Once again, pitching will be the focal point of the Augusta GreenJackets in 2002.
The Jackets will open the season with a starting rotation featuring three of the top prospects in the Boston Red Sox farm system - right-handers Manny Delcarmen and Josh Thigpen and left-hander Phil Dumatrait.
Augusta's opening-day roster also includes six players returning from last year's club and a handful of promising young position players. First-year manager Arnie Beyeler's roster was finalized Tuesday.
Catchers Brian Esposito and Bryan Barnowski, third baseman Kevin Youkilis, first baseman Matt Cooper, outfielder Antron Seiber and pitcher Charlie Weatherby spent all or part of last season in Augusta.
The Jackets open the Class A South Atlantic League season Thursday night at Lake Olmstead Stadium with the first of four games against the Macon Braves.
Delcarmen, rated as Boston's fourth-best prospect by Baseball America, is the scheduled opening-day starter. The 20-year-old from West Roxbury, Mass., whose 95-96 mph fastball is considered by scouts as the best in the organization, was the Red Sox's second pick in the 2000 draft. He dominated hitters in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League last season, going 4-2 with a 2.54 ERA and 62 strikeouts in 46 innings.
Dumatrait, Boston's first-round pick in 2000, begins his first year of full-season ball coming off an impressive debut last season. The 20-year-old went 3-0 with a 2.76 ERA and 33 strikeouts in 33 innings in the Gulf Coast League before a late-season call-up to short-A Lowell. He is rated as the seventh-best prospect in the system by Baseball America, and is the scheduled starter against Macon on Saturday.
Thigpen, 19, was one of the biggest surprises of the 2000 draft for the Red Sox. Just a 16th-round pick out of Rogers High in Greenville, Ala., makes his full-season debut in 2002 after two seasons in the Gulf Coast League. The 6-foot-4-inch righty throws a fastball in the mid 90s and showed good command of three pitches last season, going 4-2 with a 2.52 ERA and 44 strikeouts in 39 innings with the Gulf Coast Red Sox. He is rated as Boston's eighth-best prospect by Baseball America.
Among the positional players, Seiber, Cooper, Barnowski and Esposito return after struggling in Augusta last season.
Seiber, one of the fastest players in the system, spent the entire year with the Jackets, batting .223 with 113 strikeouts in 2001. Cooper, batted .177 in 37 games before a demotion to extended spring training in May. Barnowski batted .189 in 42 games and was sent to Lowell, while Esposito spent all of 2001 in Augusta, batting .190 in 90 games.
Youkilis, a third baseman, finished sixth in the New York-Penn League in hitting with a .317 average in 183 at-bats before a late-season promotion to Augusta. An eighth-round pick out of the University of Cincinnati last June, Youkilis showed remarkable plate discipline at Lowell, walking 70 times in 59 games to lead the league with a .512 on-base percentage.
The Jackets broke spring training Tuesday and will hold their first workout at Lake Olmstead today at 5:30 p.m.