A relocated minor-league team is about to open in a major-league market at a time of economic uncertainty. Does that team, Bruce Baldwin was asked, spend its days and nights praying the ballyhooed pitcher Tommy Hanson winds up the 26th guy on the Atlanta Braves’ 25-man roster?
“No,” said Baldwin, the general manager of the brand new Gwinnett Braves. “I read what a great talent and a great young man he is, and I hope he is able to serve the Braves and himself in the way that will be best for them and for his career.”
OK. Enough boilerplate. Baldwin again: “Would I like to see him [in Gwinnett]? Absolutely.”
The G-Braves will start their inaugural season with eight road dates. They’ll christen their new stadium April 17. (Baldwin: “First pitch is at 7 p.m. Gates open at 4:30.”) Having the most heralded Braves pitching prospect since Steve Avery on the hill that Friday would be the sweetest reality possible, but Baldwin, who spent 22 seasons as GM of the Richmond Braves, knows the drill.
The minor leagues serve at the pleasure of their parent club. As much as the organization wants its Class AAA affiliate to have a rolling start, Tommy Hanson will be where he’s most needed.
And where might that be? Speaking Monday from Florida, Braves GM Frank Wren said he doesn’t yet know. “It’s still too early. We’ve still got three weeks. But he has thrown the ball well.”
Indeed, the April destination of the 22-year-old Hanson figures to hinge on the March performance of a somewhat older Tommy. The Braves re-signed Tom Glavine, whose major-league debut came 11 days before Hanson’s first birthday, to be their fifth starter. They don’t want Hanson in the bigs if he’s not going to take a regular rotational turn, and the Braves’ No. 5 starter isn’t scheduled to work until April 18.
If you’re betting now, you’d bet Hanson will begin the season in the minors. But Glavine is coming off surgery — he threw two innings in an intrasquad game Monday — and there’s never a guarantee with post-surgical 42-year-olds. And the Gwinnett Braves … well, they’ll wind up with whatever players the big team sends.
“[Hanson’s] name comes up,” Baldwin said, “but so do many others. [Our roster] is a moving target, and it will always be a moving target.”
Baldwin ticks off the names of big-name prospects who came through Richmond: Chipper Jones, Javy Lopez, Mike Kelly, Tony Tarasco, Vinny Castilla. By the nature of the minor leagues, a big-name prospect will never stick around long. “We’ve got two business models,” Baldwin said. “One is inside the white lines, and the other is outside the white lines.”
The G-Braves are endeavoring to work outside-in. They’re finishing their stadium — Baldwin: “The county has done an amazing job; it’s a nice-looking place; it looks a little different” — near the Mall of Georgia. They’ve printed schedules. They’re selling tickets. They’ve got their mascot, a 6-foot-2 groundhog of uncertain orthodontia named Chopper. They’re going to field a team and play a season even if Tommy Hanson never once toes the slab in Gwinnett County.
“Don’t think I’m blasé,” Baldwin said. “I’m excited about being here. I’m passionate about this organization and the opportunity to bring baseball to this community. … But I can’t control what I get . … If certain players don’t wind up here, then they don’t.”
But if Tommy Hanson does alight in Lawrenceville … well, that would be just dandy. To borrow a word from the famous Gwinnett water tower, that’d be great.