Brian O'Connor certainly falls into the late-bloomer category.
After five rather average seasons in the minors, the 23-year-old left-hander finds himself in the majors with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
O'Connor made his first big-league start Saturday night against the Milwaukee Brewers.
The Pirates' 11th-round pick in 1995 spent parts of the 1996 and 1997 seasons with the GreenJackets, going 2-8 with a 5.66 ERA in 44 games. He is 25-38 with a 4.52 ERA in 140 minor-league games.
Before his promotion, O'Connor was 3-2 with a 4.23 ERA for former Jackets manager Marty Brown at Double-A Altoona (Pa).
"I was only a little surprised," O'Connor told the Tribune-Review of Pittsburgh. "I didn't get too excited. I knew it was a possibility."
O'Connor temporarily takes the spot of Francisco Cordova in Pittsburgh's rotation. Cordova was placed on the 15-day disabled list last week with a sore right elbow. O'Connor also should get a chance to pitch in his hometown later this week, when the Pirates open a three-game series on the road against the Cincinnati Reds.
"That's going to be real neat," O'Connor said. "I've got a lot of family and friends there."
UPS AND DOWNS: It already has been a roller coaster year for several area products.
Headlining the list is former Evans and Georgia Southern star Todd Greene, who was released by the Angels at the end of spring training before signing a minor-league contract with the Blue Jays.
Greene is at Triple-A Syracuse, where he is batting .278 with five home runs and 10 RBI in 72 at-bats.
Former North Augusta star Vic Radcliff, a Carolina League All-Star with Wilmington (Del.) last season, was released by the Royals in March after five seasons in the organization. He recently signed with San Angelo (Texas) of the independent Texas-Louisiana League.
Former Evans High standout Mark Hamlin, frustrated by his lack of advancement in the Rockies organization after a fourth season in Class A, retired in the off-season.
The 1996 24th-round pick batted .269 with 38 home runs and 186 RBI in 357 minor-league games, and was a South Atlantic League All-Star with Asheville in 1997. The game was played in his hometown at Lake Olmstead Stadium.
Silver Bluff High product Josh Miller, a 22nd round pick of the Pirates in 1998, was released after last season. Miller batted .244 with two home runs and 18 RBI in 160 at-bats over the past two seasons with the Pirates' rookie club in the Gulf Coast League.
But there also have been some early success stories for the locals.
The Childers brothers -- former Westside High stars Matt and Jason -- are thriving this season with their respective Milwaukee Brewers farm clubs.
Matt, a 21-year-old right-hander selected by the Brewers in the ninth round of the 1997 draft, is 4-1 with a 3.55 ERA in six starts at high Class A Beloit of the Midwest League.
Jason, a 25-year-old right-hander, who signed as a non-drafted free agent out of Kennesaw State in 1997, is 3-1 with a 2.68 ERA and 40 strikeouts in seven starts with the Mudville Nine of the high Class A California League.
Another Evans High product, outfielder Tydus Meadows, is following up his career year last season, when he batted .301 with 17 home runs and 74 RBI at high Class A Lansing, with a good start at Daytona -- the Cubs' high Class A team in the Florida State League. Meadows is batting .305 with two home runs and 12 RBI in 105 at-bats.
Then there's former Greenbrier High star James Shanks, who is starting his third season with the Royals organization.
The 21-year-old outfielder is still in extended spring training and likely will be assigned to short-season Spokane for a second straight season when the Northwest League season opens in June.
But Shanks lived a dream earlier this month when he played for the big-league club in the Royals' annual exhibition game against their Triple-A affiliate in Omaha, Neb. The Royals went with a lineup made up mostly of minor leaguers for the exhibition, which came on an off-day.
JACKETS ALUMNI: Third baseman Tony DeRosso, the playoff hero for the GreenJackets last season on their way to the SAL championship, hit safely in 10 straight games for Double-A Trenton, raising his average from .214 to .294.
During the streak, the Moultrie, Ga., native went 16-for-43 with two home runs and nine RBI. He now is batting .303 with six home runs and 18 RBI in 89 at-bats for former Jackets manager Billy Gardner.
Four other former Jackets are on the Trenton roster, including infielder Angel Santos (.222, one home run, seven RBI); outfielder Jose Soriano (.194, 31 at-bats); and pitchers Justin Duchscherer (0-2, 4.91 ERA) and Marty McLeary (1-4, 6.67 ERA). ... Reliever Lance Surridge is 1-2 with a 5.94 ERA at high Class A Sarasota. ... Right-hander Carlos Alvarado (0-4, 5.54 ERA) is one of eight former GreenJackets on the pitching staff with high Class A Lynchburg, the Pirates' affiliate in the Carolina League. Also on the staff is 1997 SAL All-Star and former University of South Carolina star Jason Haynie. The left-hander started the year at Double-A Altoona, and is 0-1 with a 3.87 ERA in three appearances for Lynchburg. ... Pirates prospect Bronson Arroyo, a third-round pick in 1995 who pitched for the Jackets in 1996, is 4-2 with a 4.23 ERA in seven starts at Triple-A Nashville. ... Right-hander Jason Phillips, who pitched for the Jackets from 1994-96 and was an SAL All-Star in '96, is 2-4 with a 4.70 at Nashville.
AROUND THE SAL: Asheville right-hander Chin-Hui Tsao, the 18-year-old phenom from Taiwan, who signed with the Rockies for $2.2 million last fall, struck out 13 batters in a 3-2 win over Hickory on May 8. He is second in the league with 63 strikeouts in 44 1/3 innings.
Tsao, who was secured by Colorado following a bidding war with the Braves, Yankees, Dodgers, Mariners and the Tokyo Giants, is third in the SAL with a 1.62 ERA and a 4-2 record. One of his losses came against the GreenJackets on April 22 in Augusta.
Hickory right-hander Bobby Bradley, the Pirates' first-round pick in 199, has struck out a league-best 74 batters in 49 innings while limiting batters to a .217 average. His six wins leads the league and his 1.65 ERA is fourth in the SAL. ... Charleston (S.C.) outfielder Josh Hamilton, the No. 1 overall pick in the 1999 draft by Tampa Bay, hit safely in 16 straight games from April 19-May 6, leads the league with a .359 average with two home runs and 21 RBI. ... Macon Braves right-hander Matt Butler pitched a one-hit, 1-0 shutout against Columbus on May 4, allowing only a fourth-inning single to RedStixx designated hitter Curtis Gay. Butler was the Braves' second-round pick last June.
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