Ask Me: Richie Shaffer

In the latest episode of ‘Ask Me,’ Richie Shaffer sits down to talk about hitting homers, Cal Ripken Jr., and the DBAP faithful.

Blake Snell: Constant Improvement

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Three players in Durham Bulls history have won both the USA Today and Baseball America Minor League Player of the Year awards in the same season: Andruw Jones in 1996, Jeremy Hellickson in 2010 and Blake Snell in 2015.

That’s already pretty impressive company, but how about this: Snell’s 1.41 ERA in 2015 was the lowest in the minors since Justin Verlander had a 1.29 in 2005.

He’s garnering a reputation in the International League, too.

“He has a power fastball from the left side and that always plays,” said Kyle Roller, who played with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 2015. “I never faced him, and I’m glad I didn’t have to. I’m glad he’s on my team.”

He is also the second-ranked left-handed pitcher in the minors, according to Baseball America, and the consensus No. 1 prospect in the Tampa Bay Rays organization.

So after all that Blake Snell accomplished in 2015, it’d be easy to think he should keep doing the same thing he did in preparation for last season to continue that success. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? Or maybe he earned some time to coast and enjoy the success he already accomplished. Snell had other ideas. On top of his usual offseason training he tried something new — an improved diet.

“It was more I just started eating healthier foods,” Snell said, “and I dropped the soda, the ice cream, all the bad food I just dropped out and made it every day I was eating healthy and pretty much only drinking water. That was more of a good mix and I felt really good every day.”

Jettisoning the junk food might not have added five miles per hour to Snell’s four-seamer, but he already noticed having more energy, feeling better every day, and never having a day where he feels like he’s dragging.

“It was [tough] at first because I like drinking soda pretty frequently, and eating ice cream and that food pretty frequently,” he said. “But after a while I got used to it.”

Another unique offseason training technique was perhaps more tied to Snell’s offseason location. He spent the fall and winter in his hometown of Shoreline, Wash., just north of Seattle, where he had easy access to a plethora of hiking trails in the nearby mountains.

“I went hiking a lot of places, but my favorite was Lake Blanca,” Snell said. “I want to say it’s a 14 or 12 mile hike, and you go all the way up the mountain. It’s just all repetitive, and you’re like, ‘Am I there yet?’ I was getting bored so I started running up the mountain and it felt like I got nowhere.”

You won’t hear of many pitchers running up a mountain as part of their offseason training. But Snell said he remained focused on the prize at the end, and the long combination of trail running and hiking was more than worth it.

“Out of nowhere you get to a little valley and over that is Lake Blanca, which is all glacier water and it’s like the most beautiful water I’d ever seen,” he said. “It was pretty cold, but I told myself I had to get in it. So I got in, not my whole body, but at least half my body, so I was excited about that.”

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Another product of his successful 2015 season was an invitation to Spring Training with the big league club. There he got to share a locker room with Tampa Bay Rays aces Chris Archer, Drew Smyly and Matt Moore, among many others.

“I would say I learned a lot of stuff,” Snell said. “Not like pitches or anything like that, but I learned just watching the big league guys and how they carry themselves, how they go about their days. It’s not like you get to big league camp and you learn so much, there’s just little by little that you learn, and I learned some pretty cool things from watching.”

Snell got a taste of how the big leaguers carry themselves when Matt Moore came to Durham on a rehab assignment in 2015, and Moore again caught his eye in Spring Training.

“He’s taught me more than he can imagine just in certain situations on the field, pitch count, just more of nothing to do with a pitch, just when to throw it, how to throw it,” Snell said.

One other change he noticed in himself after spending part of the preseason in Major League camp was his aggressiveness in workouts, Snell said. He’s taking each workout and training session more seriously and being intentional about what he does between starts.

He’s not only working harder, Snell has his sights again set on high goals. After such a successful season in 2015, he’s not pausing or coasting to enjoy the limelight.

“It’s weird because I did win all those awards, but I never really felt it,” Snell said. “If I don’t feel it, I don’t know how to show it. So I was excited about it, but I don’t feel it in that sense because I’m the kind of guy that feels like I always have something to work on.”

Snell also isn’t the type of person who leaves a checklist of goals on his locker for all to see. He prefers to keep his aspirations for the season to himself and use them for personal motivation.

