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The season begins tomorrow (Thursday) evening when the Durham Bulls play the Norfolk Tides at , Harbor Park in Norfolk, Virginia. Brian Merzback over at ballparkreview.com seems to like the place. A few more photos are over at Minor League Ballparks.
The Norfolk Tides are the Triple A franchise of the Baltimore Orioles. Here’s what the International League preview had to say:
Probable Starters: 1B – Brandon Snyder; 2B – Justin Turner; SS – Blake Davis; 3B – Josh Bell; C – Adam Donachie; LF – Jeff Salazar; CF – Joey Gathright; RF – Lou Montanez; DH – Scott Moore.
Key Pitchers: Starters – RH Chris Tillman, RH Jake Arrieta, LH Troy Patton, RH Brandon Erbe, RH Alfredo Simon. Relievers – RH Kam Mickolio, RH Jim Miller, RH Ross Wolf, LH Alberto Castillo, RH Dennis Sarfate, RH Andy Mitchell.
Strengths of the Club: Four pitchers in the likely rotation have success at Triple-A. Combined with the young infield of Bell (23), Snyder (23), Turner (25) and Davis (26), Norfolk should have a solid nucleus of young talent eager to prove themselves worthy of a call to Baltimore. The Tides bullpen has a lot of experience, as Jim Miller (30 career saves with Norfolk), Andy Mitchell (31 career wins with Norfolk) and Alberto Castillo (2.53 ERA and 17 saves in two seasons with Norfolk) should be solid. The Orioles don’t have as many openings, meaning young prospects such as Bell, Arrieta, and Snyder should get more time to hone their skills in Norfolk.
Weaknesses of the Club: CF Jeff Salazar is the only regular who swiped more than 10 bases a year ago (16), although potential backup Jonathan Tucker did steal 34 bases with Bowie...... Gary Allenson will juggle playing time between Josh Bell, Brandon Snyder, Scott Moore, Rhyne Hughes and Michael Aubrey. Moore, Hughes and Aubrey might have to learn to play outfield.
Top Prospects: The Tides should open the season with five of the top eight prospects in the Baltimore system according to Baseball America, a list which does not include RHP Chris Tillman...... Switch-hitting third baseman Josh Bell is the #2 prospect in the organization after he came to the Orioles in a 2009 deadline deal that sent George Sherrill to the Dodgers. Bell combined for 20 HR, 35 2B and 76 RBI between Double-A Chattanooga and Bowie last season...... #4 is starting pitcher Jake Arrieta, who led all Orioles minor leaguers with 148 SO while tying for 1st with 11 victories between Bowie and Norfolk last season...... 1B Brandon Snyder is the #6 prospect after he ranked among the leading minor leaguers in RBI (2nd, 88), home runs (T-2nd, 12) and average (.289) last season. Snyder was impressive in the Arizona Fall League, (.354 with three home runs and 18 RBI in 17 games).
Other Organizational Prospects: Pitcher Zach Britton (#3) and catcher Caleb Joseph (#10) could force their way to Norfolk with strong performances in Bowie.
Veterans to Watch: OF Lou Montanez will most likely open the season in Norfolk despite the fact hitting safely in each of his past 35 minor league games. Montanez (who won the 2008 Eastern League Triple Crown) suffered a thumb injury in 2009 after he was promoted to Baltimore in April...... Another player coming off a thumb injury is Scott Moore, who slugged 7 HR in just 32 G for Norfolk last season...... Speedster Jeff Salazar will man the outfield at Harbor Park after he hit .270 and stole 16 bases for Indianapolis in 2009.
Items of Interest: With 31 wins in Norfolk, Andy Mitchell enters the season eight shy of tying the franchise mark of 39 wins (Roy Lee Jackson)...... Jim Miller has amassed 31 saves in three seasons with the Tides, a mark that ranks him 6th on the franchise list (Derek Wallace tops the list with 49 saves)...... Manager Gary Allenson has 924 career wins as a minor league skipper.
The Tides’ roster on their website is not up to date, yet, although it’s likely that former Bull and Rays farmhand Rhyne Hughes will be playing first base.