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Minors open 2009 season with big debuts

Minors open 2009 season with big debuts

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From the first pitch of the day -- Charlotte Knights (White Sox) right-hander John VanBenschoten's offering at 11:15 a.m. ET -- to the last out of the night -- Frisco Roughriders (Rangers) first baseman Justin Smoak's pop up to Springfield Cardinals shortstop Donovan Solano.

From second baseman Miguel Abreu of the Bowie Baysox (Orioles), to pitcher Jordan Zimmermann of the Syracuse Chiefs (Nationals).

From zeroes -- the Class A Kannapolis Intimidators (White Sox) beat the Asheville Tourists (Rockies), 1-0, in 10 innings -- to heroes -- Kannapolis starter Gregory Infante fanned 11 in six no-hit innings in the start, and left fielder Tyler Kuhn singled home the game-winner with two outs in the 10th.

Opening Day in the Minors ran the gamut, but some of the biggest highlights were the highly-anticipated professional debuts of several top prospects:

Pedro Alvarez, Pirates
Almost 4,000 fans flocked to Lynchburg's Calvin Falwell Field to watch Pittsburgh third baseman of the future Pedro Alvarez take the field for the first time for the host Hillcats ... and the 2008 No. 2 overall pick made it worth their while. In a 6-5 win over the Potomac Nationals, Alvarez went 3-for-4 with a home run, double and four RBIs. After grounding out in his first at-bat in the first inning, he led off the fourth with a single for his first pro hit, blasted a solo homer in the sixth and finished the night with an RBI double in the seventh. Full story >

Joshua Fields, Mariners
Right-hander Joshua Fields, Seattle's top pick in 2008 who did not sign until February, is still shaking the rust off. The fourth of six pitchers in the Double-A West Tenn DiamondJaxx's 7-6 win over the Montgomery Biscuits (Rays), he gave up three runs in two-thirds of an inning, walking four while striking out two. The 20th overall pick will be eased into the closer role. Box score >

Dayan Viciedo, White Sox
Cuban-born 20-year-old third base prospect Dayan Viciedo of the White Sox, who signed a big league contract during the winter, went 1-for-5 with an RBI in the Double-A Birmingham Barons' 5-4 win in 11 innings over the Chattanooga Lookouts (Dodgers). In that same game, White Sox shortstop Gordon Beckham, the club's top pick last spring, went 4-for-6 and drove in the game-winner. Box score >

Brian Matusz, Orioles
Baltimore southpaw Brian Matusz made his pro debut for the Class A Advanced Frederick Keys, allowing two runs on five hits over six innings, walking two and striking out six. However, he did not get a decision in the Keys' eventual 8-6 win over the host Salem Red Sox. Matusz was the lone member of the list of players who had not yet made their debuts to be ranked on the MLB.com Top 50 Prospects list, checking in at No. 20. Box score >

Junichi Tazawa, Red Sox
Right-hander Junichi Tazawa, a 22-year-old prospect signed out of Japan by the Red Sox this winter, got the Opening Night start for the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs against Connecticut (Giants) and took the 3-0 loss, allowing one run on four hits in five innings, walking one and striking out seven. Box score >

Brett Lawrie, Brewers
Second baseman Brett Lawrie, the Milwaukee Brewers' top pick last summer out of high school in Canada, batted third for the Class A Wisconsin Timber Rattlers in their 2-1 win over the Quad Cities River Bandits (Cardinals). He went 0-for-4 but scored the tying run as the club tallied two in the eighth for the victory. Box score >

Andrew Brackman, Yankees
Right-hander Andrew Brackman, the New York Yankees' top pick in the 2007 Draft, took the 8-2 loss as the Charleston RiverDogs fell to the Rome Braves. The 6-foot-10 Brackman signed late in '07 and missed all of 2008 following Tommy John surgery. He allowed six runs on five hits in five innings, walking three while fanning five. Box score >

Top 50 Prospects

While 10 members of MLB.com's off-season Top 50 Prospects list are already in the Majors, here is a look at how the remaining members of the Top 10 did on Opening Night, as well as a handful of other members of that elite Top 50:

Baltimore catcher Matt Wieters (2) went 0-for-3 as the Norfolk Tides fell to the Durham Bulls (Rays), 2-1, in International League action.

Atlanta right field prospect and 2007 first-round Ddraft pick Jason Heyward (3) went 1-for-4 in the Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach Pelicans' 9-2 loss to the Wilmington Blue Rocks (Royals).

Milwaukee shortstop prospect Alcides Escobar (8) was 1-for-3 with an RBI, a run scored and a pair of walks as the Triple-A Nashville Sounds fell to the New Orleans Zephyrs (Marlins), 7-5. His teammate third baseman Mat Gamel (23) homered and drove in a pair of runs in that game.

Cleveland outfielder Matt Laporta (14) was 3-for-5 with three runs scored, two doubles, a home run and two RBIs as the Triple-A Columbus Clippers outlasted and outblasted the Louisville Redbirds (Reds), 12-4. The two teams combined for six homers in what should have matched up to be a pitchers duel with top prospects southpaw David Huff for the Clippers and Homer Bailey for the Bats.

The South Atlantic League's newest entry, the Bowling Green (Ky.) Hot Rods (Rays), kicked off their existence with an 8-3 win over the host Hickory Crawdads (Rangers), led in style by 2008 No. 1 pick shortstop Tim Beckham (22), who went 2-for-5 with a home run and three RBIs.

RHP Tommy Hanson (24) struck out 10 in 4 1/3 shutout innings to lead the newly-minted Gwinnett Braves to a 9-1 win against the Charlotte Knights (White Sox). Competing in the International League (AAA), Gwinnett moved to the Atlanta suburbs from Richmond, Va.

Baltimore Orioles right-hander Jake Arrieta (36) didn't get a decision in his Bowie Baysox eventual 2-1 loss to the Akron Aeros (Indians) in Double-A Eastern League action but he did his part by tossing four innings of one-hit shutout ball, striking out eight.

On the Way Back

Rays fans who ventured down I-75 to watch the new Charlotte Stone Crabs take the field for the first time in the Advanced A Florida State League saw a familiar face as Tampa Bay center fielder B.J. Upton started in center and batted leadoff in a rehab stint one his way back from shoulder surgery. Upton went 0-for-2 with an RBI, two walks and two steals in the club's 9-4 loss to the Fort Myers Miracle (Twins).

Marlins outfielder Alfredo Amezaga, rehabbing his sprained knee at Class A Advanced Jupiter in anticipation of a weekend return to the bigs, hit leadoff and went 1-for-3 for the Hammerheads in a 7-0 loss to the Palm Beach Cardinals.

Diamondbacks pitcher Max Scherzer, slated to be the No. 5 starter but coming off a sore shoulder this spring, got the start for Class A Advanced Visalia and allowed one hit in 4 2/3 innings, giving up two runs (one earned) and walking four while striking out five.

In Other News

The fourth new team in 2009, the Reno Aces (Diamondbacks) saw its official debut pushed back a day for tragic reasons, as their game against the host Salt Lake Bees (Angels) was postponed in memory of former Bees ace Nick Adenhart, the Angels rookie pitcher killed on Wednesday night in a car crash in California.

Lisa Winston is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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