When the Braves decided the put an emphasis on “rebuilding” the organization through an increased effort of stocking up its farm teams, Rome Braves fans had the right to be optimistic.
Thursday night will see the curtain come up on a team that could provide the payoff to that optimism.
“They’re a younger team than we’ve ever had, but there is some great talent,” Rome batting coach Bobby Moore said as the team geared up for its first workout Tuesday. “We feel good about where they’re at, and I think it’s going to be an exciting year for us.”
The team that will take the field against the Augusta GreenJackets at State Mutual Stadium on Thursday includes 2015 first-round pick Austin Riley, Ronald Acuna and a core group of starting pitchers that has a chance to cause some havoc in the highly-competitive South Atlantic League.
“The decisions that are made at the top were to make the organization younger and more youthful, and that trickles down,” Moore said. “But I think when these guys get up to the big league, they’ll have more games and more experience under their belt.”
Pitcher Mike Soroka, a first-round pick, is scheduled to get the ball to start the Augusta series. Seventh-round selection Patrick Weigel is on the mound to start the second game, and 2012 first-round pick Max Fried is set for Saturday’s tilt.
Returning to Rome for the start of the season are pitchers Touki Toussaint, Chad Sobotka and Caleb Beech, who was 5-2 in 10 starts last season with a 2.87 ERA.
Former Georgia Highlands pitcher Dalton Geekie is also back after spending a few weeks with the Rome club at the end of last season.
Third baseman Riley hit .351 in 30 games last season at rookie-level Danville, while Acuna hit .290.
Moore said the talent level is there in the lineup, and he is ready to be there to help them develop during their time in Rome.
“All these are my kids. That’s the way I think every year,” Moore said. “I look forward to seeing their talent and what they’ll do when they get into a game situation.”
Some familiar faces in the lineup are first baseman Matt Tellor, who hit .235 with 44 RBIs and five home runs at Rome last season, and Rome native Stephen Gaylor, who had a .285 average in Rome last year.
The feeling, according to Moore, is that the organization won’t be afraid to promote young players this season as long as they have shown that they can handle the pressure.
“Some of these guys will be challenged, if not all, because this is a tough league,” Moore said. “But if they have the right mindset, our coaching staff will be sure they’re prepared to play the right way.”