The Nashville Sounds – the Triple-A affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers – have announced their tentative Opening Day 28-man roster, a group highlighted by three of the organization’s top 10 prospects, 15 returning players from the 2013 squad, and 11 members of Milwaukee’s 40-man roster.
Nashville will have to make three roster moves by Thursday’s opener to get to the 25-man active limit.
The Sounds’ roster is heavy on experience. All but four of the team’s members have big league experience under their belts in their careers, and fifteen of the 28 players on the Nashville roster played in the majors in 2013. Only pitchers Kyle Heckathorn and Dustin Molleken and infielders Hunter Morris and Stephen Parker have yet to make their major league debuts.
Right-handed starting pitcher Jimmy Nelson, rated as the Brewers’ top prospect by Baseball America, highlights the Nashville starting rotation on the heels of an impressive 2013 campaign. He led the Brewers organization and ranked 5th in the minors with 163 strikeouts in 152 1/3 innings between Huntsville and Nashville, posting a 3.25 ERA in 27 starts, before advancing to Milwaukee in September to make his major league debut.
Joining Nelson in the Sounds’ rotation is Johnny Hellweg, the 2013 Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Year. The Brewers’ #4 prospect was dominant for Nashville a year ago in earning All-PCL honors. The 6-foot-9 fireballer — playing his first season at the Triple-A level — ranked 2nd in the PCL in wins (12) and ERA (3.15) while posting the top winning percentage (.706) and lowest opponent average (.228) among all league hurlers.
Morris, who was voted as the 2013 Sounds Fan Favorite and ranks as the Brewers’ #10 prospect entering the year, returns for his second season in Music City after belting a team-best 23 home runs to rank second among PCL sluggers and also leading Nashville with 73 RBIs.
Hellweg will serve as Nashville’s Opening Day starter and be followed in the five-man rotation by Nelson, right-hander Hiram Burgos, right-hander Ariel Pena, and right-hander Mike Fiers. Of that group, all have previously appeared for the Sounds except Pena, who was a Southern League midseason All-Star at Double-A Huntsville last year after being acquired from the Angels in the July 2012 Zack Greinke trade.
Fifteen players return to Music City from the 2013 Sounds squad, including starting pitchers Burgos, Fiers, Hellweg, and Nelson; relievers Alfredo Figaro, Donovan Hand, Heckathorn, Molleken, and 2013 PCL All-Star Rob Wooten; catcher Robinzon Diaz; infielders Morris, Parker, and Eugenio Velez, who finished 2013 with a PCL-best 36-game on-base streak that included a season-ending 22-game hit streak; and outfielders Caleb Gindl, who ranks among Nashville’s top 10 career leaders in hits and doubles, and Sean Halton, the Sounds’ 2012 MVP who split last year between Nashville and Milwaukee.
Another recognizable face returns to Music City: infielder Taylor Green, who spent parts of the 2011 & 2012 seasons in a Sounds uniform and captured Brewers’ Minor League Player of the Year and All-PCL honors following a stellar season for the club in 2011. He has appeared in 197 games for Nashville in his career, posting a .311 average. Green missed the entire 2013 season due to a hip injury.
Notable new additions to the Brewers organization who will join the Sounds this season are veteran infielders Irving Falu, Elian Herrera, and Pete Orr, as well as outfielder Jeremy Hermida.
Falu is a .278 career hitter who spent his first 11 years in the Kansas City Royals system, including stops at Greer Stadium with Triple-A Omaha in each of the past five years. The versatile infielder/outfielder was a member of the Storm Chasers’ PCL championship clubs in 2011 & 2013.
The versatile Herrera, who has played every position except catcher during his pro career, is a .280 lifetime hitter who joins the Sounds after spending his first 11 years in the Dodgers organization, including 197 games in the PCL with Albuquerque over the past four seasons.
Orr, a 15-year veteran, has logged time in the bigs in eight of the last nine years, including making five Opening Day rosters during that stretch. He is another versatile player, appearing at five different positions last year (2B, SS, 3B, LF, RF).
Hermida, a 13-year pro and former top prospect in the Marlins’ system who carries a .281 lifetime minor league average, has logged 632 major league games while appearing in the big leagues in eight of the past nine campaigns.
Manager Rick Sweet enters his first season at the helm of the Sounds and will be joined by a coaching staff that remains intact from 2013: coach Bob Skube, pitching coach Fred Dabney, trainer Aaron Hoback, and strength and conditioning coach Andrew Emmick.
The Sounds begin their 2014 Pacific Coast League season on Thursday, April 3, in Omaha, Nebraska, where they kick off an eight-game road trip with their 7:05 p.m. opener against the defending PCL champion Storm Chasers. On Friday, April 11, the Sounds return to Greer Stadium to host Omaha in their 7:05 p.m. home opener.