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04/09/09 10:00 AM ET

MiLB's Opening Day guide for 2009

Where and when to find the day's top games, biggest headlines

While Opening Day in the Minors is traditionally the Thursday after the big league opener, four Double-A Eastern League games kicked off the season last night. Those games, however, were just a taste of what fans can look forward to in '09; Thursday is the "official" Opening Day for the remaining 112 full-season clubs.

Whether you're keeping an eye on a budding fantasy ace or can't wait to see your team's next big star in action, Opening Day in the Minors, much like its Major League counterpart, puts everyone back at Day 1. For many, Thursday begins the final lap in the journeys of some much-heralded prospects en route to big league fame. Ready to see who's next?

Welcome to the Minors

Here are a few highly anticipated professional debuts on tap:

Who: Pedro Alvarez, 3B, Pittsburgh
Game: Potomac @ Lynchburg
When: Thursday, 6:05 p.m. ET
The No. 2 player taken overall in the 2008 Draft, the Vanderbilt standout's holdout and subsequent signing issues pushed back his pro debut until now. This major talent gets started on the fast track to Pittsburgh when the Hillcats host the Potomac Nationals.

Who: Joshua Fields, RHP, Seattle
Game: West Tenn @ Montgomery
When: Thursday, 8:05 p.m. ET
Fields, a top closer prospect taken out of Georgia with last year's 20th overall pick, had the luxury as a senior of not being beholden to the Aug. 15 signing deadline, so he did not join the Mariners fold until mid-February. He'll take his mid-90s fastball and power curve to the West Tenn Diamond Jaxx bullpen, where he will be eased into the closer role. The club opens up on the road against the Montgomery Biscuits (Rays).

Who: Dayan Viciedo, 3B, White Sox
Game: Chattanooga @ Birmingham
When: Thursday, 8:05 p.m. ET
The 20-year-old Cuban prospect signed this winter and begins his pro career in the heart of arguably the most dangerous lineup in the Minors to open the season as the Birmingham Barons host the Chattanooga Lookouts (Dodgers).

Who: Brian Matusz, LHP, Baltimore
Game: Frederick @ Salem
When: Thursday, 7:05 p.m. ET
Ranked No. 20 on MLB.com's Top Prospect list after being taken with the fourth overall pick out of San Diego, Matusz signed late but got a taste of live hitting when he struck out 31 in 26 2/3 innings of work in the Arizona Fall League. He will be the Frederick Keys' Opening Night starter on the road against the Salem Red Sox.

Who: Junichi Tazawa, RHP, Boston
Game: Connecticut @ Portland
When: Thursday, 6 p.m. ET
Where: Gameday Audio
The 22-year-old Tazawa skipped playing pro ball in his native Japan to sign stateside and when he makes his big league debut, he will be just the third Japanese player to have chosen that route. With a fastball in the high-90s, he could be the Portland Sea Dogs' Opening Night starter on April 9 against the Connecticut Defenders (Giants).

Who: Ethan Martin, RHP, Dodgers
Game: Great Lakes @ Dayton
When: Thursday, 7 p.m. ET
Where: Gameday Audio
The Dodgers' first-round pick (No. 15 overall) last year suffered a knee injury in a post-Draft workout which pushed back the hard-throwing Martin's debut. The Great Lakes Loons open on the road against the Dayton Dragons (Reds), and he should start at some point during that series.

Who: Brett Lawrie, 2B, Milwaukee
Game: Quad Cities @ Wisconsin
When: Thursday, 7:35 p.m. ET
Where: Gameday Audio
Why, yes, that does say "2B." The teenage slugger from Canada, drafted as a catcher/third baseman, moves to the middle infield this spring, but the club thinks his athleticism will make it a quick transition. He gets that transition started at home with the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers against the Quad Cities River Bandits (Cardinals).

Who: Andrew Brackman, RHP, Yankees
Game: Rome @ Charleston
When: Thursday, 7:05 p.m. ET
Where: Gameday Audio
Brackman was actually the Yankees' No. 1 pick in 2007, but signed late and then underwent Tommy John surgery, which also wiped out all of 2008, so this has been a long-awaited debut. The 6-foot-10 hurler out of North Carolina is a surprisingly good athlete who can crank up the fastball. He'll anchor the RiverDogs rotation as they host the Rome Braves to open the season.

