Minors filled with Gwinnett players

Class AAA is a step up for Blake Wood. The same can't be said for Nick Green, however.

A year after being the regular shortstop for the Boston Red Sox, Green is back in the minors.

Getting to the majors is a difficult task, with only about five percent of all minor leaguers making it. Sticking there once you do isn't easy, either.

With Green back in Class AAA to start the season, Gwinnett County is down to four major leaguers -- catcher Brian McCann of the Braves, outfielder Jeff Francoeur of the Mets, infielder Jeff Keppinger of the Astros and relief pitcher Jason Bulger of the Angels.

But four Gwinnett high school products are in Class AAA -- just one step away -- and about a dozen are at lower levels.

Wood, a former North Gwinnett and Georgia Tech standout, impressed during spring training with Kansas City and got a save on opening night in the Pacific Coast League for Omaha against Memphis in his Class AAA debut.

Green is also in the PCL, although being in Class AAA or above is hardly something new for 31-year-old infielder from Duluth. Albuquerque and playing on a team named the Isotopes in honor of a "Simpsons" episode is certainly a step down from the Red Sox.

Green signed with the Dodgers after having back surgery following last season and went into the final days of spring training seemingly with a spot on the roster. But Los Angeles elected to keep an extra pitcher rather than another backup infielder and Green agreed to go to Albuquerque, where he is the regular shortstop.

Going up and down is nothing knew for Green, who broke in with Braves. He has played for seven organizations and with five major league teams.

While Green is trying to hang on, Wood seems to be on his way up. He has found a home in the bullpen after being inconsistent as a starter.

Finally healthy following a series of injuries, the right-hander was an early sensation in the Cactus League.

Despite a sub-par season in Class AA a year ago, the 24-year-old made a serious bid for a spot in the Kansas City bullpen this spring and may not stay at Omaha long if he continues to pitch well.

"I liked it from the get-go," Wood said of his move to the bullpen. "I wasn't going after hitters enough (as a starter). When I went to the bullpen, I started believing in myself more."

The other two Gwinnett products in Class AAA are playing close to home, with Parkview grads Clint Sammons and Tim Gustafson both members of the G-Braves.

Another Parkview graduate is in Class AA and not too far away in the Southern League. Right-hander Anthony Carter, 24, is in the Birmingham starting rotation for the White Sox after a strong season a year ago in the Carolina League.

Another Gwinnett product who expected to start this season in Class AA is outfielder Charlie Blackmon. But the former North Gwinnett and Georgia Tech standout is nursing a sore hamstring rather than playing for Tulsa in the Texas League.

Blackmon, 23, is ranked as the Rockies' No. 12 prospect after hitting .307 with 30 stolen bases in the California League a year ago. He was a second-round draft pick in 2008.

Joey Side, another former college standout from Gwinnett had his hopes of making it to the majors with the Diamondbacks ended this spring when he was released. After a promising start, the former South Gwinnett and Georgia player suffered a series of injuries.

Gwinnett has more than a half dozen players who started the season in Class A, including two in advanced leagues. Former Wesleyan and Georgia pitcher Stephen Dodson is with Modesto in the California League, while outfielder K.D. Kang of Parkview is with Charlotte in the Florida State League.

Kang, 22, hit .307 last season in the South Atlantic League and batted .318 during his first week in the FSL. Dodson, 24, was 7-1 as a reliever in the SAL a year ago and didn't allow an earned run in his first three appearances with Modesto, striking out seven and walking none in 51/3 innings.

The hottest start by a hitter from Gwinnett belongs to former Dacula and College of Charleston slugger Jeremie Tice. The third baseman hit .379 with five doubles and eight RBIs the first week as Lake County got off to an unbeaten start in the Midwest League. Tice, 23, missed half of last season with the Captains because of an injury.

Four players from Gwinnett are in the South Atlantic League -- pitchers Collin McHugh, Nathan Moreau and Daniel Sarisky, and outfielder Shannon Wilkerson, who hit .304 in his first six games for Greenville.

Former Dacula and Augusta State standout Wilkerson was drafted by the Red Sox in the eighth round last June, while Parkview football and baseball standout Brandon Jacobs was taken in the 10th round by Boston.

Jacobs, who had signed with Auburn, received a bonus of $750,000 to bypass football and played a few games last summer in the rookie Gulf Coast League. The outfielder is scheduled to play this year for Lowell in the Class A New York-Penn League, which doesn't begin until June.