“I get up and think about it and say, ‘Ok you have to work to get to where you want to be,’” he said. “I don’t set goals that are necessarily easy. I really want to reach for the moon and go for it.”

So while fans may not know exactly what Snell is working toward, they can trust his training. It already led to wild success last season and improved energy, and there’s little doubt that what he accomplishes this season he was focused on the entire offseason.

When the Carolina Hurricanes Took Some BP

On April 27 Justin Faulk, Jordan Staal and Brad Malone of the Carolina Hurricanes came out to the DBAP to take some batting practice. While there was some friendly trash-talking going on before they stepped to the dish, Faulk was the lone Hurricane to hit a homer. Luckily, we caught it all on tape.

The Arrival: Mikie Mahtook

A behind-the-scenes look at a day in the life of Rays prospect Mikie Mahtook, including what he drives, what he eats, and his workout regimen.

Why We Tore Up the DBAP Infield

If you’ve taken a peek at our Snapchat (durhambulls) or Twitter accounts this past week, you’ve probably noticed that there’s been some work done to the DBAP infield. Why? Well let’s ‘rip’ into it. Hehe.

First things first, you’re probably wondering why the infield grass was torn up and replaced at all. This season, the DBAP will host approximately 120 games from February to September between Bulls games, Duke baseball’s home schedule and the ACC Baseball Championship. With the addition of Duke games, the field increased its number of events significantly from February-April. To compensate for that, the field was overseeded with a higher rate of ryegrass in the infield and foul territory to give the field the best possible playing surface for that timeframe, which is roughly 40 games.

As the temperature increases and creeps to summer weather (85 degrees and above), ryegrass will die down and give way to bermudagrass. However, with the field’s increased event schedule, this week marked the stadium’s only lengthy break from events until mid-June, by which point the ryegrass would have worn down and left large dead patches on the field. Therefore it was decided to switch out the grass from the rye to bermuda because it holds up to wear and tear better than rye, and recovers significantly quicker.

(It’s worth noting the DBAP’s field has never undergone a replacement of this size, but there have been some smaller degrees of ‘switching out’ since Duke began playing a portion of its home schedule at the ballpark in 2009.)

The process takes over four full days to complete, as preparations to the field began on Sunday evening and the process is scheduled to be completed by Thursday night. In order to ensure the project was done in a timely matter the Bulls partnered with a pair of companies, with Carolina Green Athletic Field Construction providing the new turf, and Precision Turf completing the removal and installation.

Interestingly, the DBAP is in a unique geographical position that necessitates a turf transition. Durham’s location proves to be too cold a climate to grow warm season turf (bermuda) year-round, while the climate is too hot to grow season turf (rye) year-round. The team’s grounds crew deals with the transition annually in different ways, but the process selected in 2016 ensures a manageable, controlled transition between the two.

Special thanks to Durham Bulls Director of Stadium Operations Scott Strickland for help with this post (as in he provided all the information, and much of the text is ‘ripped’ directly from an email).

Get to Know: Mikie Mahtook

Mikie Mahtook had a quick chat with the Bulls about his trip to Cuba, and what it’s like playing in front of the DBAP faithful.

Ask Me: Taylor Motter

Recently, Taylor Motter sat down with us to answer some questions fans had posed on Twitter. Topics discussed? His blonde locks, funniest teammates, and what he’d do if he wasn’t playing baseball.

By the Numbers: Breaking Down the 2016 Bulls Opening Day Roster

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Mikie Mahtook is one of 11 Bulls on the Opening Day roster who saw time with the 2015 Bulls.

In case you missed it, we announced our 2016 Opening Day roster today. This season’s Bulls look to be a solid squad, based on talent and numbers. Here are a few of the biggest numbers.

3 — The number of Bulls who grew up or attended college in North Carolina. Kyle Roller is from Rockingham and attended East Carolina University, Richie Shaffer grew up in Charlotte, and Jaime Schultz attended High Point University.

6 — The number of Bulls who played for a different Triple-A team last season. Kyle Roller played for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Eddie Gamboa was with Norfolk, Tyler Sturdevant played with Columbus, Adam Wilk played for Salt Lake, Carlos Corporan was with Round Rock, and Jaff Decker played for Indianapolis.

