Gwinnett Braves vs. Durham Bulls
When: 7 p.m. Thursday
Where: Coolray Field, Lawrenceville
Ever since the trio of Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Steve Avery burst on the scene in the early 1990s, the Atlanta Braves have been synonymous with outstanding pitching.
And ever since the Braves Triple-A affiliate moved to Gwinnett County, fans haven't had to travel to Atlanta to see some of the top arms in the organization.
It all started with Tommy Hanson and Kris Medlen in 2009, the G-Braves first year of existence.
Hanson and Medlen, two of the organization's top prospects at the time, lit up the Triple-A competition and were called up to the Major League club after making a combined 19 appearances.
Hanson has gone 21-15 since the call-up and is currently slotted as the Braves' No. 2 starter, while Medlen is rehabbing from offseason Tommy John surgery.
Last year, it was Jonny Venters, Craig Kimbrel and Brandon Beachy, who went 2-0 in seven starts before getting called up by the Braves in September.
Kimbrel recorded 23 saves with a 1.62 ERA in 48 games, while Venters went 1-0 with a 1.35 ERA for Gwinnett last year. Both players will close games for Atlanta this season.
Based on projections by scouts, this year's pitching staff for Gwinnett might be the best in the franchise's brief history.
At the top of the list is left-hander Mike Minor, a first-round draft pick out of Vanderbilt in 2009 who went 4-1 with a 1.89 ERA in six games with Gwinnett last year.
Minor, 23, made nine appearances for Atlanta last year, but was beat out by Beachy for the fifth spot in the rotation during spring training.
Then there's Julio Teheran, the Braves' top prospect according to Baseball America and MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo.
Early indications are that Teheran could start the year in Gwinnett, a place Braves GM Frank Wren said is designated for pitchers who are likely to have an impact with the big league club this year.
Since Gwinnett's roster won't be finalized until later today, G-Braves GM North Johnson could not comment on whether Teheran, or any other pitcher but Minor, will be in the rotation. But that doesn't mean he couldn't speculate.
"Based on what I've heard, our pitching staff is going to be our strength," Johnson said Saturday. "We have a solid group of young guys who are fun to watch pitch."
According to Baseball Amerida, having Minor and Teheran in the rotation would give the G-Braves two of the top-four prospects within the organization.
But the depth in pitching doesn't stop with those two, as the third-ranked prospect is 21-year-old pitcher Randall Delgado, a right-hander from Panama, and the seventh-ranked is Arodys Vizcaino, a 20-year-old righty whose curveball was voted the best within the Braves farm system.
It's safe to say the Braves are stocked for the future.
"You could have Minor and Teheran and be alright," said MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo, who has covered the minors and draft since 2003. "The Braves can afford to wait; they don't have to bring them up."
Mayo thinks Minor will be the first to get called up to the majors, but Teheran "will force their hand." He also thinks Vizcaino and Delgado won't reach Gwinnett this year, but they're certainly two pitchers to keep an eye on.
"To think the rotation by 2013 could be Hanson, (Jair) Jurrjens, Beachy, Minor, Teheran, Vizcaino or Delgado," Mayo said. "That's a good problem to have."
Having depth in the farm system is nothing new for Atlanta, but this much pitching talent is a welcomed problem seeing how the minors were depleted in the Mark Teixeira trade in 2007.
"We gave up a lot of talent in that trade," Johnson said.
"Now, we've restocked and we're ready to compete not only at the major league level, but all levels."
Fans in Gwinnett will be able to see that talent beginning Thursday when the G-Braves open the season against the Durham Bulls at Coolray Field.
"They get to see them before they're stars," Mayo said. "People who are Braves fans will enjoy seeing what's to come."