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MINOR LEAGUE NOTES: Cone gets season off to a fresh start

Zach Cone suffered through a 2-for-55 stretch in a testing first season that saw him finish with a .201 average. But with the reality of minor league baseball out of the way, the Parkview graduate is ready for a much better second year.

So far, so good.

The outfielder homered in his first at-bat and was batting .281 with two homers, a triple, a double and three RBIs after his first eight games with Hickory in the Class A South Atlantic League. He had a .343 on-base average and .563 slugging mark.

Texas made Cone a supplemental first-round draft choice last June and the former Georgia player began his stay at Spokane of the Class A short-season Northwest League with 14 hits in 39 at-bats.

It was a struggle after that, though. Cone, who received a bonus of $873,000, went into a swoon and finished with 57 strikeouts to 14 walks in 62 games. He had 15 doubles, two triples, four homers and 29 RBIs to go with his .201 average and stole 11 bases in 13 attempts.

The Rangers made Cone the 37th overall pick because of his combination of speed and power, but he had a down junior year at Georgia in a season marred by an outfield collision with teammate Johnathan Taylor.

Taylor was left without the use of his legs and Cone, as well as his teammates, emotionally shaken. To honor Taylor's rehabilitation efforts, Texas selected him in the 33rd round of the draft.

Garvin opening starter in debut

Former Wesleyan standout Grayson Garvin got the opening night start for Class A Advanced Charlotte of the Florida State League in his pro debut.

The left-hander was taken by Tampa Bay with the 59th overall pick at the end of the supplemental first round. But he went to the deadline before signing for a bonus of $370,000 and didn't get into a minor league game.

Garvin walked four over three innings on opening night before coming back to go five solid innings in his second start. He allowed six hits and one earned run while striking out two and walking none.

McHugh, French get opening nods

Providence Christian graduate Collin McHugh and Collins Hill's Justice French joined Garvin as starting pitchers on opening night.

McHugh took the opening loss for Class AA Binghamton in the New York Mets organization, but bounced back to win his second start by allowing just one run over 6 innings while striking out six and walking none. McHugh was 8-2 with a 2.89 ERA for Binghamton last season.

French won the opener for Class A Dayton in the Cincinnati organization and was nearly flawless in the outing. The 2011 draft choice out of Mercer allowed two hits over six scoreless innings while striking out eight and walking two.

Hawkins swinging hot bat

Former North Gwinnett standout Chris Hawkins hit .345 with two doubles, a triple, a homer and three RBIs in his first eight games for Class A Lansing in the Midwest League.

Hawkins was taken by Toronto in the third round of the 2010 draft and was an all-star in the rookie Appalachian League last year, when he hit .318 for Bluefield. The outfielder is ranked as the Blue Jays' No. 25 prospect by Baseball America.

Shields strong in second start

Central Gwinnett's Jeff Shields allowed just two hits over seven scoreless innings in his second start for Class A South Bend, but received a no-decision. He walked none and struck out seven.

The right-hander was a seventh-round draft choice by Arizona in 2010 out of Chattahoochee Valley Community College and went 9-13 for South Bend last season.

Indians release Burnette

Former Buford and Georgia Tech standout Chase Burnette was released by Cleveland at the end of spring training.

Burnette, drafted in 2010, had a disappointing season last year, when he hit a combined .218 with Class A Advanced Kinston and Class A Lake County.