2014 Preview: Nashville Sounds (AAA)

Pitcher Jimmy Nelson made 15 starts for the Nashville Sounds in 2013.  (Photo: Brad Krause)

Pitcher Jimmy Nelson made 15 starts for the Nashville Sounds in 2013. (Photo: Brad Krause)

The Nashville Sounds finished up the 2013 season with a record of 57-87. That put the Brewers Triple-A affiliate in last place in the Pacific Coast League’s American Conference Northern Division, but there were some bright spots as well.

Pitcher Johnny Hellweg was named as the PCL’s Pitcher of the year after posting a 3.15 ERA in 23 starts. The Sounds also sent their share of players to Milwaukee, with ten Sounds players making their Major League debut in 2013.

The 2014 squad should fair a bit better, as the team is loaded with veterans, with a prospect or two sprinkled in the mix. The veteran ballclub should not only be more competitive on the field, but should also provide the Brewers with some depth throughout the season at the Major League level as well.

Here is a look at how the Sounds roster shakes out as the 2014 season begins this week.

Starting Pitching: Nashville’s pitching staff will feature plenty of players with Major League experience, including Milwaukee’s top pitching prospect Jimmy Nelson. Nelson will be joined in the Sounds rotation by Johnny Hellweg, Ariel Pena, Hiram Burgos and Mike Fiers.

Bullpen: The Nashville bullpen also has plenty of MLB experience. Michael Blazek, Alfredo Figaro, Donovan Hand and Rob Wooten all spent part of 2013 in Milwaukee’s bullpen. Righty Jose De La Torre also made seven relief appearances for the Boston Red Sox. They will be joined by right-handed pitchers Kyle Heckathorn and Dustin Molleken and lefty Brad Mills. Wooten will likely get the first crack at the closer’s role.

Catchers: The Sounds will have a trio of veteran catchers behind the plate to begin the season. Robinzon Diaz returns for his second season in Nashville after playing 50 games with the team last season. He will be joined by 29-year-old Lucas May, who spent last season at Triple-A Indianapolis, and 31-year-old Matt Pagnozzi who spent the majority of last season in the Atlanta Braves organization, before getting a brief cup of coffee with the Houston Astros in September.

Infield: Nashville’s infield is also loaded with plenty of experience. 25-year-old first baseman Hunter Morris is the youngest of the bunch, and returns for his second season with the Sounds. In 2013, the slugger from Huntsville, Alabama hit .247 with 24 home runs in 134 games for the Sounds. He will be joined on the infield by Irving Falu, Hector Gomez, Taylor Green, Elian Herrera, Pete Orr, Stephen Parker and Eugenio Velez.

Outfield: The Sounds outfield will be led by 25-year-old Caleb Gindl. The left-handed Gindl split last season between Nashville and Milwaukee, hitting .295 with 11 home runs in 83 games with the Sounds. Gindl’s fellow outfielders to begin the season include holdover Sean Halton, and newcomers Jeremy Hermida and Kevin Mattison.

Coaching Staff: Nashville will have a new skipper this season, as Rick Sweet takes over as manager, after spending the past nine seasons in the Cincinnati Reds organization. He will be joined by pitching coach Fred Dabney and hitting coach Bob Skube who both spent last season with the Sounds.

Prospect to watch: Jimmy Nelson – When the Brewers signed veteran Matt Garza this past offseason, it was a pretty strong indication that Nelson would be returning to Nashville to start the season. Should one of Milwaukee’s starters struggle or get injured, Nelson could be next in line to grab a spot in the big league rotation.

Keep an eye on: Hector Gomez – After a strong spring, Gomez could offer the Brewers some added depth at the shortstop position. Considering the spring training injury to Jean Segura, Gomez could find more playing time and may eventually find his way back to the majors, where he had a brief, two game stint with the Colorado Rockies in 2011.

The Sounds will open up their 2014 season on Thursday when they travel to Omaha to take on the Storm Chasers at 7:05pm CST.