Dopirak, a former Cubs top prospect who hit 39 homers in the Midwest League in 2004, hit the game-winning homer in the seventh inning. He also walked and struck out twice. Brad Emaus, a 2007 draft pick who jumped over Lansing after a hot 2007 playoff run for Auburn, went 1-for-4 with a double and a stolen base. Travis Snider, nursing a sore elbow, pinch hit and walked. He then stole second base, showing there is nothing wrong with his legs. Catcher J.P. Arencibia went 0-for-4 with a walk and two strikeouts.

Fort Wayne 7 Lansing 1

Most Jays fans were thrilled when they saw the organization break away from its college-centric drafting in 2007. The downside to signing a lot of high school players is that they are often very raw and very inconsistent. Such was opening night in the Midwest League as the Lugnuts traveled down to Fort Wayne.

Unlike in previous years, the Lugnuts were the younger of the two squads and the team is a full year younger than the league average age of 22.5. The Wizard's starting pitcher, 22-year-old right-hander Jeremy Hefner, held the Lugnuts to only three hits over five innings. He walked no one and struck out five. Allen Harrington, 21, pitched the final four innings for the save and struck out six, walked one and allowed one run.

Drew Cumberland, a 2007 supplemental first round pick of the Padres, went 2-for-5. Lance Zawadzki, a fourth round pick, went 2-for-4 with a walk. He also scored once and tacked on an RBI.

For the Lugnuts, Canadian right-hander Trystan Magnuson made his pro debut and was noticeably wild during his 1.2 innings of work. He gave up two hits and two walks while allowing three runs (two earned). The first run he allowed was a first-inning homer to designated hitter Angel Mercado. After reaching his pitch limit, Magnuson was replaced by Chi-Hung Cheng, who is playing in Lansing for the third time as he returns from surgery in 2006. The Lugnuts have eight starting pitchers in 2008 and are piggy backing them in games, which is becoming more popular in the low minors.

Cheng pitched 3.1 innings and wasn't sharp. He allowed six hits and four runs. He walked two and struck out just one. Radio announcer and public relations guru Brad Tillery stated that Cheng's velocity is returning well from surgery but he threw only a couple curve balls, which have been his signature pitch in recent years.

Randy Boone was the next arm out of the pen and he was also making his pro debut after sitting out the 2007 while in contract negotiations. He will also be a piggy back starter, but was getting some side work, according to Tillery. Boone pitched one inning and allowed two hits. Left-hander Luis Perez was another tandem starter that got his side work in during a game situation. He pitched one inning and struggled with his control, which was also a problem in spring training. He walked two and allowed one hit, but did not let a run score. Another southpaw, Edgar Estanga, finished out the game with a hitless inning and struck out one.

Justin Jackson, a 2007 second round pick out of high school, went 3-for-4, although one hit could have gone for an error. He also scored the Lugnuts' lone run in the eighth inning. Centre fielder Darin Mastroianni, a converted second baseman, went 2-for-4 with a double and an RBI. 2007 first round pick Kevin Ahrens had the club's only other hit and also struck out once.

Wes Stone, a former high school draft pick, went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts, while first baseman Michael McDade, a converted prep catcher, went 0-for-4 with three Ks. Outfielder Yohermyn Chavez went 0-for-2 but walked twice.

The club made some minor roster moves before finalizing everything by the 4 p.m. deadline. Catcher Matt Liuzza went up to Dunedin to fill in for David Corrente, who has a sore elbow. Catcher Joel Collins, a Canadian and also a Mike Green favourite, was added from extended spring training. Outfielder Victor Santana, who originally made the roster, was released.

Three Stars:
1. David Purcey, for dominating top prospect Jay Bruce and securing the win
2. Justin Jackson, for a 3-for-4 night
3. Brian Dopirak, who hit a game-winning homer playing in his hometown of Dunedin

Shameless Plug:
And if you haven't already checked out Behind the Dish, the free, weekly digital magazine devoted to the Jays minor league system, do so now. The first issue features an in-depth interview with Toronto hurler Jesse Litsch. The second issue, available Tuesday, will have an interview with New Hampshire pitcher (and Canadian) A.J. Wideman.