Where are the Top 10?

Four of the top 10 in MLB.com's Top 50 prospects are in the big leagues with Rick Porcello (No. 4) in the Tigers rotation and outfielders Cameron Maybin (5) of Florida, Travis Snider (7) of Toronto and Colby Rasmus (10) of St. Louis all making Major League rosters. The rest? Let's take a look here.

Who's New?

Four new (or at least newly relocated) teams will take the field to open 2009:

Game: Bowling Green @ Hickory
When: Thursday, 7 p.m. ET
Where: Gameday Audio
The Bowling Green (Ky.) Hot Rods are the South Atlantic League's newest entry, after moving from Columbus, Ga., to 5,700-seat Bowling Green Ballpark, the crown jewel in a downtown redevelopment project. The Tampa Bay Rays affiliate will feature shortstop Tim Beckham, the No. 1 pick in last year's Draft, and No. 22 on our Top 50. He'll be joined by his older brother Jeremy, the Rays' 17th-round pick in the same draft. The team opens on the road at the Hickory Crawdads (Pirates) and will return to christen the stadium on April 17 against the Kannapolis Intimidators (White Sox).

Game: Gwinnett @ Charlotte
When: Thursday, 11:15 a.m. ET
The Atlanta Braves' Triple-A farm team moves from Richmond, Va., to Gwinnett, Ga., as the Gwinnett Braves take the field just 37 miles from their parent stadium. That means a prospect can be called up at lunch and be there in time for batting practice (as long as they're not on the road). Pitching phenom Tommy Hanson, No. 24 on MLB.com's Top 50, could be the first to make that short jaunt, but first he'll start the new club's opener at the Charlotte Knights (White Sox) in an 11:15 a.m. game Thursday. The home opener of Gwinnett Stadium is April 17, when they host the Norfolk Tides (Orioles).

Game: Reno @ Salt Lake
When: Thursday, 8:35 p.m. ET
Where: Gameday Audio
The Arizona Diamondbacks move their Triple-A affiliate from Tucson to Reno, Nev., and the Reno Aces are born. The club opens on the road at the Salt Lake Bees (Angels) before returning home April 17 to Aces Ballpark, a 10,000-seat state-of-the-art facility, to host the same squad.

Game: Fort Myers @ Charlotte
When: Thursday, 7:05 p.m. ET
Where: Gameday Audio
Both of Tampa Bay's Class A clubs have relocated this offseason, but the Class A Advanced Florida State League team didn't have as far to go, moving across the state from Vero Beach to Port Charlotte, where they morph into the Charlotte Stone Crabs. Playing at Charlotte Sports Park, the team's Spring Training home, they'll open at home on April 9 against the Fort Myers Miracle (Twins). Look for unusually good attendance numbers as avid Rays fans can make the short trip down I-75.

On the Mend

Who: Alfredo Amezaga
Game: Jupiter @ Palm Beach
When: Thursday, 7:05 p.m. ET
Where: Gameday Audio
The Marlins' Amezaga has been practicing with the Class A Advanced Jupiter Hammerheads and hopes to get in a game or two against the Palm Beach Cardinals before possibly returning to Florida on Sunday for the Mets' game.

Who: Kelvim Escobar
Game: Rancho Cucamonga @ Inland Empire
When: Thursday, 10:05 p.m. ET
Where: Gameday Audio
The Angels' Escobar is coming back from shoulder surgery, and he'll begin that comeback in California -- just in Rancho Cucamonga, not Anaheim. He'll face the Dodgers' Class A Advanced affiliate on Opening Night.

Who: Max Scherzer
Game: Visalia @ Lake Elsinore
When: Thursday, 10:05 p.m. ET
Where: Gameday Audio
Scherzer's recovering from a sore shoulder and will try to get back on track when he takes the hill for the Visalia Rawhide against Lake Elsinore on Thursday night.

Lisa Winston is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.