7 — The number of Bulls who will make their Triple-A debut this season. Ryan Garton, Austin Pruitt, Mark Sappington, Jaime Schultz, Patrick Leonard, Daniel Robertson and Dayron Varona have all never appeared at a level higher than Double-A.

8 — The number of Bulls on the Tampa Bay Rays’ 40-man roster. Spring Training standouts Mikie Mahtook and Taylor Motter, along with top prospect Blake Snell lead a group that also includes Richie Shaffer, Luke Maile, Nick Franklin, Matt Andriese and Andrew Bellatti. That is 32 percent of the Bulls’ Opening Day roster and 20 percent of the 40-man roster.

11 — The number of Bulls who played with Durham in 2015. Mahtook, Snell, Motter, Shaffer, Franklin, Maile, Cameron Seitzer, Marinez, Floro, Bellatti and Andriese all return to the Bull City. That is 44 percent of the Bulls 2016 Opening Day roster.

11 (again) — Also the number of Bulls who are “homegrown,” or have spent their entire MiLB career in the Tampa Bay organization. Bellatti, Floro, Maile, Mahtook, Motter, Snell, Ryan Garton, Jaime Schultz, Seitzer, Shaffer and Dayron Varona have all never donned a jersey for a non-Rays affiliate.

12 — The number of Bulls with Major League service time. Recently acquired catcher Carlos Corporan leads the group with 4 seasons and 19 days of time in the majors. Corporan made a major league Opening Day roster each of the last three seasons. Other Bulls with MLB service time are Adam Wilk, Mikie Mahtook, Luke Maile, Richie Shaffer, Kyle McPherson, Jhan Marinez, Eddie Gamboa, Nick Franklin, Jaff Decker, Matt Andriese and Andrew Bellatti.

22 — The age of Daniel Robertson, the youngest player on the Bulls Opening Day roster. He will be exactly 22 years and 16 days old on Opening Day.

26 — Median age of the roster.

32 — The age of Carlos Corporan, the oldest player on the Bulls Opening Day roster. He will be exactly 32 years and 87 days old on Opening Day.

Spring Training Notes: Motter To Minor League Camp, Rays May Tap Durham Pitchers For Spot Starts

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Left-handed pitcher Blake Snell, the Rays’ No. 1 prospect, could be one of a handful of Bulls who sees time in Tampa Bay early in season.

As Friday’s split-squad games mark the end of Spring Training for the Rays, the team announced a few of the final cuts and reassignments of the spring.  Infielder/outfielder Taylor Motter’s move to minor league camp is perhaps the most notable move of the past week to Bulls fans.

Motter impressed Rays coaches and front office staff with a .250 average in 14 games this spring, including a home run and three doubles. His defense was also impressive for a utility player, as he showed the ability to play almost anywhere on the field in the majors.

“We’d have all the confidence in the world (bringing him up), basically playing him anywhere,” Rays manager Kevin Cash told the Tampa Tribune. More from Cash on Motter.

Motter will likely see time all over the field, but Cash mentioned wanting him to get more time at shortstop. MLB.com’s Bill Chastain had more on how Motter’s strong showing makes him a likely call-up.

The Motter move likely signals that Tim Beckham will start the season with the Rays. With one option remaining on his contract, Beckham could very well see time in Durham if a roster spot is needed for the big league club.

Last season saw 213 (!!!) transactions for the Bulls, with a few players on the “Durham Shuttle.” The Shuttle is the affectionate term for players who are called up or sent down to accommodate holes in the Rays’ roster due to injury, fatigue or performance. This week, Roger Mooney wrote about Mikie Mahtook’s time on the Shuttle last season.

Mooney also noted that since the Rays announced they will go with a four-man pitching rotation to start the season, a starter from Durham will likely be the fifth when needed. This goes against the assumption that Erasmo Ramirez would have been the fifth starter when needed, instead suggesting that he will only be used out of the bullpen for the first part of the season.

The Rays’ schedule allows for only one or two times a fifth starter would be needed (based on when their off days fall) through the first month of the season. Any Bulls players who could be the Rays’ fifth starter when needed will use this as another chance to prove themselves as a viable full-time fifth starter for the big league club.

