RiverDogs' roster boasts nine players 20 or younger

At 18, Abraham Almonte (center) anchors the outfield for a youthful Charleston RiverDogs roster this season.

Charleston RiverDogs manager Torre Tyson has promised this year's team will provide plenty of excitement. It's a toss-up on whether the results will be favorable.

"I may be getting on blood pressure medication before it's over," he said on Tuesday at the team's media day. "I would be surprised if we didn't have a lot of 9-8 games. You might not want to leave if we're up three runs in the ninth. At the same time, if we're down three in the ninth, you might not want to leave then, either.

"I hope you don't boo us after the first 30 games, because it will take us a while."

While Tyson checks his supply of antacid and looks into some stress-relieving meditation techniques, the Charleston RiverDogs open their 2008 season on the road today at 7 p.m. against the Rome Braves. The team's home opener at Riley Park will be Monday at 7:05 p.m. against the Savannah Sand Gnats.

Tyson isn't worried about the RiverDogs' talent level. By his own account, he believes at least five players on his current roster are future major leaguers. Tyson's concerns stem from the relatively young ages of the players he will have to depend upon the most. Nine of them are 20 or younger, which is a stark contrast to last year's squad that was predominantly filled with college draft picks.

"I keep talking about our youth, but it's an exciting youth," he said. "They're going to go through some growing pains. Just be patient with us."

Heading the list of new RiverDogs is 18-year-old catcher Jesus Montero, a native of Venezuela, who is considered one of the New York Yankees' top prospects. He signed as a free agent two

years ago and has shown tremendous hitting power.

He will split time behind the plate with 19-year-old Austin Romine, another highly regarded hitting prospect. Also on the infield, Carmen Angelini, 19, will start at shortstop, and Brandon Laird, 20, at first or third base.

Abraham Almonte, 18, will anchor the outfield in centerfield.

"(Almonte) gives you everything. I'll be surprised if he doesn't hit double-digit homers and steal 50 bases," Tyson said.

The three members of the starting pitching rotation are 20 or younger. Dellin Betances and Jairo Heredia are the top two starters, and Zach McAllister is the No. 5 pitcher.

On paper, the RiverDogs look strong in starting pitching, and Tyson said this year's lineup should produce more home runs.

"Last year, I did everything I could to move runners into scoring position," Tyson said. "With this team, I can be more patient. I can get two runners on and wait for the three-run bomb."

The main concern is defense.

"Not as far as physical errors, but mentally — being in the right position, throwing to the correct base. It's the same stuff we saw in spring training that drives me nuts," Tyson said.

Defense wasn't a major failing of the RiverDogs last season when a starting lineup full of college-aged players had more maturity and polish. Seeing what he has in front of him, Tyson said he's going to have to temper his expectations for about a month. On the other hand, he's going to enjoy working with so many players who have a high ceiling of potential.

"It's very exciting knowing I'll have a hand in helping develop them into major league players," he said.