The Durham Bulls open their season tonight, which is always a special occasion. But a real treat will come on Friday night whenleft-hander David Price of the Bulls squares off against Norfolk catcher Matt Wieters.
Wieters is ranked the No. 1 overall prospect in professional baseball by Baseball America and Price is No. 2. It doesn't get better than that.
Balls and Strikes will take a look at the teams coming to the Triangle before each Bulls and Carolina Mudcats homestand this season. The Mudcats open on the road tonight at Mississippi.
Here is a look at who's coming to Durham.
Thursday through Sunday: Norfolk Tides (Triple-A affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles):
Top Prospects (organizational rankings by Baseall America):
1. Matt Wieters, catcher: The former Georgia Tech star was a first-round pick by the O's in 2007, and he made it look like a steal by hitting a combined .355 with 27 homers and 91 RBIs between Class A Frederick and Double-A Bowie last season.
2. Chris Tillman, right-handed pitcher: Tillman, who will turn 21 in April 15, was a second-round pick out of high school in Fountain Valley, Calif., in 2006. The 6-foot-5 pitcher with a fastball that tops out at about 94 mph was 11-4 with a 3.18 ERA last season at Double-A Bowie with 154 strikeouts in 136 innings.
5. Nolan Reimold, outfielder: The second-round pick out of Bowling Green in 2005 hit .284 with 25 homers and 84 RBIs last season at Double-A. In four minor league seasons, he has hit 70 homers and driven in 242 runs.
16. David Hernandez, right-handed pitcher: The 16th-round pick out of Cosumnes (Calif.) Junior College in 2005 turned it around in 2008. After going 9-21 in his first three minor league seasons, he went 10-4 with a 2.68 ERA at Double-A Bowie.
18. Brad Bergeson, right-handed pitcher: The fourth-round pick out of Foothill High in California in 2004 won 15 games Bowie last season with a 3.22 ERA.
22. Bob McCrory, right-handed pitcher: The fourth-round pick out of Southern Miss in 2003 is battling back from Tommy John surgery. His fastball ranges from 92-97 mph and can hit 99.
27. Justin Turner, second baseman: The former Fullerton State star, a 7th-round pick by the Reds in 2006, has a good bat for his position. He hit .298 with eight homers and 53 RBIs last year between Class A and Double-A and has a career minor league on-base percentage of .377.
29. Lou Montanez, outfielder: A first-round draft pick by the Cubs in 2000 out of high school in Miami, Montanez came over to the O's system after the 2006 season. Last year, he hit .355 in Double-A with 26 homers and 97 RBIs in 116 games -- winning the Eastern League triple crown and MVP awards. He hit .295 in 38 games with the Orioles after an August call-up.
Local ties: Right-hander Andy Mitchell is a former Georgia Tech standout who was 12-8 with a 4.29 ERA for the Tides in 2008. Some local college fans may remember third baseman Mike Costanzo of Coastal Carolina, a second-round pick in 2005 who hit 11 homers and had 63 RBIs for the Tides last season.
Monday through Thursday (April 13-16): Gwinnett Braves (Triple-A affiliate of the Atlanta Braves):
Top prospects (organizational rankings by Baseball America):
1. Tommy Hanson, right-handed pitcher: The 22nd-round draft pick out of Riverside (Calif.) Community College in 2005 has been a low-round pick success story. He was 11-5 between Class A Myrtle Beach and Double-A Mississippi. He has a fastball in the mid-90s and a hard slider but throws four pitches effectively.
9. Kris Medlin, right-handed pitcher: The 10th-round draft pick out of Santa Ana (Calif.) Junior College in 2006 was 7-8 with a 3.52 ERA for Mississippi last season. Tough competitor with ability to throw strikes.
28. James Parr, right-handed pitcher: The 2004 fourth-round pick out of high school in Albuquerque made his mark in 2008 with success at both the Double-A and Triple-A levels (combined 13-7 record). Promoted to the majors and won his big league debut on Sept. 4 with six shutout innings against Washington.
29. Todd Redmond, right-handed pitcher: Another low-round pick who has worked his way up the ladder. Redmond was selected in the 39th round in 2004 out of St. Petersburg (Fla.) Junior College. He was 13-5 with a 3.52 ERA in Double-A last season.
Local ties: No former ACC or North Carolina products on the G-Braves' roster.