The less-heralded catcher position battle in Tampa Bay could have affected the Bulls roster this season, as Curt Casali, Rene Rivera and Hank Conger all vied for two spots on the roster. The Rays will go with Casali and Conger splitting time to begin the season, as Rivera was released on Wednesday. Conger could still see time in Durham his season, as the Tampa Bay Times’ Marc Topkin noted that he still has an option left.

In a flurry of moves on Wednesday, March 30, the Rays released RHPs David Carpenter and Dan Johnson, informed 1B James Loney that he would not make the team, and reassigned INF Richie Shaffer and RHP Matt AndrieseLoney could be traded or released, while Andriese and Shaffer should see time in both Durham and Tampa Bay. Andriese went 1-0 with a 1.13 ERA in three games this spring and Shaffer hit .125 with a home run and a double in 12 games.

Other players optioned in the past week included RHPs Jhan Marinez and Tyler Sturdevant, C Mayo Acosta and OF Jaff Decker.

One notable 2015 Bull who wasn’t reassigned to Durham was OF Mikie Mahtook. Hitting .241 with a home run and 4 RBIs in 13 games this spring, Mahtook appears to be in contention for one of the final spots on the Rays’ Opening Day Roster.

Relief pitchers Andrew Belatti, Danny Farquhar and Dana Eveland are also in contention for the final two spots on the Opening Day roster. Eveland has an opt-out he can exercise on Friday if he doesn’t make the active roster.

***UPDATE: Topkin now says Eveland may not have a Friday opt-out. The final two roster moves may not be made until Saturday or Sunday.***

Notes: The Rays’ farm system jumped from No. 24 in 2015 to No. 11 entering this season in Baseball Prospectus’ latest Organizational Rankings… The Tampa Tribune’s Roger Mooney noted that the Rays’ lineup is essentially set and previewed the batting order… Some other reassigned players from late last week: RHPs Kyle McPherson and Mark Sappington, and INF Juniel Querecuto… After the Rays used iPads in the dugout to access scouting reports and other advanced analytics last season, the MLB and Apple signed a deal to make iPads available in every dugout in the league… The consensus among Rays beat writers is that the active roster will be finalized sometime Saturday, April 2. The Bulls roster won’t be far behind that.

Bulls Team Up with RUNAWAY for DURM Night Uniforms

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It started from a tweet. Back on Nov. 4, @ProfessorToon threw out an idea on Twitter. It was seen by the Bulls’ social media team, and a plan was put into action.

The result? The Bulls’ DURM jerseys – completely designed by RUNAWAY – will be worn for the team’s game on June 9 when they take on the Norfolk Tides.

The collaboration between the Bulls and RUNAWAY marks the first time the Bulls will wear a uniform that wasn’t designed by the team or a sports apparel company. The colors of the uniform pay homage to Durham’s flag, as the colors royal blue, gold and red are seen throughout.

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Highlighting the uniform is the jersey’s chest, where DURM is emblazoned across the front, beginning with the Bulls’ iconic ‘D’ logo. DURM is a term coined by RUNAWAY as an ode to the city’s hard-nosed history. Just above the letters on the chest are the seven stars of Durham, seen on the city’s flag.

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On the jersey’s right sleeve is the RUNAWAY logo, marking the designers of the uniform.

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The hat is royal blue, with a block ‘D’ in red and trimmed in gold. The seven stars of Durham float through the letter’s opening though, instead of the team’s iconic snorting bull.

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The Bulls will wear white pants for the contest, but will show off blue, gold and red socks as an added tribute to the city.

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“As lifelong fans, this is a dream opportunity,” RUNAWAY Founder and Creative Director Gabriel Eng-Goetz said. “What better stage to showcase pride for our hometown than under the bright lights of Durham Bulls Athletic Park?”

DURM Night will be a celebration of the City of Durham, specifically the city’s vibrant art scene.

“We’re thrilled to partner with RUNAWAY for this unique uniform collaboration,” Bulls General Manager Mike Birling said. “As we aim to celebrate the creative arm of Durham, a uniform designed by a Durham-based clothing company was a no-brainer for us. We couldn’t be happier with the jersey design, and know it represents the team and city well.”

Tickets to DURM Night can be purchased here.

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